ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Introduction to Common Cajun Musical Instruments -- Part IV -- The Triangle or Ti-fer (and other)

Updated on February 21, 2012

In the history of traditional Cajun music, the loud and attention getting "triangle or ti-fer" (little iron) is often an overlooked part of the sound and feel of this musical genre (pronounced tee fair). This triangle is a metal bar, usually steel, bent into the shape of a triangle, with a short looped string or strap for handling.

Along with the ti-fer is a steel beater, which is obviously used to strike the triangle. There is always one corner that doesn't join, which allows the instrument to vibrate when struck. Many of them were made simply by bending the broken or discarded tongs of farm harvesting equipment.

In musical terms, the use of a triangle is known as an idiophone. It makes up the percussion portion of a Cajun band. An idophone's technical definition is:

  • Any musical instrument that makes sounds, mostly by vibration of itself, without the use of strings or membranes.

In the case of this instrument, size matters. The larger the triangle, the louder the sound. Even modest sized ti-fers can be heard above the band and vocals. Their tingling piercing vibration, played correctly can almost raise goose-bumps in those who love them. My Grandpere, believed the instruments were brought with the Acadians in the 1700s to Louisiana. (Most of my early Cajun musical training was learned at his knee).

The shimmering sound of the ti-fer, is somewhat like a poor man's cow bell (which is what my Grandpere called it sometimes). I remember him showing me a very old one, that also had rings strung on it, that produced a different type of sound. I was taught that this instrument was one that many old-timers remembered from their childhood as part of funeral procession music. I've not been able to find any reference to that, but clearly know that was talked about. Grandpere would often make comments in his advancing age, that the time for the chanky chank of the ti-fer at his funeral was not that far away in time.

Another variation in sound occurs when it is hooked over the hand in a manner that the other hand's fingers can soften (damp) it and vary the tone. Still another way the pitched can be changed, is slightly varying the exact location where it is struck.

Typical instruments in a Cajun band including the ti-fer triangle
Typical instruments in a Cajun band including the ti-fer triangle | Source

To Play the Ti-fer

To play the Ti-fer, is somewhat simple:

  • Hold the string/strap above the triangle;
  • The open end of the triangle should be to your left, if you are right-handed ;
  • When ready hit the metal with the beater, so it makes the sound in the rhythm you desire. Strike the ti-fer with a light and quick wrist action;
  • You quickly move the beater between two sides of the triangle. Hitting either the outside right hand corner near the top, or the inside right corner of the base.

While I'm sure by now, you are thinking this instrument requires absolutely no talent to play, you'd be surprised. In the hands of an accomplished Cajun musician, it can be a surprisingly understated, demanding, and dramatic addition to complex traditional Cajun songs. A master traditional Cajun triangle player, often deals with intricate rhythms. Additionally, it takes practice to be able to control the volume level of the ti-fer.

A lot of times the player can achieve quieter notes by having a light touch with the beater. Some of the more unique items I've seen used in lieu of the traditional steel beater are:

  • Knitting needles
  • Crochet hooks
  • Wooden beaters
  • Wooded mixing spoons
  • Bits of heavier gauge wire

Plaintive Twang of Ti-fer in 1981 Movie - Southern Comforts

Cajun Fiddle Sticks (fiddlesticks)

The use of Cajun fiddle sticks occurs when a Cajun fiddler is performing, and another musician beats on the fiddle with thin wooden sticks. It is one unusual musical instrumental technique that isn't often seen today. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, it was more common place, especially when visiting family homes and gatherings.

My Grandmere Hirma, dyed hers brilliant blue and red. When Grandpere Emile would play his fiddle -- the sensory delight of our eyes and ears became lasting memories. Blue and red fiddlesticks flying in a rhythmic beat, his bow in perfect harmony never seeming to notice the activity, the twinkling of Emile's pale blue eyes, and the laughter mirrored in Hirma's ink black ones -- all blended into the sounds as my Pepere sang ancient Cajun folk songs.

My favorite demonstration of this fiddlestick technique is in the link below, which features Dewy Balfa on the fiddle. As you can see, it takes a fair amount of concentration and cooperation. This is an old Cajun musical tradition, where one person would play a fiddle, and another would beat on it with thin wooden sticks.

Red Stick Ramblers

In this video, members Linzay Young and Kevin Wimmer, both of the Red Stick Ramblers work together. Kevin expertly bows the fiddle and performs all the fingerings -- while Linzay drums Kevin's fingerboard simultaneously with fiddlesticks. Takes a lot of coordination between the two performers and it is a delight to watch.

More Fiddlesticks! Red Stick Ramblers

Use of the Cajun Washboard or Rubboard

Today, you can see "Cajun washboards" being used as instruments in many Cajun bands. However, this is a borrowed musical instrument, straight from our close musical cousin, Zydeco music. Traditionally, they really weren't always part of Cajun music, but they have been around for many years and have become an integral part of modern Cajun music. My great-grandpere did not remember or think of them as Cajun.

In Cadien this instrument is called a vest frottoir, meaning a "vest to be rubbed." Often bands that do not have a drum will use it for their percussion. Cajuns use thimbles, spoons, and sometimes quarters. Generally, Zydeco bands will play this instrument with bottle openers and make use of counter-rhythms.

Here is an unamplified version of them first, followed by a much more "today" use of them.

More Traditional Cajun Washboard Sound

More Modern Cajun Washboard Sound

Conclusion on Common Cajun Instruments

Therefore, if you've been following all four parts of this "Introduction to Common Cajun instruments" series -- this pretty much makes up the typical Cajun band instrumentally.

To recap, the primary Cajun musical instruments are:

  • One or preferably two Cajun fiddles
  • Cajun guitar
  • Cajun accordion
  • Triangle or Ti-fer
  • Cajun washboard or other specialized improv instruments

The great thing about our Cajun music is because it's such a non-rehearsed form of music, you never know what you'll get, other than having a good time. The same song can have many different versions when played by different bands.

Like everything else, our music is changing, as we change as a people. For those of you who were previously unfamiliar with Cajun musical instruments -- I hope that this has been a beginning musical overview. One that will inspire you to hear more, learn more, and appreciate something "lagniappe" -- something extra about Cajun music.

I think my Grandpere said it best: "The people who play the Cajun music, they aren't the stars they think they are, it's the songs and the instruments, it always has been that way. When the performers become more important the music and what the instruments have to say -- that's when it stops being Cajun music."

Balfa Toujours - Festivals Acadians 2008

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • RichardCMckeown profile image

      RichardCMckeown 

      7 years ago

      Also this one, you did great job.

    • profile image

      Audio visual hire 

      7 years ago

      That's Good and nice to be here in this blog. I learn a lot with this blog. It’s unique and so cool. I like music video. Thanks for sharing this musical blog.

      Audio visual hire

    • profile image

      noleggio plasma 

      7 years ago

      what an interesting Post!!!

      Very interesting and good information.

      I love this site ...

      noleggio plasma

    • profile image

      noleggio monitor 

      7 years ago

      What is a post!!!

      Good informatics.

      Thank ……..

      noleggio monitor

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks MAx!

    • profile image

      Max 

      9 years ago

      really informative..thanks

    • Jerilee Wei profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      Thanks MasonsMom!

    • MasonsMom profile image

      MasonsMom 

      10 years ago from U.S.A.

      Very interesting, indeed!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)