Congo – Thumb Piano

music: Mbuti thumb piano


The thumb piano is played throughout the African continent. But the same instrument can make very different music, depending upon the player. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

The Mbuti pygmies, who live in the rainforest of central Africa, have an intricate, syncopated style of singing and playing musical instruments, and the thumb piano is no exception. John Hart, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, has lived and worked among the Mbuti over the past twenty years.

“The Mbuti style is very particular, with its high emphasis on melody and great syncopation and you have some real virtuosos. So, the very same thumb piano can be taken up by different people and tuned to their own manner and played in their own style. And so what’s lovely about the thumb piano is you have the same sound, the same basic instrument being played in a such a diverse number of ways.”

“This actually sounds like more than one person playing, but it’s actually one person on a single thumb piano, playing with both thumbs and two fingers as well, and moving across two sets of keys, one on each side of the thumb piano tuned in harmony with each other. And some of the keys have little small metal rattles associated with them so as the key is struck, not only do you have the tone coming out but you have the rattle coming as well so you get both melody and percussion coming out of the same instrument and from a single player.”

To hear some of your favorite Pulse of the Planet programs again online, please visit nationalgeographic.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Congo - Thumb Piano

The thumb piano is an instrument played throughout Africa, but the Mbuti pygmies are true virtuosos.
Air Date:10/23/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:

music: Mbuti thumb piano


The thumb piano is played throughout the African continent. But the same instrument can make very different music, depending upon the player. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

The Mbuti pygmies, who live in the rainforest of central Africa, have an intricate, syncopated style of singing and playing musical instruments, and the thumb piano is no exception. John Hart, a scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, has lived and worked among the Mbuti over the past twenty years.

"The Mbuti style is very particular, with its high emphasis on melody and great syncopation and you have some real virtuosos. So, the very same thumb piano can be taken up by different people and tuned to their own manner and played in their own style. And so what's lovely about the thumb piano is you have the same sound, the same basic instrument being played in a such a diverse number of ways."

"This actually sounds like more than one person playing, but it's actually one person on a single thumb piano, playing with both thumbs and two fingers as well, and moving across two sets of keys, one on each side of the thumb piano tuned in harmony with each other. And some of the keys have little small metal rattles associated with them so as the key is struck, not only do you have the tone coming out but you have the rattle coming as well so you get both melody and percussion coming out of the same instrument and from a single player."

To hear some of your favorite Pulse of the Planet programs again online, please visit nationalgeographic.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.