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date: 13 November 2019


  • Paul Oliver


A scraped idiophone in the form of a domestic washboard or scrubbing board: a corrugated panel, usually of wood, metal, or molded glass, against which wet clothes are rubbed to loosen dirt. Its use as a rhythm instrument supposedly originated among black Americans in the 19th century, but it is also used in Europe, for example in Lithuania where it is called skalbimo lenta. It is played by scraping a nail, fork, or thimbles over the corrugations to produce a loud, staccato rhythm. Cowbells, woodblocks, and improvised metallophones are often attached to add tonal variety. Some washboard players place two boards back to back and sit astride them while playing with both hands. Washboard bands were instrumental groups in which a single washboard player supported the rhythm. Early washboard bands included string instruments and were frequently augmented by other improvised instruments such as a washtub bass (probably derived from the African ground bow), comb-and-paper, or kazoo, as well as a harmonica. They were closely related to children’s ‘spasm bands’ of New Orleans. Typical performances by folk washboard bands are ...

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