Dem Bones Dem Bones

Bones Tutorial Video Reviews

The following reviews are taken from The Rhythm Bones Player, the quarterly newsletter of the Rhythm Bones Society.

Review of Chris Caswell Bodhrán and Bones Video
by Steve Wixson (taken from RBP Vol. 6, No. 1, page 3)

This 50 minute instructional video covers the Bodhrán (38 minutes),bones (4 1/2 minutes), spoons (3 1/2 minutes) and the Scottish Highland drum (4 minutes). The video begins with a bodhrán and tin whistle duet with Phineas Og Mac Boilermaker.
In the bodhrán section, Chris starts with the basic rhythms, those divisible by 2 and those by 3. He describes the use of box bottoms and attaché cases as beginning drums for students. He describes how to use the hand (Chris is left-handed) and the stick to strike the drum surface and then how to hold the drum. He demonstrates the two basic rhythms with variations and how to perform up accents for jigs. He demonstrates the difference in center and edge strikes and how to use the hand inside the bodhrán for dampening and tuning.
After another demonstration, he adds rim strikes and double sticking. He talks about how to play to a melody and demonstrates polkas and strathspeys. He also talks about when to play and when not to play and he believes in the less is more philosophy. He concludes this section with another bodhrán and tin whistle duet.
In the bones section, Chris begins by noting that the bodhrán rhythms apply to the bones and that the bones naturally produce the equivalent of double sticking. He shows how to hold the bones with the stationary bone between the thumb and first finger and the moving bone between the first and second fingers (he plays one-handed.) He demonstrates taps, double taps and triplets and how to change tone by varying how you hold the bones. He demonstrates several different types of bones and what kind of music each is best suited. He demonstrates playing slow triplets needed for jigs. He concludes with playing three and then four bones in his hand.
The video is available from Lark in the Morning,

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Review of Percy Danforth's Instructional Video
by Steve Wixson (taken from RBP Vol. 4, No. 1, page 3)

This video begins with a long solo demonstration of Percy Danforth playing the bones while the credits for the video are overlaid. Percy presents a history of the bones beginning with the possibility that pre-historic people played them around the cooking fire. He traces them through the Mediterranean, Middle Ages and to Ireland and England.
He then demonstrates the basics: How to hold the bones, how to make a tap, and how to do the triplet. His descriptions are full of detail and demonstration. He then shows the roll. These are all done with one hand.
He then begins his two-handed bones instruction. First with both hands doing the same thing, and then with each hand doing something different, including 2 beats against 3, rolls with accents, syncopation, roll in one hand with a tap in the other, roll against a triplet and tap, single triplets alternating between hands, 7-beat roll, 13-beat roll, rolls with syncopation beats, and finally flam taps.
He describes how to keep bones from slipping out of your hands by rubbing the bones with a mix of beeswax and rosin. He describes how to tune the bones, how to quiet the bones, how to play with the anvil bone between the the thumb and first finger, and how to change pitch from that position.
Percy then gives a bit of his own personal history of learning how to play the bones. He learned from his dad after seeing school kids play with them. He remembers Afro-American men playing bones and sand dancing when he lived in Washington, DC. He talks about people he has taught, and that he has sold and given away 17,000 pairs of bones. He shows a variety of different materials used to make bones. The rest of the video is full of Percy playing the bones with different musical instruments and different styles of music including jigs, polka, country, and many more. He mentions he has played all over the world and with symphonies.

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Review of Dr. Fred Edmunds' Instruction Video
by Tom Rice (taken from RBP Vol. 2, No. 2, page 3)

The book and video start out with learning to hold the bones. Dr. Edmunds is quick to point out that this is the main difficulty people have playing the bones. From there he progresses into very elementary rhythms, accents and pickup notes. He next moves on to triplets and quadruplets showing several methods of performing each. Following these rudimentary, mechanical, and developmental chapters, he start mixing things up and showing some possibilities for creative expression on the bones which is where the value of his method lies. Finally he delves into the "offbeat," (syncopation) and ends the course with several showy licks.
The video is most helpful to see hand montions and how a particular passage should sound which could save countless hours of trying to figure something from just the book, particularly where accents and syncopation are involved.
Fred Edmunds was a percussionist. He was an excellent drummer along with being a bones player. Nothing irritated him more than to see bones playing as a never-ending series of triplets with the occasional quarter note thrown in-between them; he believed there is so much more to being an accomplished bones performer. I would highly recommend his course of study if you are curious to find what lies beyond the typical "click a de ick a de ick a de click" to quote the good doctor. Syncopation and accents mixed with the rolling of triplets and quadruplets is where it was for him.
This bones method is demanding and you need to bear with it in the order things are presented. Master one section before moving on to the next. If your perseverance and drive holds together, and a little creativeness kicks in, you can become one of the great bones artists.

Note that the introductory lessons are now on-line. Click HERE to view them.

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Review of Tommy Hayes' Bodhrán, Bones and Spoons Video
by Steve Wixson (taken from RBP Vol. 5, No. 4, Page 6)

This one hour and 44 minute video devotes one hour and 22 minutes to the bodhrán, 15 minutes to spoons and only 7 minutes to rhythm bones. Rhythm bones players will enjoy Tommy Hayes and his bones playing skill, but you will wish he had more bones instruction as he is a good teacher. If you want to learn traditional Irish rhythms, you will benefit from the rhythms taught for the bodhrán as many of them apply to bones playing. The bones section follows the bodhrán section and begins with a short bones demonstration. Tommy then shows how to hold the bones. He demonstrates both the tap and the triplet describing the wrist and arm movements involved. He describes bones playing as difficult, particularly jigs, and students should practice the demonstration until they can reproduce it. He mentions two-handed bones playing. He demonstrates using three bones in one hand something he personally enjoys. He finishes with a great three bones demonstration with accompaniment.

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Review of David Holt's Folk Rhythms Video
by Ev Cowett (taken from RBP Vol. 5, No. 2, page 7)

This 47-minute video has been available since 1996 and is as valuable to your library today as it was when first recorded. You can learn to play Spoons, Bones, Washboard, Hambone and the Paper Bag by viewing this entertaining video. The folk rhythms, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4, with accents on 2 and 4, are central to all five instruments, and all folk music for that matter.
The video begins with the basic folk rhythms and detailed instruction on wood and metal spoon playing showing the versatility of this simple instrument when playing on body parts and clothing. This leads into stories, hamboning, use of the body as a drum machine and the selection and play of a washboard. All great fun.
Than comes the bones instructions. Although bones playing is limited to only 7 minutes of the video, bone types, sizes, how to hold them, creating a snap and a roll with one and two hands is covered. As all bones players know, practice and patience are important. Holt feels that 5 minutes a day for two weeks is sufficient to play snaps, rolls and various combinations. You are almost ready to go public.
This is a very fun video by an award-winning multi-instrumentalist folk historian from 5 generations of bones players. The video closes with instructions on playing a paper bag. You will enjoy it.

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Review of Mel Mercier's Bodhrán and Bones Video
by Steve Wixson (slightly condensed from the review in RBP Vol. 4, No. 2, page 5)

This instructional video contains instruction for both bodhrán and bones. A bones player might think this is a waste of video tape; however, for those interested in Irish music, the percussion insights provided in the bodhrán instruction applied directly to bones playing. The bones instruction is at the end of the video and lasts 14 minutes. It consists of instruction followed by a very good demonstration with music.
Following a brief bones solo, the instruction begins with a description of bones and the different materials they are made from. Mel's favorite is an unusual combination of a cow rib and a black plastic bone (made by RBS member Joe Birl). He next shows how to grip the bones using both the thumb and first finger and first and second fingers styles. Mel uses the traditional Irish one-handed style of bones playing.
The actual instruction begins with the roll and he uses slow motion so the student can see what is happening. He notes the triplet nature of the beat lends itself to jig rhythms. After the roll motion is mastered, he moves on to how to control it with an exercise to start and stop cleanly. He shows variations using single beats before and after the triplet rolls. He concludes by playing a Jig-Reel with Seamus Eagan on the flute.
To those of us who know Mel, he is a delightful person, and this comes across on the video. The video was produced by Interworld Music, is distributed through Warner Brothers, and is sold in many stores.

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Review of Barry Patton's Instructional Video
by Steve Wixson (taken from RBP Vol. 5, No. 1, page 4)

Barry "Bones" Patton's 13 minute video is titled Introduction to Playing the Rhythm Bones. It begins with a one-handed bones demonstration with Byron Berline playing the fiddle. Barry first shows how to hold the bones. He then teaches the forward roll followed by a figure-eight roll. This is followed by the stop (or tap).
He moves to two-handed (or double fisted) bones playing. He demonstrates several different two-handed licks again with Byron on the fiddle. He shows how to play a rhythm beat in one hand to go with the pattern played in the other hand.
Barry suggests that the student get recorded music and practice to learn how to keep the rhythm. He has some advise on what level of proficiency a student needs before jamming or playing with other instrumentalists.
He concludes with a small bit of the history of bones playing.
Barry also sells bones and information on purchasing this video or his bones is available at his website: (temporarily down for reorganization) or call 316-221-9201.

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Review of Aaron Plunkett's Bones Instructional Video
by Steve Wixson (taken from RBP Vol. 2, No. 3, page 3)
Click HERE to see a YouTube excerpt from this video)

The video begins and ends with a very professional music video of Aaron playing bones on a large sailboat. He demonstrates how to hold the bones (Aaron prefers real bones) with the stationary bone between the thumb and first finger and then how to play a tap. The video has beginning, intermediate and advanced lessons based on Irish music though his techniques he says work with manykinds of music.
The beginning lessons begin with tap exercises with individual, alternating and both hands with both down and up beats. He then introduces the triplet again with exercises for individual, alternating and both hands. The section ends with review exercises and listening to similar sounds made by woodpeckers in the wild.
Intermediate lessons begin independent hand training with each hand playing different patterns. He begins with tap exercises to demonstrate the patterns working up to one hand playing continuous triplets while the other hand plays accents. He demonstrates how to use these patterns with single, double and slip jigs both with and without music. The section ends with listening to similar patterns made by horses.
Advanced lessons begin by applying these patterns to basic reels and related rhythms. More complex rhythms are introduced with a fast triplet hooked to a slow triplet with variations. There are more variations with hornpipe and jig rhythms. He contrasts playing the same rhythm with one hand and both hands. He demonstrates the polka rhythm, and cross cultural rhythms including African, flamenco, Cuban, Balkan and Indian, and advanced poly-rhythms. He concludes with an Irish dance piece.
His demonstrations are clear and the exercises well thought out. He uses words and phrases to help convey baasic and complex rhythm patterns. This is a good video for a beginner or advanced bones player.

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