From Academic Kids

A washboard (left) and a  player
A washboard (left) and a piano player

The Washboard is, literally, a clothes-cleaning washboard. As musical instruments, the Washboard and Frottoir employ the ribbed metal surface of the cleaning device as a rhythm instrument.

The washboard is mounted in a wooden frame while the frottoir is made only from the metal ribbing and is hung around the neck and called the Cajun Rub-Board Vest.

The frottoir or vest frottoir (from Cajun French "vest to be rubbed") is played as a stroked percussion instrument, often in a band with a drummer, while the washboard generally is a replacement for drums.

In a jug band, the washboard was stroked with a single whisk-broom and functions as the drums for the band, playing only on the back-beat, for most songs, as a substitute for a snare drum. In a four-beat measure, the washboard will stroke on the 2-beat and the 4-beat. Best sound is achieved using a single steel-wire snare-brush, or whisk-broom.

Missing image
Local musician Tommy (wearing his signature white hat) plays the Cajun Rub-Board Vest at New Orleans' Krazy Korner

However, in a jazz setting, the washboard can also be played with thimbles on all fingers, tapping out much more complex rhythms, as in the Washboard Rhythm Kings, a full-sized band.

Some washboard players may add other small percussion devices to the washboard, such as a cymbal, woodblock, or cowbell, which can periodically be struck to vary the effect.

A frottoir is played with a stroking instrument (usually thimble-gloves or a pair of bottle-openers) in each hand. In a 4-beat measure, the Frottoir will be stroked 8 to 16 times. It plays more like a Latin percussion instrument, rather than as a drum.


The thimbles on her fingers make the noise
She plays the Charleston of the laundry for the boys
She can rag a tune right through the knees
Of a brand-new pair of BVD's
Coney Island washboard rondelay
"Coney Island Washboard"

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