Rhythm Bones History


Jonathan Danforth’s Virtual Bones Fest XXIV workshop titled ‘Bones through Space and Time’ presents a unique view of the history of rhythm bones.  He shows how ideas, like rhythm bones, spread around the world and through time.  Worth a little time to read – click HERE (starts about half way down the middle column).


This Page is not a comprehensive historical work, and is based primarily on articles from the Rhythm Bones Player newsletter.



Rhythm Bones Player


The Rhythm Bones Player Newsletter has been published four times a year since 2000 with one issue in 1999, and contains a wide variety of current and historical information. There are quarterly columns from the Executive Director and Editor, Letters to the Editor, Recording of the Quarter, Website of the Quarter, and a Calendar. The feature article begins on Page 1 and there are many smaller articles in each issue.


The newsletters are in PDF format, and that file is rather large which takes some time to download.  Click to view the newsletters


Being in PDF format, you can search the newsletters using the Find command of the free Adobe Reader. This is a powerful feature over searching the paper versions. Note that the newsletter file loads into a new browser window so that you can switch back and forth to it without having to reload it.


Finally, this little newsletter is fully cataloged by and stored in the Library of Congress making this information available to current and future researchers.

Some of the Best Published Historical Articles


Sue Barber’s University of Michigan senior project paper titled The Bones, Ancient to Modern has been referenced by many people. Sue had access to Percy Danforth and his library. It has a small bibliography. 1975


McDowell’s article titled Bones and Man: Toward a History of Bones Playing, Traces rhythm bones playing to US from Europe and includes minstrelsy. Has a large bibliography. 1982. RBP,186 The article itself is online:


Beth Lenz’s Master Thesis titled ‘Bones in the United States’ documents that rhythm bones came to the US from Europe. Beth had access to Percy Danforth and his library. It has a large bibliography. 1989. Parts of it were printed in the RBP newsletter.


The Mescher Bones Tradition: Syncopations on the American Landscape. This PhD thesis by Dr. Mel Mercier is a study of the development, transmission and performance of the Mescher style of rhythm bones playing. This is the first PhD thesis on rhythm bones, but it covers a lot more. 2011.  The link above is an abstract of the Thesis and there is a link there to the complete Thesis.



Rhythm Bones Status in 1999

1999 Internet Research

How to Make and Play Bones – a 1982 Article

Click To View a Portfolio of Rhythm Bones

This Portfolio has examples of many of the rhythm bones that are made for sale.

Names given to the Bones around the World

Country or Culture:  Name

Anglo-Saxon:  possibly cladersticca

Asturia (in Spain):  tarranoelles

Australia:  clapsticks

Basque:  artxalus

Breton (Celts in France):  gradjel, gragell

China:  ban, pan

Chwana (in South Africa, Botswana):  marapo, marupa

Denmark:  Smældstikker

Egypt (ancient):  mah (straight), awoy (curved), dwawt (angled)

English-speaking:  bones, clappers, kicky-knackers, clackers, castanets, nackers

France, Quebec:  os, cliquettes, claquettes

Galicia (in Spain):  tarranuelles, tarrañolas, castaneta, trancañolas, tixoletas, trécolas

German:  Brettchenklapper, Brettschen, Kleppern, Klepperle

Greece (ancient):  krotala

Ireland, Scotland (where Gaelic is spoken):  cnamhan, cnaimh

Japan:  hyoshigi

Latvia:  klapîtes

Netherlands: Kleppers
Playing them: Klepperen

Norway:  Smellstikker

Okinawa:  yotsudake

Persia (medieval):  chihar pare

Poland: kości

Portugal:  trancanholas

Roman Empire:  crotala

Russia:  lozhki

Spain:  tejoletas, palillos, tarrañuelas, tarreñas, tejuelas, tejas, telletas, losetas, recholetas, pizarretas

Sweden:  snatterpinnar

Switzerland:  chlefeli

Thailand:  kaep, kap

Turkey:  çarpara, çalpara

Vietnam:  cap ke

Zulu (South Africa):  amatambo




Bones in modern China
Chinese folk percussion
Chinese Clappers Video by Mei Han
Bones played on Great Wall
Scott Miller on Kuai Ban
Kuai Ban Instruction
Kuai Ban Performance



Rexroad find Egyptian Bones



Greece and Rome

Walter Maioli Article??





Bones around the world
Was First US Performer from Germany?
Klepperle in english
Kleppele video
Klepperle video online again
More on Chleferle
Chlefele notation
RB in Switzerland



Rhythm Bones in Netherland (a letter)



Shakespeare and bones
Rhythm Bones in Spain & England
An English Bone Tail


Australia/New Zealand

Notes from Australia
Trip to Australia & NZ
Bush Music Club-Make & Play
Bush Music Club-Bob Bolton Collection
Bush Music Club-SINGABOUT February 1994
Bush Music Club-Wixson Visit



An Irish Bones Story
Bones and Chieftains
Wixson trip to Ireland
Bones in Sligo


Tom Connolly
Ronnie McShane
Mel Mercier
Peader Mercier
Paddy ‘Sport’ Murphy


All-Ireland Bones Competition
Dan Murphy Letter to Editor
Remembering Dan Murphy
Competition Report
Steve  Brown Wins (a Letter)
John Forde wins Junior
Gail Brayden First Female Winner
Paddy Donavan wins his 4th
2015 All-Ireland
Celebrates 25 Years
Virtual All-Ireland



Bones in Tuscany
CD release
Etruscan Painting


South Africa

Rhythm Bones in  South Africa



Rhythm Bones from Barbatos


United States



Frank Brower, first player
Brief Summary of early minstrel players
Rap, Rap, Rap on your Minstrel Bones – Edward Meeker
Yirdy finds minstrel players
Thesis – No Country For End Men
Minstrel marrionette


Civil War, WWI/WWII War

Bones During Civil War
Pair of bones
Walt Watkins finds civil was bones bones
RB in civil war camp
Civil War comes to school



Adams workshop
Bones at Sea
More Bones at Sea


Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour

Story with Partial List of Performers
John Hall
Jack Frost
1966 Article Mentioning Bones


Jack Gerson

George Gilmore
(George played for General Eisenhower)
Jerry Mescher