The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Folkways - Spoon Playing

By John Beard © 1984

Issue: January, 1984

folkwaysSpoon playing.While plinkin’ on my banjo on a recent visit to Meadows of Dan, I brought up the name of Morton McKinsey. You can imagine my surprise when my friends told me that they had never heard of Morton McKinsey. Why, that’s almost unbelievable as somebody saying that they had never tasted hog jowls with possum innards. I recollected to them how the boys and I used to get Morton to play along with our band back in Spring Hollow and how he went on to become America’s finest symphonic spoon player.

You’re not going to believe this but then my friends told me that they’d never heard of a spoon player. I called some music stores in the area and was shocked to learn that nobody around here gives spoon lessons anymore!

To make a long story longer, I decided that since I had had the good fortune to have studied with the great Morton McKinsey, I would pass on my knowledge by giving you all a spoon lesson.

To start, you’ll need two spoons. Now don’t go buy any fancy spoons from the music store. Just get some from home - any size’ll do - but teaspoons work the best for me.

The grip is the important thing. Lay the spoons back to back. With the right hand (reverse these instructions if you are left handed), grasp the spoons so that the handle of the top spoon passes between the thumb and the first finger and the handle of the second lower spoon passes between the first and second fingers. The first finger should now be between the two spoon handles about half way down the handles. This finger should also be causing the two spoon bowls to be separated by about one-half inch.

Making sure that the spoon handle ends are in your palm and the bowls stay one-half inch apart, make a firm fist. Tap lower spoon against leg. A metallic “click” will sound. Except for this instant of the “click”, the spoon bowls should remain one-half inch from each other. Got it? Try again. When you can tap your leg several times, get a “click” each time, and not have to stop to readjust the spoons, you’re ready to go on to step two.

For this step, hold your left hand about six inches above your thigh, hit your thigh with the down stroke. On the upstroke, hit your hand. Go back and forth until you can master a dozen or so “clicks”. At this point, you can try rhythms, odd beats and the like. For variations, tap spoons from elbow to thigh, wrist to chest, knee to knee and so on.

Having mastered these steps, you may consider yourself an advanced spoon player. For those who would become experts, read on.

Keeping your left hand about six inches above your leg, bend your fingers down at a sixty (60) degree angle to your hand. With spoons, tap palm-fingers-leg. This gives you a horse trot effect. Try it again in quick motion. Got it? Good! Let’s go on.

Spread the fingers of the left hand. Hit 1st-2nd-3rd-4th-leg to produce a roll. When you can do this, you moved into the Morton McKinsey class and are ready for the big leagues.

Next time your out for dinner or in a restaurant waiting for a waitress, grab a set of spoons and show your stuff. If you’re anywhere near Spring Hollow when you do, say “Hi” to everybody and do Morton proud.

That about does it for this month. If you have any questions or ideas for topics or, if you just want to say hi, please feel free to drop me a note care of The Mountain Laurel.

Thanks for your help! We’ll see ya next month.