Real Animal Rhythm Bones

Cow Ribs

The Commonest of Animal Rhythm Bones


Wood Bones


Other Bones

This section of the Museum is a gallery of photographs of the many kinds of rhythm bones. It is organized by type of rhythm bones and links to each section are below. Click the thumbnail image to see more photographs. Click inside the Text Box to read more about each item. Click Museum Home to exit.

Ivory Rhythm Bones

Whale Rhythm Bones

Cow Rib Rhythm Bones

Cow Shin Rhythm Bones

Scrimshaw Rhythm Bones

Another Scrimshaw

Rhythm Bones

Other Animal Rhythm Bones

Egypt The Ancient Egyptians have a history of playing clappers, looking very much like rhythm bones, dating back as early as 4000 BC. These instruments were carved in the shape of hands, out of wood, and Ivory, and used during religious rituals. Many of these instruments can be found in Museums of Egyptian Antiquties, and are also on display in a variety of books, such as Mickey Hart's Planet Drum, and on the internet under the French name, Cliquette. Steve Brown

Whale Rhythm Bones. Here is a picture of early whale bones that must date from the mid 19th century. Whale bone is unique as a material for rhythm bones playing as it has a natural cellular structure which makes them lighter than cow shin bone and also means they have a more hollow sound. It is the perfect material and when whale products were used for so many things during the whaling times, it was a common material choice for rhythm bones. Click inside Text Box to learn more about Driver Bones.   Nicholas Driver

Cow Rib Bones in the right size work very well for a balanced rhythm and offer more variety in sound. The optimum length is about 9” but that can vary.  The trick is to find two individual bones that somewhat match.  Ideally you would have the left rib bone and opposite rib bone from the same set of cow ribs and from a smaller cow.  Usually it takes a lot of sorting to get the ideal pair. Every pair will sound different because the curve varies greatly…and the hand position can change the sound dramatically just by changing the position of the grip up or down by ¼ of an inch! After the bones are boiled and dried out completely they can be cut to equal length then sanded with a fine paper.  The sound will not change that much but the smooth surface gives the bones a nice feel. Dave 'Black Bart' Boyles

Cow Shin or Leg Bone The process of shaping bone or Ivory for the use as rhythm bones goes back to the early Egyptians. Shaped like hands, when played the hands clapped together. Later whale bone with it’s easily carvable texture was used, many examples still exist. When bones became popular in 19th century America, cow leg bones were employed due to easy availability. It was found that the inside of the bone provided the right angle of curve when the marrow was removed. Cow bone’s brittleness made shaping difficult with out machinery, and tedious at best. As the 20th century progressed, and more advanced machinery became available, cow bone was used more frequently, add to that the ban on the use of Whale bone and Ivory. Today many makers do use cow leg bones, some still preferring to shape it by hand. The Driver family, who lived in the South of England was the largest producer of bone bones through much of the 20th Century. They sent bones all over the world, the early pairs are distinguished by having the label “English Made” on them. They used whale bone until it was unobtainable, but switched to cow leg bone, importing much of it from South America. Steve Brown

Scrimshaw. A finely polished bone makes a perfect surface for scrimshaw art work.  That is the process of etching a fine image on the surface with a sharp needle- like tool. The process was created originally by the whale ship sailors back in the 1700s. When there was leisure time they would use a sailcloth needle to scratch the surface then spit tobacco juice on the surface of something like a whale or sharks tooth bringing out the image.  Later black inks were used. Dave Boyles

Scrimshaw. Tim Reilly started playing bones in 1988 at Mystic Seaport after listening to and meeting  Martin Fay of the Chieftains.  He teaches a class at Williams College on bones and percussion instruments used at sea.  He also makes bones. He became part of Mystic Seaport after going there to read Moby Dick.  He is a ship rigger and repairs and restores masts and spars and rigging of tall sailing ships.  He crossed the Atlantic in 1994 and played bones in all of the ports that he visited. As shown in the Thumbnail, he is an excellent scrimshaw carver and has taught this art at Bones Fests.

Other Animal Bones. Rhythm bones can be made from most any animal that will fit into one's hands. Ox bone from an old animal is one of the hardest bones.  Pig bones are too soft to make a good sound. Other popular animals are horse, buffalo or bison, goat, moose, etc.