(WTRF) Appalachian music has a unique sound that includes, bluegrass, old-time, folk, and many more. Backcountry settlers brought their passed-down tunes all the way from Ireland, Scotland, and England, all with the use of simple instruments. An article from West Virginia Tourism highlights the different instruments that are found in the Mountain State.
The most basic of the Appalachian instruments are spoons. The instrument is created by placing two spoons back to back and pinching them between your fingers. They are then tapped on your thigh or hand to create a distinctive “click”.
The banjo originated from stringed instruments from gourd bodies. The banjo is prominent in bluegrass and mainstream country music, but West Virginians have a unique style called “clawhammer”. Instead of using an up-pick players strum down on the strings with their fingers, resulting in a more subtle tune.
The Washtub Bass brings that low sound found in percussion. To make a washtub bass you simply attach a thin cord to the middle underside of a big metal washtub, and tie the other end to a broomstick. The user then braces the stick on the ground and holds it like the neck of a bass, and plucks the single string while you keep a foot on the tub to adjust the tension and pitch.
The Mountain dulcimer was created in Appalachia. It has a box-like construction and is easier to produce than arched backs and tops of mandolins or fiddles. The dulcimer is played on the lap and has a harp-like sound that is airy.
The mandolin is more complicated to create than the previous DIY instruments listed but was easy to buy and learn to play on the frontier. It was brought over by European immigrants and is tuned like a violin, but fretted like a guitar.
The most unique instrument on the list, the psaltery, is a small harp that sits in your arms and is played with a bow. Its sound is a combination of a dulcimer and a violin and is often described as hauntingly beautiful.
The washboard adds a high-pitched percussion to the beat of mountain music, with a drawn-out “rasp”. Old-time players often made their sound louder by adding thimbles to their fingers as they stroked the ridges of the board. Modern-day musicians add small cymbals or woodblocks to create an Appalachian percussion set that is inexpensive and portable.
The Appalachian instruments are fascinating. They are basic, easy to build and or repair, and portable. They came from a variety of cultures and improvised from existing tools and objects of rural life.
The amazing instruments can be found at the West Virginia State Folk Festival in Glenville or the world-famous Appalachian String Band Festival at Camp Washington-Carver.