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Saturday, February 18, 2012

A thumb piano and a didgeridoo

In spite of my tin ear and inability to carry a tune, even in a bucket, instruments fascinate me.  Mom was a decent pianist and saw to it we had music lessons.  Mel, Jan and I gave up the piano in short order.  Walt was pretty good on trumpet.  The music gene apparently skipped a generation; music lessons stuck for Beth and Shelly and each can play you a tune or two.

Summer outdoor art festivals frequently included outdoor music groups with guitars, banjos, and even dulcimers, hammered dulcimers, lutes, and other folk instruments.  Wandering the booths before a show opened, I occasionally found craftsmen who made and sold folk instruments that fascinated them.  Of course I could not do them justice.  The thumb piano may just as well have been called an all thumbs piano.  I bought them any way; I appreciated the work and workmanship, and thought I could always find someone who could play them.

At our house that is Tom, who gets a tune out of everything I’ve brought home.  You’ve already met the flute walking stick.  It was made and demonstrated to me by an artist in New Jersey.  I think the walking stick bit was a marketing ploy; you wouldn’t want to be stuffing plugs of dirt up the end of the flute.  It’s very mellow; Pan would have liked it in his old age.

The thumb piano is a very old African instrument.  Mine has lost its neck thong and been scuffed around a bit. The tines are set in octaves. Mine (but long since passed to Beth), is one octave, great for simple mellow melodies.  Here is a fellow who uses all his thumbs beautifully.

I followed the sound of the didgeridoo to the maker’s booth and listened entranced to the humming sound, rising and falling like waves, like water, like the wind, like sand through an hour glass.  I cannot describe it.  Tom, the old coronet player, can made sound with it, and it’s fun to have in the corner for the kids to try.

I found this legend of the first Didgeridoo


  1. Interesting instruments...

  2. I had not heard of a thumb piano and listened entranced. And I love didgeridoo music. I hadn't heard the 'first didgeridoo' story either. Thank you.

  3. I love the didgeridoo. So mysterious and deep. And that thumb piano is fascinating! I've never even heard of those! And I would be able to play in your All-Thumbs orchestra. I'd play bass. Poorly.