washboard

4 ordinary items that will amp up your cottage jam session

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This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Turn an ordinary cottage singalong into a full-blown jam session by creating fun percussion instruments out of items from the kitchen or the tool shed.

The washboard


An antique washboard makes a great percussion instrument. Hold it flat against your upper body and strum the ridges with a thimble or any other hard object, such as a beer cap. “What you do is chop the beat,” explains Canadian musician Washboard Hank. “Most songs go boom, chuck, boom, chuck. Try to play only the chucks.” Don’t have a washboard? Play a cheese grater or 
a broiler plate.

The musical spoons

Hold two same-sized metal spoons back to back and grip the bottom of the handles with your index finger between them. Keep your wrist limp and bounce to the beat, hitting the spoons against your knee on the downward swing and then your free hand on the upward swing. Experiment with different rhythms and surfaces.

The bottles


Fill empty bottles with various levels of water, and then tap them with a piece of cutlery or a pencil, making clinking sounds. The more water, the lower the pitch. You can tune your bottles to a scale before you start to play, or chance it with different-sized bottles from your liquor cabinet.

The singing saw


A simple handsaw makes a gorgeous sound when played with a violin bow, but it can also be tapped with a rubber mallet or a silicone spatula. It’s tricky to play, but this is a hoot once you get the hang of it. Grip the handle between your thighs, the cutting edge facing away from you (careful!). Pull down the top of the blade with your left hand, and bend it so that it’s curved slightly (similar to an “S” shape). With your utensil, rap the blade at different points until you hear a ringing sound (called the “sweet spot”). Newer, thinner blades can be easier to bend and play, but rusty old saws work just fine.