As I mentioned in previous posts, MusiCamp was considering the possibility of campers making washtub basses as well as diddley bos this summer. So, this past Victoria Day my partner and I attempted to make a washtub bass.
For those of you who don’t know, a washtub bass is a one-stringed bass made up of a stick, a string, and an overturned washtub as the resonator (or better understood as what amplifies the sound of the plucked string).
Tin olive oil container on left and 5 gallon plastic bucket on right.
We tried two different containers (the resonator of the instrument), two different strings, and a variety of playing techniques. While we quickly resolved what physical equipment (resonator and string) worked best, the playing techniques is clearly a work in progress ;) .
One container was a food-industry size oil container. It was metal and so I figured it would resonate more like a traditional washtub than the other alternative resonator, the 5 gallon plastic bucket. But the plastic bucket had a way fuller sound and the one we much preferred.
The two strings we tried was a cotton rope and a plastic weed-wacker line. We liked the rope more but it busted before we even got a chance to properly savour the sound. Luckily, the sound of the weed-waker line wasn’t dramatically different from the rope.
The construction simply involved taking a rake or broom handle, indenting a groove on one end and drilling a hole in the other. We also drilled a whole in the middle of the container/resonator. We then tied the one end of the weed-waker line to the container/resonator and the other end to the stick (which involved wrapping it around the stick a number of times and then securing it with duck-taped). Then we inserted the groove/indent on the rim of the bucket, the string becomes taught, and we started to twang away.
String attached to resonator
Drilling a hole in the broom handle
Stringing the stick up
Using a 5 gallon plastic bucket instead
I had assumed that playing different pitches/notes involved moving the stick back and forth; however, this seemed very difficult to keep in tune -as you can see in the youtube video below.
The playing technique that I soon adopted involved placing the stick a little closer to the centre of the bucket and using my fingers (usually just the index finger or the whole hand) to pitch the notes as well as moving the stick.
So, while I still need to work on the bass playing technique and possibly experiment with the instrument design to help secure the stick a little more (and thereby the intonation of the pitches/notes I play!) it is quite a simple thing to make and it makes a great bass sound!
Final say on the wash tub bass at MusiCamp? It’s definitely going to happen. I.e., if campers want to make one, it is very possible!
July 14 – 18 2014 9 am – 4 pm (extended care available)
… special guest artist for this week includes acclaimed fiddler/singer Rosalyn Dennett!
Drawing from old time and Appalachian musics, bluegrass, shaped note singing, and other folk musics from North America as well as the English and Celtic traditions, Roots Music Week is all about group singing and playing folk songs. While there is always room for those who just want to sing, this week we welcome campers to bring their fiddle, guitar, ukulele, or banjo – or we can arrange the rental for those following a new found interest on one of these instruments. Guest artist co-leading the week is acclaimed fiddler/singer Rosalyn Dennett who happens to have some experience teaching dance so there’s a chance we’ll also be doing a little jigging, clogging or square dancing! As we do in every week, we’ll also be making an instrument and visiting Dufferin Grove park for pizza days and other outdoor activity. The week will end with a coffee house style performance that parents and friends are invited to attend.
No previous training required. But those with skills on or ambition to play violin/fiddle, guitar, ukelel, or banjo will want to consider this week!
MusiCamp is a summer day camp experience that explores music making in a positive environment, filled with activities that build your child’s musical skills in an intuitive and fun way. The activities are designed to supplement traditional formal musical training but also be accessible to the less experienced music enthusiasts. Weekly themes like The Blues, Singer-Songwriter or West African Drumming provide musical direction to the week, which is further supplemented with craft making (instruments and masks) and stories that broaden the child’s cultural and historical understandings of music and society. It all culminates in a end of week performance to which parents and friends are welcomed to attend.
No instrument needed. No formal musical training. All that’s need is a love for music, the willingness to explore the voice in all its beauty and rawness, and the readiness to be a part of an exciting and affirmative team!