The first time I encountered a mouth bow was at Girl Scout camp many (I’m not about to tell you how many) years ago. It was a camporee weekend, packed full of activities and workshops for us t’weens and teens. One of the workshops was musical instruments from things we could find in the forest, mostly. The most popular of the instruments we learned to make was the mouth bow. By the end of the weekend, nearly everyone had one, and most of us had learned to pluck out a tune or two on them. What’s more, we didn’t need to label our bows. Each of us could identify our own instruments by the sound. Each one had its own distinctive sound.
If you are scratching you head in bewilderment, and thinking to yourself, “What in the world is a mouthbow?,” take a look at these videos I found on Youtube:
In January this year, I taught participants how to make a different musical instrument each week. In one of those programs, we made, decorated, and tried playing on mouthbows. I was able to collect some freshly cut pliable wood from someone trimming his hedges – perfect for our musical instruments. I notched each branch across one end, and carved a notch around the other end. To add a dimension of experimentation to the program, I provided yarn, regular sewing thread, quilting thread, and kite string for participants to try out for the string on their instruments. Each type of material proved challenging to tie onto the stick while holding the stick bent, and each produced a very different sound. After experimenting with the different types of “strings,” the attendees decided on the one each liked the best. Once the bows were strung, they were decorated with ribbon and/or strung beads on one end. Then we all tried out playing our new folk instruments.
Everyone was very proud of their new mouthbows, and most walked around the department playing them before they left the library for the evening.
What a nice way to spend a very cold winter afternoon!