Clapsticks – two sticks that are tapped together – can be found in different countries all over the world. Although they all consist of two small lengths of wood tapped together, they are amazing different in how they look, sound and how they are played as part of the music from their culture of origin. In Australian Aboriginal culture, there are special clapsticks called bilma that are often used to accompany the didgeridoo when it’s played.
What Are Bilma?
Sometimes when a didg is playing, you can hear these small but loud clapsticks keeping a beat for the music. Most traditional bilma are made from the hard wood of a eucalyptus tree, native to Australia. They are often used as part of the Aboriginal corroboree ceremony where dancers become of sacred “Dreamtime” through dance, music and special clothing or costumes.
What Do Bilma Look Like?
One movie about the history of the Aboriginal people in Australia; “Rabbit Proof Fence”, shows a woman playing bilma that are simply two sticks found on the ground. Other bilma used in ceremony are carved out of hard wood and look more like they are the work of an expert craftsperson. More modern bilma can also have the distinctive dot pattern found in Australian Aboriginal art and can be quite beautiful and creative. If you make your own, you can be inspired by Australian culture and designs or you can use art that reflects your favorite colors or patterns or images that you find inspirational.
What Supplies Do You Need?
Supplies for this project are simple. For the sticks, you can use two sticks (about 6-8”) found in the woods or a length of wooden dowel found at a hardware store. You can also use an old broomstick or recycle the handle of a broken shovel or garden tool. If so, cut two pieces that are about the same size that will fit easily into your hand. You’ll also need some of the following for the design: craft paints, Q-tips, fabric paint and possibly a few permanent markers.
Prepare Your Clapsticks
First, start with your sticks. They might need a bit of sanding to smooth out rough edges. You might want to leave them natural or paint them an overall color as the basis of your design. Once they are prepped and/or painted, then you’re ready for creating your own design. Here are two options you might like to try.
A Simple Dot Bilma
If you look at most Australian Aboriginal art, it’s formed by a series of dots that create a picture. You can make these dots by dipping a Q-tip in craft paint and them touching it to the surface of your stick. Since making patterns with dots can be a bit unusual, it’s a good idea to play with the Q-tips and dot patterns on a piece of paper first, before you move onto decorating your stick. One creative way of practicing painting with dots is to put your child’s name on a paper and allow them to fill up their name with dots as well as create designs around it. Once you feel you’ve gotten the hang of it, move on to decorating your sticks.
A Crafty Textured Dot Design Bilma
For a more elaborate bilma, you can work with the type of textured fabric paint that is found at any craft store. Although this type of paint is often used on fabrics, it also works perfectly on wood. Since the level of paint that comes out of the nozzle is a bit tricky, it’s a good idea to practice on a piece of paper first to see how the fabric paint will flow for you. Once you like how it works, start creating the design on your sticks. There’s one warning here, though. Fabric paint takes a bit of time to harden, so make sure you’ve set your bilma on something to dry – such as an empty, open egg carton or toilet paper holders. That way your dots can dry perfectly and not smudge as you complete your project.
Once you’re happy with what you’ve created, you can seal the project with a coat of clear lacquer, if desired.
Playing The Bilma
Traditional bilma are played by holding one stick in place in one hand and tapping on top of it with the other clapstick. If you make a didgeridoo, you can have one person play the didg and another can keep the beat with the bilma. You can play like this or you can experiment with tapping the sticks together in any number of other ways.
Sing a favorite song and tap to the beat or put on a cd you enjoy and see it you can play in time with the rhythms you hear. Try it with slow or fast music – it’s a great way to learn to listen for the beat of a song. And take a moment to appreciate what you’ve done. Making music is a great way of expressing yourself and learning about world cultures at the same time. Enjoy!
2 wooden pieces about 6 – 8” in length
Q-tips (for the dot design pattern)
Textured fabric paint (for more intricate patterns)
Clear lacquer (if desired, to seal the project when it’s completed).
Make Your Own Didgeridoo – http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Didg.php
Hear, color or create other instruments from around the world: http://www.dariamusic.com/cajon.php