Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection


1 item


Clapsticks is a pair of concussion stick idiophones (clappers) of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. It is used by Aboriginal groups throughout the Australian continent. Many names exist for this instrument in the Aboriginal languages and, in northern Australia, quite often the name used by one group will be similar to their name for the didjeridu. In northern Australia, clapsticks are played by male, didjeridu accompanied singers “… in ‘open’ (non-secret) ceremonies (including funeral and mourning ceremonies), clan songs (which express affiliation with particular lineages, emblems and territories), camp entertainment songs, djedbangari or djatpangarri (‘fun’ songs of young bachelors) and individually owned songs such as wongga and gunborg.” (Jones, p. 565) Elsewhere on the continent where the didjeridu is not found, clapsticks are utilized by most Aborigine groups to accompany singing in ceremonies and for dancing. (Marett, et al) By the 1990s, Aborigine popular music groups (most famously, Yothu Yindi, who toured internationally as a ‘world music’ group) were incorporating both the clapsticks and the didjeridu into their music (audio #2). Description These clapsticks are made from solid hardwood that has been minimally shaped with an adz from the tree branch from which they originated to give each of the sticks pointed ends. There is no standardized size for clapsticks, but in comparison with clapsticks seen in published images and found in other collections, this pair is relatively short. Decorative designs are painted onto the sticks. Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production A player holds one stick near one of its ends in each hand and forcefully clashes their other ends together. A high, clear, penetrating, and loud sound of indefinite pitch and short duration results. A singer accompanying himself on clapsticks will often use the instrument to reinforce the primary pulse of his song (audio #1). Dance movement will be coordinated around the beat provided on the clapsticks by a singer or singers. Origins/History/Evolution The origin of the Aboriginal clapsticks will likely never be known with any certainty. Depictions of the instrument, in conjunction with didjeridus, appear in rock paintings, but much speculation is involved in their dating. Suffice it to say that, like the didjeridu, clapsticks have been in use for at least the past one thousand years.