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Title: demo: slapstick; David Miller, percussion. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The whip is a concussion idiophone or clapper of ancient origins used in Europe and around the cosmopolitan world as an auxiliary band, orchestra, and percussion ensemble instrument. A variant version of this instrument called the slapstick (second gallery image) is also discussed in this entry. These instruments require no specialized training to play, and any member of a percussion section or ensemble can play them. The whip is occasionally called for in compositions to mimic the sound of a whip, but its use is not restricted to this iconic function.


The whip and the slapstick both consist basically of two long rectangular blocks of wood hinged together. The whip (gallery #1) is made from two wood blocks of identical dimensions with a metal hinge connecting one of their ends and a wood handle attached to the outside face of each block near the hinged end of the instrument. The slapstick (gallery #2) consists again of two blocks of wood, but these blocks are not identical in all their dimensions. One end of what might be called the ‘handle block’ is thicker than its sounding section and is shaped to form a handle. A second, shorter block of wood with the same dimensions as the sounding section of the handle block has one end connected to the handle with a spring hinge so that it aligns perfectly with the sounding section of the handle block. 

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The holding of and energy input for the playing of these two instruments differ. The two handles of the whip (gallery #1) are held by the performer, one handle in each hand. With a forceful clapping-like motion, the inside faces of the two blocks are brought together to produce a single loud sound of indefinite pitch and short duration. The handle of the slapstick (gallery #2) is held by the player with one hand. Before sounding, the instrument must be lifted to roughly a vertical position. The player then forcefully whips the instrument downward in a hammering-like motion and stops this motion when the instrument reaches horizontal. The hammering motion briefly separates the open end of the hinged block, but with the stopping of this motion centrifugal force brings the faces of the two blocks into forceful contact with one another producing a sound similar to that of the whip. Fast repetition of articulations is not possible, and generally single articulations of these two closely related instruments are asked for.


Wood clappers, especially ones that are not hinged together, are of ancient and multiple sites of origin. These would include the European cliquettes, the Chinese paiban, and the shakubyoshi, the latter used in Japanese Shinto practices. Sources are not forthcoming with a definitive date for the creation of the hinged whip (or slapstick), but the instrument is first called for in European opera and orchestral scores in the 19th century.

Bibliographic Citations

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

________. 1984. “Whip [slapstick],” NGDMI v.3: 850-851.

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

Malm, William P. 1959. Japanese Music and Musical Instruments. Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: cosmopolitan (Euro-American)

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.11 idiophone--concussion sticks or stick clappers: two or more are struck against each other

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: clapping

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: block - oblong bar

Sound objects per instrument: two sounded collectively

Resonator design: no resonator

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: concussing - direct

Sound exciting agent: colliding sonorous objects

Energy input motion by performer: clapping

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


24 in. length (gallery #1) 2.5 in. width (gallery #1) 18 in. total length (gallery #2) 12 in. length of slap block (gallery #2) 2.3 in. width (gallery #2)

Primary Materials

hinge - spring-loaded


Weiss (gallery #1) unknown (gallery #2)


SW-LRGSLA (gallery #1) unknown (gallery #2)

Entry Author

Roger Vetter