Mouthbow: Small Voices
John Palmes ('Palms') lives in Juneau, Alaska. His new CD, Small Voices is the product of almost 40 years of figuring out what the world's first stringed instrument can do. Preposterous... James Brown meets J.S. Bach on a single string. A unique and beautiful sound. Amazing music! 'I learned to make and play mouthbows in the late 60's after hearing Buffy Sainte Marie's recordings. I also heard Jimmie Driftwood's mouthbow playing. His mouthbow was made from an oak stave from a whiskey barrel.' Jimmie Driftwood's, Battle of New Orleans is the first cut on the CD, and Buffy Sainte Marie's version of Groundhog is on there too. Native Americans played mouthbows, but slaves from Africa brought the mouthbow to the southeastern United States. 'My next goal is travel to Africa to see the mouthbow in it's native habitat. I'm looking for contacts in Africa to point me in the right direction.' Mouthbow is a great classroom instrument for musicians of all ages. It is a simple and elegant demonstration of the physics of music theory, It's also cheap and easy to make. Music teachers and physics teachers should know about mouthbows. Mouthbow works like a jaw harp. Plucking the string sets a whole bunch of notes in motion but we hear mostly the fundamental tone of the whole string vibrating. Put the bow in front of your open mouth and the mouth becomes a resonating chamber that amplifies and allows us to hear the other tones, the harmonics that are also floating on the string. There are 8 tones in the major scale. The string by itself makes the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 8th notes. Fingers of the left hand make the fourth and fifth notes of the scale and generate all the other notes as overtones. This is why the I, IV and V chords are so important in music. Melodies are excursions from notes generated by the first note of the scale (I), to those that are furthest from it and then back again. As you move from the I note to the IV note, tension is created. Move to the V and there is so much tension the melody is forced back to I. Since it all happens in your head, the best way to experience the mouthbow is to make one and play it yourself. That's why instructions for making and playing the mouthbow are included.