Ever heard of a kubing before? It is a type of jaw harp made from a hand carved piece of bamboo. Found all over the Philippines, this traditional musical instrument is called kubing among the Mindanao tribes (Maguindanao and Maranao), kulaing in Cotabato, subing in Visayas, barmbaw among the Tagalogs, kollibaw among the Negritos, kinaban among the Hanunoo Mangyans, afiw (made of metal) among the Bontocs, and coding among the Ibaloys and Kalingas. The indigenous bamboo instrument comes in various designs throughout Southeast Asia. It is known by different names according to the culture that uses it.

A kubing is played with the epidermis side facing the audience. The holding hand firmly holds the instrument with thumb and forefinger opposing each other, very near, but not interfering with the free end of the reed. This firm clamping of the bamboo adds the mass. Holding the instrument more loosely will diminish its volume. The part of the bamboo with the vibrating reed is placed horizontally between the lips. Various sounds can be created by the player while striking the projecting end with the thumb or index finger. The cavity of the mouth serves as a resonator and by changing the shape and size of the mouth opening, the overtones can be changed, thus creating a melody. By strongly breathing in or out the sound can be changed as well. A limited melody of beautiful quality sounds are produced by increasing or decreasing the force of the air blown into the split opening and depending on the speed of the player's percussing finger strikes. One can literally speak through the kubing with rhythmic syllables, which can be recognized. The embouchure (best playing spot) generally occurs at the free end of the reed, the last inch or so. This is where the reed is moving the most and the fastest. Your thumb should be close to this area and may well rest against your cheek.

The plucking hand produces sharp plucks, not necessarily strong ones. The action is nearly percussive. A sharp release of the frame produces the strongest tone, usually but not always, pulling the frame toward the player. Rapid forward and backward plucking is possible, but difficult. The very straight pluck (in line with the reed's flexing), as required with steel jaw harps, is not as critical. Plucking can occur at some angle to the end, and the reed will not be driven to click against the frame. This characteristic of the kubing allows multiple finger plucks more easily than steel. Spreading the fingers of the plucking hand and raking them across the end yields a rapid succession of plucks. In the hands of a good player, the kubing is capable of a vast number of sounds and timbres.

To hear what this traditional bamboo insrument sounds like and to see how it is played, check out the various YouTube links below:
Wawy Saway with the Kubing
Karinding - Traditional musical instrument from West Java, Indonesia
Playing the kubing
Musical group called "Karinding Attack"
Kubing music & Photos of Mushrooms

If you would like to get a kubing, search the internet for websites that offer this bamboo instrument. Mouth Music.com sell kubings at a reasonable price. Or you can try making a karinding, the Indonesian version of a kubing. Follow the YouTube link below on how the karinding is carved.

Carving a Karinding - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

Enjoy the unique sound of this indigenous Southeast Asian bamboo instrument.


Related links:
Bamboo musical instruments of the Kalinga groups in the Philippines
Bamboo zither



Information compiled by Dino Labiste

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