Musical Saw

Name: Musical Saw.
Type: Idiophones > Percussion > Friction > Bowed.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 132.22
Country: Many.
Region: Global.

Description: A musical saw, also called a singing saw it is a hand saw used as a musical instrument. The Musical Saw has its origins in Appalachian mountains in South Eastern United States. Capable of continuous glissando [portamento]; the sound creates an ethereal tone, very similar to the theremin. The musical saw is classified as a plaque friction idiophone with direct friction [132.22] under the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification.

History: Prior to the 1900s playing of the musical saw was fairly rare outside Appalachia. By the early 1900’s its popularity began to spread across the United States. It’s popularity peaked on the musical hall stages of the 20’s and 30’s. During the Vaudeville days of the the 1920’s much of the acclaim the musical saw garnered was due to its use by the Weaver Brothers, one of America’s most successful entertainment groups of that era.

Playing Techniques: During performance the musician holds the saw in a “S” like pattern with a slit piece of wood being a support for the left hand. The right hand controls the bowing. They are capable of a 3 to 4 octave range.

Citations: Bibliography: Stanley Sadie – New Grove Dictionary Of Music, Page 308 Sautille, article contributed by Graham Johnson; Mussehl & Westphal – The Musical Saw Pioneer [site];

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