Friday, September 4, 2015

Mouth Bow Musical Instrument

It's no secret. We're B-I-G fans of DIY music instruments. Need proof? Check out our homemade piano, wrenches xylophone, drinking straw flute, craft stick harmonica, balloon bongo drums, PVC palm pipes, and tissue box guitar!

It's been awhile since the kids got to pluck some strings, though. This simple instrument requires very few supplies, comes together quickly and easily, and makes some surprisingly cool sounds! 

What You Need
Strong string
A stick (ours was about 12-14 inches) that bends without breaking
Plastic disposable drinking cup
Craft knife (for only adults to use)
Cling wrap (optional)

Making Your Mouth Bow
Wrap one end of a length of string around an end of the stick, about an inch down from its tip. Tie it in a sturdy knot.

Bend the stick and tie the string on the other end of the stick, about an inch from the tip. Knot it tightly. Clip any excess string.

Have a parent cut a slit near the top of the plastic cup using a craft knife.

Insert one end of the stick into the slit in the cup.

How to Make Music with Your Mouth Bow
Place one end of the stick in your mouth, clamp down on it with your teeth (not your lips and tongue). If the idea of your child putting a stick in their mouth makes you nervous, you can cover the end of the stick with a small piece of plastic cling wrap.

With the mouth bow firmly in place, use one hand to lightly hold the stick and the other to pluck the string. The cup is your resonator.

To make the tone change from high to low, gently bend the bow even more and release. 

This instrument has a long history. According to the book Kidtopia by Roberta Gould, which provided our instructions for this activity, the mouth bow may have been one of the world's very first musical devices and has been played all over the world, especially Africa, Asia, and South America and even some Native American groups. Where the original instrument would have used a gourd as a resonator, we've used a plastic cup. Check out Gould's book for even more great crafts for kids!


  1. I've never seen one of these before. Looks like something right up my son's ally. Why does it go in the mouth? It doesn't seem like having it in the mouth has anything to do with making the sound.

    1. You're right. Having it in the mouth doesn't seem to have any bearing on the sound that's produced. However, with one hand plucking and one gently holding the bow, you do need some way to steady the instrument. I hope you try it. We were shocked at the variety of tones we made just by changing the bend in the bow ever so slightly!

  2. A mouthbow. Is played by placing the small end on the outside of the hollow part of your mouth. You cash he the tones by the shape of yourouth and/or bending the the bow.