Bladder fiddle

The bladder fiddle was a folk instrument used throughout Europe and in the Americas. The instrument was originally a simple large stringed fiddle (a musical bow) made with a long stick, one or more thick gut strings, and a pig's-bladder resonator. It was bowed with either a notched stick or a horsehair bow.[1]

Bladder fiddle
"King of the Bladder." Picture of a man on a box, holding a bladder fiddle.
"King of the Bladder." A man stands on a box holding a two-string bladder-fiddle. The mid-1870s image, a caricature, shows a perception that something is wrong with the musician.
String instrument
Other namesdrone, drone-and-string, boomba, bumbass, stamp fiddle, stumpf fiddle, pogo cello, Devil's stick, Devil's violin, boom bass, hum strum, teufel stick, stomp stick, Teufelsgeige (German, devil’s fiddle), Bettelgeige (German, beggar's fiddle), saubass (Austrian-German), luk muzycyny (Polish), Diabelskie skrzypce (Polish, Devil's fiddle), rabel (Spanish), basse de Flandre (French, Flanders fiddle).
Classification String, percussion
Hornbostel–Sachs classification
(MIMO puts all bumbasses together, whether percussion or fiddles. Hornbostel-Sachs doesn't consider number of strings. Drums and bladders not considered for resonators (only gourds).
311.22 True stick zithers.

Other options musical bows

311.121.221.71 Mono-heterochord musical bows - The bow has one heterochord string only, with attached resonator and no tuning noose. Played with a bow.
311.122.1 Poly-heterochord musical bows - The bow has several heterochord strings, and no tuning noose.)
Related instruments

Changes in the instrument have produced two distinct variations. Besides the bowed instrument which has been preserved in the 21st century in Lithuania (and possibly Estonia and Flanders), a percussion instrument is used widely internationally, including Europe, North America and Australia.

Evolution from fiddle to drum setEdit

The instrument was originally a fiddle. It used a flexible stick, a musical bow, as the instrument's body and neck. The resonator, at first an inflated animal bladder, was held between the stick and the bowstring. Versions in Poland, Lithuania and the Netherlands had as many as three strings, but pictures of the Flander's fiddle and the Nocturnal Serenade by Jan Steen show monochords (single-stringed instruments). In this configuration, the fiddle is played by drawing the bow over the string or strings; pressing down on the string changes the note.[1] Having multiple strings allows a fiddler to accompany other instruments with simple patterns using one, two or three notes from open strings. Some variants of the instrument show a flexible stick, making the bowed-instrument a musical bow. Others, such as the Estonian and Lithuanian instruments, have rigid sticks, making the instrument a bar or stick zither.

The instrument changed in some places. While the pig-bladder instrument can still be found in Lithuania today, in Holland the pig's bladder had been replaced by 1675 by a drum-like circle, wedged between the stick and a single gutstring, which resonated when the string was bowed. That version, the bumbass, was illustrated in the painting Nocturnal Serendade, by Dutch painter Jan Steen.

Immigrants to the United States brought the bumbass with them. In America, it used by the Pennsylvania Dutch culture of eastern Pennsylvania, United States, and still exists today, as the boomba, a percussion instrument. It may also be seen in Texas, at events celebrating local German heritage (such as the Tomball German Heritage Festival).[2]

On percussion instruments, the drum has been turned sideways on the instrument and the string runs across it like the sound-table on a spike lute. The string has been dropped in some cases, the bow stick becoming a drumstick and the instrument now a percussion instrument, called a boomba, stamp fiddle, stumpf fiddle, or pogo cello.[3] Also called Devil's stick, Devil's violin, boom bass, hum strum, teufel stick or stomp stick.[3] In the percussion instrument, the string may still have limited use as a chordophone, if it has been set up with a tuning peg to tighten the string; if used in this manner, the instrument is bowed with a notched stick, producing rough sounds. In some modern instruments, the string has been replaced by a long spring, solely a percussion instrument, and in other instruments the string has been dropped altogether. The Polish Diabelskie skrzypce (Devil's fiddle) often has no string, but includes the memory of the instrument's past, by placing a violin-shaped piece of wood on the instrument.

This percussion version of the instrument is international, being used in Denmark (called the Rumsterstang or the krigsdjaevel, lit. 'war devil')[4][5] and Germany as well as the United States. Boomba is highly likely to have come from German Bumbaß [pronounced "BOOM-bahss"]; bum possibly coming from an older form of brummen ("to hum") and baß ("bass", as in music).[6]

During World War I, German soldiers made Stumpf fiddles or Teufelsgeiges (lit. 'devil's fiddles'), replacing the pig's bladder with a tin can for the resonator, and bowing with a notched stick. Other bowed instruments were created using a wooden box for the resonator.

Today, there are two types of the instrument, bowed and percussion. The Stumpf fiddle became a percussion instrument, beaten with a stick and stamped on the ground to shake attached wrattles, bells and cymbals. The instrument may have a string, or not. It is also called Devil's stick, pogo cello, boom-ba, boom bass, hum strum, devil's violin, teufel stick.

Other namesEdit

It is known under different names; in Germany it was called the bumbass, Teufelsgeige (devil’s fiddle) or Bettelgeige (beggar's fiddle).[7] In Germany sometimes a bell or cymbal was added to the top for decoration or additional sound. In Austria it was called the saubass, in Spanish the rabel.[5]

In France it is the basse de Flandre (Flanders fiddle), and in England a drone, "drone and string" or bladder fiddle. In England it was used by traveling musicians.[8] In Venezuela, the bladder fiddle is known as "marimba, tarimba, guarumba, guasdua, and carangano".[9]  The name in Latvian is pūšļa vijole. In Lithuania, the instrument is the Pūslinė.[10]

In Poland there is a variant that started as a costume accessory and has become a devil's violin, called the Diabelskie skrzypce.

Slavic instrumentEdit

The Slavic peoples have a musical bow (Słowiański łuk muzyczny in Polish) which is pictured as having three strings (trzy struny).[11]


Hornbostel-Sachs classification are first in captions, then place and date.

Modern bowed instrumentEdit

Lithuanian pūslinė.

The original pig-bladder instrument is still played with a bow in Lithuania as a traditional folk instrument, called a Pūslinė.[12][10] Estonia has one as well, called the põispill.[13][14] The instrument has between 1-3 strings and can be tuned with tuning pegs.[15][16]

Modern percussion instrumentEdit

A modern boomba or bumbass blurs the lines between the bumbass instruments and the Jingling Johnny-Turkish crescent, by adding bells to the top.

The modern boomba focuses heavily on loud percussion, typically consisting of a variety of percussion instruments attached to a wooden pole.[17] The exact designs of a boomba vary, with much emphasis being put on the personalization of the boomba. Common features typically include a spring-loaded rubber base (much like a pogo stick), with percussion instruments such as bells and wood blocks attached.[17] Boombas often also include a set of cymbals which crash as the boomba is bounced, and a tambourine which can be played with a drumstick or shaken as the boomba is played.[17]

The boomba is similar in nature to the "stumpf fiddle", though the stumpf fiddle generally lacks the loud crashing cymbal on top. It is this loud crash when bounced that makes the boomba distinct.[17] An older, German variant of the stumpf fiddle and the boomba is the Teufelsgeige (lit. 'Devil's fiddle'), which is decorated with a Devil's head at the top of the pole.

A modern percussion instrument in Friesland is called the kuttepiel. A similar percussion instrument in Slovakia is the Ozembuch.[18][19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Haigh, Chris (2008). "Baltic Fiddle". Fiddling Around the World. Retrieved 6 December 2020. sounded with a horsehair bow, and the pitch can be changed by pressing down on the string. It has little use as a melody instrument, but can be useful for providing a drone and rhythm accompaniment..."stumpf fiddle" or stomp stick
  2. ^ Jones, Greg L. "The Boom-ba Bounce". Tomball German Heritage Festival in Tomball, Texas....The origin of the Boom-ba has been lost in the passage of time. Some believe it dates back to 18th or 19th century in the United States. The Dutch, Poles and Germans immigrants all claim to have originated it. The traditional Polish/German percussion instrument is made out of whatever materials immigrants had on hand. [note: talked to author, who said his information came from the lady in the photo that is part of the source for this quote.]
  3. ^ a b Ronald Walters. "Stumpf Fiddle - Devil's Stick". Retrieved 6 December 2020. ]
  4. ^ "Rumsterstang. Lot number: 2252972". Retrieved 6 December 2020. [Rumerstang sold at Danish auction, a percussion instrument without any strings]
  5. ^ a b Rose, John. "The bumbass, lagerphone, andromba marina connection. A short history of the one string stick". Archived from the original on 21 April 2013.
  6. ^ Ehrenwerth, Manfrid (1992). Teufelsgeige und ländliche Musikkapellen in Westfalen. Münster: F. Coppenrath Verlag. ISBN 978-3893259830.
  7. ^ a b "Bumbass". Digital Dictionary of the German Language Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 6 December 2020. instrument (the beggar musicians)...a long stick, bent by a fixed gut string...sound box made of a cattle bladder or a box made of wood or metal...played with toothed piece of wood or short horsehair bow>
  8. ^ Baines
  9. ^ David M. Guss (2000). The Festive State: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism as Cultural Performance. University of California Press. pp. 188–. ISBN 978-0-520-92486-4.
  10. ^ a b Baltic Folk. "Bladder Fiddle / Bumbass & Samogitian Song Pūslinė & Žemaitiška Daina "Padarė žvirblelis"". Retrieved 5 December 2020. ]
  11. ^ Sobolewski, Zygmunt (April 2011). "Ludowe instrumenty muzyczne Słowian ze szczególnym uwzględnieniem dorobku polskiego ludu (translation: Folk musical instruments of the Slavs with particular emphasis on the achievements of the Polish people)". Gadki z Chatka. Vol. No.92 / 93. Picture of a trzystruny łuk muzyczny (Three string musical bow)
  12. ^ "pūslinė". Visuotine Lietuvieų Enciklopedija hazel or spruce bow with a hose or waxed rope string. A pig's bladder...sometimes sandwiched between the bow and the string. A ribbed rod or a small bow is drawn through the string [to play].
    Picture of Lithuanian Pūslinė
  13. ^ "põis pill". [EKSS] "Eesti keele seletav sõnaraamat" 2009 (translation: [EKSS] "Explanatory Dictionary of the Estonian Language" 2009) põis pill Sõnaveeb etn seapõiest resonaatori ja soolest v. nöörist keel(t)ega eesti rahvapill (translation: ethn pig bladder resonator and intestine v. Estonian folk instrument with stringed language (s))
  14. ^ "Pūslinė (Poispillid) estų liaudies muzikos instrumentas". Pūslinė (Poispillid) estų liaudies muzikos instrumentas. Kopija. Sudaryta iš pūslės su vamzdeliu, pritvirtintu ant rėmo, lanko tipo, kurio vienas galas atremiamas į žemę. Priešingas galas - galvutė, su vienu varžtu stygai įtempti. Stygos laikikliai pagaminti iš žarnų.(translation: Poispillid is an instrument of Estonian folk music. Copy. Consisting of a bladder with a tube attached to a frame, an arc type, one end of which is supported on the ground. The opposite end is the head, with one screw tensioning the strings.)
  15. ^ "Other string instruments". Ancient Lithuanian Instruments Pūslinė is a string folk musical instrument played in ensembles...bass instrument which consists of a wooden stick, air-filled pig’s bladder and intestines or small cords...1 to 3 strings...tuned using special wooden pegs.
  16. ^ Lithuanian Folk. "#Polkutė #Kanklės #Lumzdelis #Pūslinė #Tramtatulis". Retrieved 6 December 2020. [2-string Pūslinė played as bass instrument in a folk-music ensemble.]
  17. ^ a b c d Greg L. Jones. "The Boom-ba Bounce". A boom-ba is spring loaded like a pogo stick and usually carries percussion tools like a wood block, a tambourine, a cow bell, assorted bells and drumming surfaces. It is played by bouncing the stick and hitting the various percussion elements with a drumstick...>
  18. ^ "OZEMBUCH". Centrum pre tradičnú ľudovú kultúru (translation: Center for Traditional Folk Culture). Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  19. ^ Mačak, Ivan. "Ozembuch". Grove Music Online

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit