Zydeco Washboard Instruments

old fashioned washboard with vintage handkerchiefs image by Scott Williams from Fotolia.com

Zydeco music is a popular style of folk music in southwestern Louisiana. Zydeco music differs from Cajun music in the rhythm style and beats used to play instruments. A washboard can be used in either type of these music genres to create the percussion sounds that usually include snare drums in other types of music. Zydeco musicians also use rub boards instead of washboards, which work in the same way. Learning how to play a washboard with a Zydeco beat makes for an interesting style of music.


In 1755, the British began the expulsion of the French Acadians in Nova Scotia, Canada, also known as "le Grand Derangement." Many Acadians made the journey to southwestern Louisiana, where the Zydeco music later originated. Zydeco was derived from the phrase “les haricots sont pas sales” meaning “the snap-beans are not salty.” Zydeco music is dominated by one single chord and blends the sounds of rhythm and blues with the French Creole music of the rural areas of southwest Louisiana.


The washboard contains a metal plate with a corrugated surface that is enclosed in a wooden frame. The performers use the scrapers as percussion instruments to add the raspy sound that stylizes Zydeco music. The wooden sides of the washboard are also used in creating beats. The fiddle is no longer used in most Zydeco bands as it still is in Cajun and Creole bands.


Thimbles are used for tapping and dragging down the washboard.
thimbles - 3 image by JCVStock from Fotolia.com

Performers use scrapers such as spoons, drumsticks or sewing thimbles to create sounds on the corrugated surface of the washboard. Musicians use their dominant hand for dragging the scraper down the metal surface and the opposite hand for tapping rhythms between beats. When using thimbles, the performer will wear one on both the index and middle fingers of each hand. The washboard is held in the crook of the arm or between the knees.


Zydeco music uses several instruments in creating its distinct sound, including washboards, wind instruments and an accordion. Another trademark instrument of Zydeco is the rub board, also called the frottoir. Both the washboard and rub board contain corrugated metal plates for creating percussion-like sounds. The rub board is made out of one sheet of metal that consists of a neckline and curved angles that rests on the performer’s shoulders in which the metal plates hang down the performer’s chest.