The bones are hand-held thin strips of bone (or more likely, nowadays) wood.
They are rattled to give a rhythmic accompaniment to music. Playing them takes a
lot of practice.
Holding the bones
The following assumes you're right handed; reverse the instructions if you're
Firstly, you need to realise that one of the bones is held rigidly, while the
other one does all the moving. There are two main positional choices - I'll
cover the usual one first, and then discuss how the second position differs.
Notice that the bones are not straight - each will be slightly curved. The bones
are held so that the ends curve away from each other. There will usually be a
thick end and a thin end to each bone. The thin ends are held, and the thick
ends make the noise.
Put one bone in your right hand, with the thin end wedged between the middle
and index fingers. The thin end of the bone should just be visible when viewing
your hand from behind. The bone lies along the palm of your hand, curve pointing
towards the thumb. Put your index finger over the top of the bone, clamping it
firmly in place against the palm. This finger is always kept rigid.
Place the second bone between middle finger and ring finger, matching it so
that it lies neatly next to the rigidly held bone. This second bone is allowed
to wobble freely. Again, the thin end of this bone will just be visible when the
hand is viewed from behind. Make sure the curved ends of the bones point away
from each other.
Getting a noise
Hold your hand up so that the palm of your hand points outward from your
body, forearm vertical. I'll call this wrist position A. Now comes the
trick: Keep your elbow in the one place. Pivot your forearm so that it rotates
down to the left. You'll get about 90 degrees of movement. You should get no
movement beyond the vertical to the right without pain. You actually need only
about 30 degrees of movement.
1) Let your wrist go wobbly.
2) Shake your forearm from left to right and back again - keeping your elbow
in one place.
3) Loosen the grip between your middle and index finger so that the free bone
can waggle a little.
If you keep repeating the above steps, the bones will start to click
together. You are now playing the bones (badly).
Now comes the (very) tricky bit. Your wrist can also pivot through 90
degrees. Keeping the elbow in one place, turn the wrist so that the palm faces
you. I'll call this wrist position B.
Put your wrist in Position A. Start the clicking, as in steps 1,2,3
above. When your arm gets to the vertical, suddenly snap your wrist towards Position
B. This will click the bones once, and throw the loose bone away from the
rigid bone. Keep your wrist in Position B until the loose bone falls back
and clicks against the rigid bone. Now rotate the wrist back to Position A
as you move the hand back to the left end of its shake, when the bones will
The double click is kind of like a triplet on the bodhran. The snap of the
wrist is the key part to the sound you get from the bones. THIS SNAP CAN TAKE
MANY WEEKS OR EVEN MONTHS OF PRACTICE TO GET RIGHT. You must practice, practice,
practice, trying tiny variations in grip of the loose bone, the angle of the
wrist at snap, the amount of wrist shake until suddenly : RAT A TAT. You can now
play the bones. Go out and celebrate. You are one of the few.
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