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Musical bow

For the device drawn across the strings of string instruments such as the violin to make them sound, see bow (music).


The musical bow is a simple string musical instrument consisting of a string supported by a flexible string bearer, usually made out of wood. Often, it is a normal archery bow used for music rather than as a weapon.

Although the bow is now thought of as a weapon, it is not clear whether it was used in this way originally. Cave paintings in southern France dated to around 15,000 BC, show a bow being used as a musical instrument, so this use certainly has a long history. Musical bows are still used in a number of cultures today, almost all over the world.

The usual way to make the bow sound is to pluck the string, although sometimes a subsidiary bow is used to scrape the string, much as on a violin. Unlike string instruments used in classical music, however, they do not have a built-in resonator, although resonators may be made to work with the bow in a number of ways.

The most usual type of resonator consists of a gourd attached to the back of the string bearer. The bow may also be stood in a pit or gourd on the ground, or one end of it may be partially placed in the mouth. This last method allows the size of the resonator to be varied as the instrument is played, thus allowing a melody to be heard consisting of the notes resonating in the player's mouth. As well as these various forms of resonators, the bow is frequently played without a resonator at all.

The musical bow is generally played on its own, as a solo instrument.

Sound sample

  • Musical bow.ogg (ogg format, 18 seconds, 94KB) - a Mbuti[?] pygmy[?] playing a plucked musical bow. He is using his mouth as a resonator, and by changing the shape of his mouth, and thus the amount of air contained within it, different notes can be heard above the unchanging "twang" of the bow string itself. This effect makes the bow sound rather like a jew's harp[?].



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