Sunday, August 4, 2013

Stumpf Fiddles and Stomp Sticks

Meet Joe, my Stumpf Fiddle. He has served as the percussion section for my high school fiddle group as well as my third grade hoedown program. He's great for getting students' attention, keeping a steady beat, exploring timbre, and improvising with rhythm patterns. As you can see, Joe isn't the typical Stumpf fiddle (if there is such a thing); most don't have faces and wear a hat. The novelty of naming him and making him a member of musical groups has worked very well with my students.

I built him on an old-fashioned mop stick - the type with a metal bracket to hold the mop. This gave me something to attach the head boards to. I cut two identical shapes out of 1" x 12" pine and screwed them together with the metal frame in the middle. 

Then, with a nail, I punched/hammered holes in the middle of a bunch of old bottle caps, and attached groups of three caps to the head using wood screws. (Wood screws are the type that have threads on the end but a smooth shank .) I only drove the screws part way in, leaving the bottle caps free to jingle.

Joe's 'outfit' can be changed or added to. Currently, I really like his 'ribs' - an old Jell-O mold that gives both a nice clang and a washboard-type sound. His standard equipment also includes an old wood block, a plastic bucket, and a bike horn. His jingles (bottle caps) provide a tambourine effect, and at Christmas, I like to tie on some jingle bells. I use a rubber ball or large rubber cap on the bottom of the stick, which when struck against the floor, serves as a bass drum.

Although I'm a string player, I didn't like having a string on this instrument because it got in the way and it wasn't loud enough to be heard over the other sounds. So I guess technically, this is a Stumpf stick. I also like to call this a STOMP STICK because it 'stomps' the beat and uses a lot of found-sounds, as does the famous group, STOMP. (Kids relate well to this.)

Stumpf fiddles are known by several names and have an interesting history. They can be very useful and FUN. Here's are a couple of links to brief histories of the instrument in its various forms and some basic instructions:

Obviously, a classroom full of stomp sticks would be impractical and extremely noisy. So I developed this MINI STOMP STICK, which has a variety of timbres and can be played by tapping it on a desktop, book, or chair seat.  These have been a big hit with several teachers and their students. Older students can help make these, or a parent volunteer can help you put these together for younger ones. Either way, you will want to do a bit of prep such as cutting dowels to length and drilling small holes where the screws will be driven.

Click on the arrow below to watch a demonstration of this awesome little instrument in action.

For each mini stomp stick you will need:

A 16" length of a 7/8" diameter dowel
(You can get three from a standard 48" dowel)

One 1" wood screw

One 3/8" wood screw

Three bottle caps (and a couple of small, thin washers if desired)

A small tin can with corrugated sides (6 oz. tomato sauce  or fruit can)

An 8-10" length of quarter-inch dowel (mallet handle)

A wooden bead with a quarter-inch hole (mallet head)

Tools: hammer and nail, screwdriver, drill, large metal file, electric drill with a small bit, and wood glue

(1) Cut dowels to length. (2) Drill a small hole in the top end of the stick, and on one side about 1/3 down from the top. These will help the screws go in easily and prevent wood from splitting. (3) Punch holes in the center of each bottle cap and into the center of the can's bottom. (4) File ridges into the lower half of the stick on the front side (same side as the hole you drilled) about 1/4" apart. (5) Stack bottle caps (and washers) onto the wood screw and drive the screw part way into the front, leaving enough room for the pieces to jingle. (6) Fasten the can onto the top of the stick using the smaller screw. (7) Apply glue to the end of the mallet dowel and inside the bead's hole, insert the dowel, and wipe off excess glue. 

As with any Stumpf fiddle, students can experiment with combinations and materials. Here's a picture of a variation which produces three timbres instead of four:   

I would love to hear about any Stumpf fiddles or stomp sticks you create.

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