How to Build a Thumb Piano

Written by kevin krause
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The thumb piano is an ancient instrument that has its roots in traditional African music. The instrument has a set of wooden or metal keys of varying lengths positioned over a soundboard. A musician uses his thumbs to strike each different note in a rhythmic manner. Making your own thumb piano at home can be accomplished using some old scrap wood and a few Popsicle sticks. Read on to find out how.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 4 Popsicle sticks
  • 1/4 in. plywood
  • Scrap two-by-four boards
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Handsaw
  • Screws
  • Glue
  • Ruler
  • Sandpaper

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  1. 1

    Cut two rectangles measuring 6 in. wide by 8 in. long out of your 1/4 in. plywood. These pieces will form the bottom and top of the thumb piano's soundboard. Sand the edges and sides smooth.

  2. 2

    Cut four 1 in. by 1 in. blocks from the two-by-four planks. Sand the blocks smooth.

  3. 3

    Use the four 1 in. by 1 in. blocks to connect the top and bottom soundboard panels by gluing one block between each corner of the panels. The final piece should have the top and bottom boards sandwiched around the four smaller blocks. This will create a soundboard that will conduct and resonate the sounds produced by the plucking of your thumb piano. Put a brick or heavy object on top of the soundboard to apply pressure while the glue dries.

  4. 4

    Cut three crossbars out of your scrap wood. Each should be 1/2 in. wide and 6 in. long. One piece should be thicker than the other two. This will be crossbar "B." The other two bars will be "A" and "C." You could cut the pieces out of the 1/4 in. plywood and create the thicker bar by gluing two duplicate bars together. Sand these pieces down.

  5. 5

    Glue crossbars A and B in place about 1 in. from one edge of the soundboard. Each should be spaced about 3/4 in. apart with the thicker bar B farthest from the edge of the soundboard.

  6. 6

    Drill a hole 1/2 in. from each end of crossbar C.

  7. 7

    Screw crossbar C loosely between bars A and B. Do not tighten it down to the soundboard.

  8. 8

    Place four Popsicle sticks under crossbar C, so that they rest on crossbar B. Adjust the sticks so they each protrude from the soundboard at a different length. This will produce the different notes. Tighten crossbar C down firmly to hold the sticks in place.

  9. 9

    Tune your piano by adjusting the length of each stick. Play using your thumbs.

Tips and warnings

  • You can add more than four Popsicle sticks to produce an even greater range of notes.
  • Try using large metal hair clips flattened out instead of Popsicle sticks to produce a different tone.
  • Do not make the crossbars too tight to avoid breaking your Popsicle sticks.

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