sandpaper block

Also:       papier de verre      Sandblöcke      ceppi di carta vetro      

Title: demo: sandpaper blocks; David Miller, percussion. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The sandpaper block is a friction idiophone of American or European origin. A pair of blocks is called for occasionally in orchestra, concert band and percussion ensemble music to produce a special-effects sound (e.g., the imitation of a locomotive). No specialization is necessary to play the instrument. It can be considered an auxiliary percussion instrument rarely used today.


One face each of two wood blocks is covered with sandpaper. An elongated second piece of wood is attached to each block on the face opposite that of the sandpaper to serve as a handle. The grit of the sandpaper affects the volume of the instrument--the coarser (lower grit number) the paper, the loader the sound.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The player holds one block in each hand by its handle so that the sandpaper faces are pressed against one another. With a sliding motion the sandpaper faces are vigorously rubbed together to produce sound.


The origin of this instrument is in the woodworker’s shop, from where it was probably first appropriated in early 20th century by drum set players operating in the Vaudeville/music hall circuit as a sound effect. Later in the century the sandpaper block was appropriated by composers of orchestral, concert band, and percussion ensemble music. 

Bibliographic Citations

Blades, James. 1970. Percussion Instruments and Their History. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.

Holland, James. 2005. Practical Percussion. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Americas

Region: North America

Nation: United States of America

Formation: cosmopolitan (Euro-American)

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

131.1 idiophone--individual friction sticks: the instrument is made to vibrate by friction

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: brushing

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: sandpaper

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded collectively

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: friction

Sound exciting agent: colliding sonorous objects

Energy input motion by performer: brushing

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


8 in. length 4 in. width

Primary Materials



Mark Dorr

Entry Author

Roger Vetter