Mouth-Bow Music

Grade Level

Selection: "Cassienne"
Performer: Norris Welsh

Selection: "Lemme Go My Jumby"
Performer: Alstead McQueen

Activity #1: Do, Sol, and Triple Meter Music on a Mouth Bow(I)
1. Listen to "Cassienne."

Q: What instrument is the performer playing?

A: A mouth bow called the cocoa lute by the people of Grenada.

Q: How do you think it is played?

A: (See #2)

Q: How many pitches do you hear?

A: Just two, a higher 'do' and a lower 'sol'

2. Explain that on the Caribbean island of Grenada, there is a mouth-bow tradition that hails back to West Africa. Many enslaved people brought the tradition with them, and made mouth bow as and other one-string instruments in the southern United States, across the Caribbean, and into South American (in the Guianas, Columbia, and Brazil). The mouth is used as a resonating cavity, and the bow of cocoa wood and its single string is held lightly against the mouth. The player hums to made the higher and lower pitches, while the string itself is struck with a small twig.

3. Play the recording, asking students to follow carefully the performance of the high and low pitch, a tonic 'do' and dominant 'sol.' They can use a hand, or the 'do' and 'sol' hand signs, to indicate the two pitches.

4. Lead children in keeping a triple-meter ostinato rhythm while listening (and perhaps lightly singing the 'do' and 'sol' pitches): pat clap clap 1 2 3 

5. Encourage children to explore the possibilities for making a mouth bow, using a supple tree limb and a guitar string. For the sound effect alone, demonstrate the way in which a rubber band could be tightened and loosened to produce high and low sounds; by placing the mouth near to the rubber band, the volume increases. Note that another similar timbre to the mouth bow is a jew's harp, which also requires the mouth as a resonating cavity to increase the volume of a melody played on its plucked iron tongue.

Suggested Activity #2: Do, Sol, and Duple Meter Mouth Bow Music

1. Listen to "Lemme Go My Jumby."

Q: How many pitches do you hear?

A: Two, 'do' and 'sol'

Q: Is this melody in duple (1-2-3-4) or triple (1-2-3) meter?

A: Duple

2. Play the recording again, asking students to tap on their laps '1-2-3-4' to the duple meter of the music.

3. Listening again to the recording, ask students to sing softly the 'do' and 'sol' of the melody while also indicating with their hands the high and the low pitches. Since the melody centers on 'do,' with only a quick jump down to 'sol,' the movement can unfold in this way, with two fists tapping quickly together at about chest level and then opening, dropping down to 'sol' (with a quick finger-tap together of the open hands) before quickly leaping up again to the tapping of the two fists.

4. Explore yet another mouth bow tradition carried by slaves from West Africa to the new world of the Americas, looking into the single-string instrument of Brazil known as the berimbau, an important instrument of the martial art of capoeira.

Cultural Link: Carriacou, Grenada, West African (and Central African) musical bow, Brazilian berimbau

Designed by Patricia Shehan Campbell