Make Your Own Percussion Instruments

Posted by on February 13, 2014 with 1 Comments

Percussion instruments can be extremely beneficial for helping music students develop rhythm while having fun at the same time. You don’t even have to make a significant investment in order to provide instruments for players; good news if you’re on a tight budget. Performers from the Blue Man Group and Stomp have built entire careers by playing instruments made from creative objects like trashcan lids. Keep reading to get inspiration about how to make percussion instruments with items you may already have at home or in your classroom.

Create Bongo Drums From Empty Cans

It’s simple to make bongo drums out of a few washed and emptied cans, such as those that contain canned foods at your local supermarket. The cans can also be connected if you drill a small hole in each and slide in a small piece of wood, such as a chopstick. One advantage of this type of instrument is you can use the activity as a cultural learning experience, and teach your students about cultures that have a rich bongo tradition.

Recycle Scrap Metal

Metal is a common material used for musical instruments, due in large part to its ability to create pleasant ringing sounds when struck. For help in sourcing metal you’ll eventually turn into musical instruments, contact companies that specialize in working with the material. In high school, I used scraps from McElroy Metal to create my own instruments. They’re a family-owned business that has dozens of sites across almost twenty states, so there’s a good chance there’s an establishment near your music school. My friends and I loved digging through the scrap to see what sorts of noises we could make from someone else’s junk.

To get an idea of just what can be accomplished by using scrap metal, check out the efforts of a group who play under the name Scrap Arts Music. The brainchild of musician Gregory Kozak and architect Justine Murdy, the group formed in 1998 and has since been impressing audiences everywhere with the notion that metals most people may see as junk can actually be transformed into vehicles for musical expression.

Build a Bucket Drum Kit

You may have seen people, especially in metropolitan areas, creatively using empty buckets as drums. If you’re interested in proposing the same idea to your students, start by collecting a range of buckets of different sizes and thicknesses. Larger buckets create deeper, bass note sounds as opposed to smaller varieties. Small metal buckets work very well for creating the bright sound associated with a snare drum.

As you collect buckets to use as instruments, aim to choose some that can nestle inside one another. That’ll make transport much simpler and give you the opportunity to showcase your students in public so they can get used to performing for crowds.

There are also songs already written to be played on trash-cans. Lids is always a student and crowd favorite. My students were thrilled to play this piece and had so much fun with it. They even scheduled their own rehearsals to work on it because they enjoyed it so much. Check out this group having a blast with it:

As you can see from the suggestions above, it’s easy to depend on commonly available materials to create percussion instruments. These ideas are ideal if you’re eco-conscious, because they all involve creating something new out of things others would likely throw away. Use these possibilities as future lesson plans to demonstrate how music can happen anywhere, courtesy of some unlikely materials.

Filed Under: MusicLearningCommunity

Learn a New Instrument in 2014

Posted by on February 3, 2014 with 0 Comments

It’s February already. How did that happen?  Groundhog Day has come and gone, the Super Bowl is over (if you watched it you might say it was over in the first ten minutes), and chances are you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions. So how about a new goal: Learning a new instrument.

There are a lot of instruments that are very beneficial for your music education and career or that are at the very least easy to learn. Not to mention, here are lots of good reasons why you should drop your weight loss resolution and pick up one of these new musical talents instead. (Okay, maybe try doing both.) Still need convincing? Read on.

Picking Up an Instrument is Good for Your Health

If you’re putting off jumping on the treadmill to accomplish this task, there are a few reasons you don’t have to feel quite so bad about it. One study found that non-musicians who took two weeks of piano lessons saw healthy brain changes that can delay or prevent age-related problems with speech production and recognition. Other studies have found that children engaging in musical training increased their IQ, verbal memory, and linguistic abilities when compared to their non-musical peers. Still other studies have found that picking up an instrument and playing music reduces stress, lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and can even decrease your likelihood for depression. What are you waiting for?

There Are Benefits Even for Musicians

What if you’re already a musician, and you play another instrument (or your voice)? Well, there are benefits of picking up a new one to you, too. Learning an instrument is, in a way, like learning a language; it opens new doors, and as you familiarize yourself with the learning process, each new one gets easier to master.

Broaden your horizons and open new doors for yourself by filling in the gaps of your musical understanding. Do you play a string instrument but want to experience another type of sound? Try picking up a wind or brass instrument next. If you don’t know how to play piano yet, it will be easier to learn if you already have a basic understanding of music theory and how to read music. Or, if you are particularly enamored with another culture, go all the way and pick up an instrument unique to that part of the world. You never know; maybe picking up the erhu could give you a new understanding of Chinese culture.

Some Instruments Are Easier to Learn Than Others

Okay, so if you live in rural Ohio, attempting to master the erhu might be a little beyond you. But if you are serious about this resolution, you can make it a little simpler for yourself by choosing an instrument that is easier to master.

A great example is the melodica. As the harmonica’s simplified cousin, the melodica is also called a “blow organ” and is essentially a mini, one-handed keyboard that you operate by blowing into a mouthpiece. It does away with the complicated two-handed motions of a harmonica, and there is no real mouth technique to blowing into it, unlike with brass or woodwind instruments. Plus it’s fun to whip out at parties!

The xylophone is a fun and easy instrument to pick up on. Things get more interesting when you learn chords and use several mallets to make more than a single note at once, but it can be easy to start out on it.

The bongo is another instrument you have surely heard of. Simply sit with the two drums between your knees and pound it out. It’s especially great if you have a friend playing an acoustic guitar along with you.

Create Your Own

My next article is going to be all about making your own percussion instruments, but here’s a little teaser for you. You can have a LOT of fun building your own drums out of pretty much anything. I once made an entire song using old sports equipment, including football helmets, hockey pads, and longboards. It was a blast, and everyone loved it. Check back next week and I’ll expand on this topic.

Picking up a new instrument is a fun and can be easy. Sure, we’re a month into 2014, but challenge yourself to learn something new by the start of 2015. You’ll be surprised how rewarding it is.

Filed Under: MusicLearningCommunity