Have you heard about the children’s orchestera where the instruments were made entirely from trash taken from a garbage dump? How could this happen?
You’ll love to hear the true story of a man named Favio Chávez who came to a small town in Paraguay as an environmental engineer and went to work in a huge landfill. As he worked to teach safety practices at the dump, he became friends with the kids and the families – some of whom had working in that dump for generations! And, he also loved music and was able to teach it!
Can you imagine what happens next? Favio dreams of a better life for his new friends and especially one where they could play music. One little girl named Ada dreamed of playing a violin but didn’t know how she could ever afford to buy a violin or take lessons. This inspiring story is a powerful testament to the power of music, hope and the difference that caring and creative people can make in the lives of their community.
Ada’s Violin was written by Susan Hood with beautiful illustrations by Sally Wern Comport. You’ll love reading about the Recycled Orchestra and how it changed one small town and inspired the world!
Ideas For Making Music From Recyclables
Although these are simpler instruments, you can be inspired to turn trash and recycling into working musical instruments in my E-books. If any teacher or educator does not have the means to purchase them, please contact me (daria music at yahoo dot com) and I can make a special copy available to them.
This year’s Earth Day theme is End Plastic Waste! We hope you’ve been reading about this topic and moved to make changes in your own life. But, what about plastic you already have in your recycling bin? Creating fun recycling projects with kids will help them see plastic waste as more than just “use it and lose it” trash. As you practice the 5 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Remove) you can upcycle out of the waste cycle into 5 great-sounding musical instruments.
This Earth Day, I’m offering my TURN PLASTIC INTO MUSIC E-book free, and you can download it at the link below. (If you are an educator with a limited budget and read this post after the E-book has returned to full price, you can always e-mail me at dariamusic at yahoo dot com for an educator’s copy.)
The five projects in this book include amazing-sounding maracas from mini-sized water bottles, Latin American guiros and Aboriginal bullroarers from plastic bottles with various sizes of mouths. There’s also two crafts that use plastic straws – zampoñas or panpipes and a kaleidoscope straw rattle.
And really… wouldn’t you rather make music than contribute to something like this? Below is a video taken in Cameroon, Africa several year ago. This year school children in this region are committed to ending plastic waste and changing what you see here!
One of my favorite instruments to bring around to schools is a water drum made from a gourd. Kids and adults are often shocked when I pour water into one of the gourds and float the other on top to create the drum. Then they are amazing by the deep, resonant sound. But where did a unique and creative instrument like this come from? Interestingly enough, gourd water drums are found in both African cultures and in the indigenous cultures that inhabit present day Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
We caught up with a talented musician from Los Angeles named Christopher Garcia who not only plays them, but has thoroughly researched their background and shares these traditional instruments with audiences around the world.
And, at the end of this post, you’ll find our DIY water drum craft. Although our plastic water drum doesn’t sound exactly like the real thing, it does produce great drum sounds and is a fun way to encourage sensory play with water and sound.
Christopher Garcia – Teaching About Indigenous Meso American Instruments
Before Spanish Conquistadors arrived in present day Mexico and the Southwestern US, indigenous cultures such as the Yaqui were flourishing with rich music and cultural lives. Many of these indigenous groups trace their history to the civilizations of the Mayan and Aztec peoples. Beautiful and unusual instruments used in their music include the water drum, singing stones, unique flutes and a marimba made of turtle shells. Christopher details many of these unique instruments at his website below, but here you can see him playing the gourd water drum and the gourd water drum plus the turtle shell marimba and singing stones.
Turtle Shells, Singing Stones And a Wooden Drum
Make Your Own Version Of A Gourd Water Drum
We’ve done a whole post on taking various sized rounded plastic containers, floating them on the surface of the water and getting some of the same tones you’d hear on gourd water drums. You can get creative and try it yourself in a bucket, kiddie pool or basin of water, or check out that full post at the link below.
If you lived in ancient times or tribal days – what would you use to make music? You’d probably look around you for sticks, stones, bones or even seed pods that fell from trees! These would make excellent percussion and if you’re lucky enough to live in a tropical region, there are several trees that actually grow very cool seed pod rattles such as the pacay shaker seen on the colorful Peruvian cloth above. You can learn more about seed pod trees here or in the more detailed links below.
The Pacay “Ice Cream” Tree
Isn’t that a cool name for a tree? The tall and lovely pacay tree got this name because the soft white pulp between the seeds in the seed pods is delicious and a favorite among kids dating back to the Incan times in South America. In fact, the earliest story of this seed pod comes from when the Spanish invaded South America and the last Inca gave a basket of pacay seed pods to Pizzaro as a gift. Now grown as shade trees near coffee plantations in Peru, this giant 60 foot tree is also found throughout Central America and the beans (seeds) are eaten as well. In Mexico, the beans inside the seed pods are roasted and served on the streets as a snack!
The Flame or Flamboyant Tree
Although the seed pods to this tree appear similar to the pacay shakers, the trees they come from are really different. The flamboyant tree is native to Africa but found throughout tropical regions around the world. In some locations, such as Puerto Rico, it’s a beloved and iconic image seem in everything from photos to folk art!
The tree itself is ornamental, smaller in size, has fern-like leaves and bright, beautiful red flowers so it’s easy to see how it got it’s name. Although the seeds here are not edible, the seed pods still make nice natural percussion instruments to use as shakers.
How Do You Make A Seed Pod Shaker?
That’s a trick question – you don’t! They work as rattles directly from the tree. Well, when dried, of course. If you’re in an area where these trees grow you’ll probably find seed pods that have fallen and are hard, dry and brown in color. At that point, pick them up and shake them and they are instant rattles!
Will each seed pod sound the same? Try several and see for yourselves!
How Do You Play One?
Although this is a really basic and simple instrument, there are several ways to get different sounds from a seed pod rattle. Try any of these:
Rattle it back and forth or up and down.
Rattle it slowly then build up a crescendo.
Hold it in one hand and tap it against the other.
March or dance while shaking it, letting the beat become part of your movement or music!
You probably know that different countries have different languages. And diverse cultures have different holidays and foods. But did you know that almost all countries in the world have a national instrument?
What’s A National Instrument?
What is a national instrument? It can be an instrument discovered or played in a country, like the South African vuvuzela horn. It can also be a musical instrument that holds cultural and symbolic importance for a state, a nation or a particular race or ethnicity of people. Some are drums, some are stringed instruments, some are percussion instruments but all hold a special significance to the citizens of that country and represents the unique character of the people it is identified with.
For instance, think about a balalaika from Russia or the ukulele from Hawaii. Can a country have more then one national instrument? Yes, several countries have multiple instruments listed as their national instruments. For instance, Greece has an ancient national instrument – the lyre, and also a modern one, the bouzouki. Peru has both the Afro-Peruvian cajón (box drum) and the Andean charango, a stringed instrument made from the shell of an armadillo.
Discovering Cultures Through Music
Instruments are a really fun starting point for discovering and learning about world cultures. Perhaps you have relatives or ancestors from another culture. Music is a great starting point for sharing that culture with your kids. Perhaps you’ll travel to another country, here’s a fun way to find out more about what you’ll see and hear in advance. Likewise, if you’re simply exploring the world from the comfort of your couch, finding out about national instruments is a great way to discover the many wonders of the musical world.
Below is a link to the Wikipedia compilation page of national instruments. This is a great source because each countries entry has a clickable link to learn more. Also below are links to free coloring pages and to one kids E-book where you can color your way around the world with unique musical instruments like the sitar from India or goat toe-nail rattles from Bolivia.
What’s your country’s national instrument? Did you already know it? I’d love to hear from you about this!
Cinco de Mayo is a wonderful time to learn more about Mexican history and culture. Making and playing simple instruments from Mexico is great fun for even the youngest child. Here are three easy music crafts that will let your little one try their hand at joining in the musical fun of this special holiday!
Make Some Maracas!
If you have two small water bottles and two toilet paper rolls, plus a bit of filling and tape, you can make a sturdy pair of great-sounding maracas. Basically, maracas are two rattles held by the handles and played with both hands. Imagine the fun you can have with music and with music and movement with these!
Professional maracas have different sounds in each of the containers and you can try that as well. You can fill your recycled instrument with combinations like beans and rice, paper clips and erasers or smaller and larger dried pasta pieces. That way the left and right maraca will make different sounds when shaken and you can create even more the rhythms with the pair!
Even if you don’t recognize the word “guiro”, you’ll know the sound right away! It’s the instrument that makes the “b-r-r-r-r-r-r” sound often heard in Latin American and Caribbean music. And it’s really fun for kids to play!
The sound is achieved by rubbing a stick, a scraper or a rasp over a series of ridges – and any plastic water bottle with firm ridges makes a fantastic guiro. Filling the water bottle with colorful shredded paper, confetti or similar items makes it even more fun to play. When I do this project with kids or classes, I like to use an unsharpened pencil attached to the bottle with colorful yarn as my scraper, but there are lots of other items you can use as well and each one produces a unique sound. Try whisks, hair picks, chopsticks or even plastic spoons, forks, or sporks for percussion play!
This is another creative project for discovering rhythms or developing fine motor skills. Castanets originally came from the European region of Spain and Portugal and some historians believe they were actually made from tapping together walnut shells before they were crafted out of wood.
Our recycled project doesn’t include nuts or carved wood. We create fun little workable castanets out of sturdy paper and buttons or various sizes. You make them in pairs and – you guessed it – each different set of buttons makes different sounds.
Playing suggestions? Get the hang of tapping them together and separately. Then play along to your favorite songs or try singing and tapping at the same time. Often played as part of the flamenco music tradition heard in Spain and in Mexico, you’ll be amazed at how a talented castanet player can use this tiny instrument as part of a breath-taking performance.
Here’s an example of a well-known flamenco dancer and castanet player named La Emi from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Is Cinco de Mayo Mexican Independence Day (Spoiler Alert – No!)
Did you now that March is Music In Our Schoolsmonth? What a great way to focus on how music enriches the lives of all students, young and old!
I’m part of a group of music educators that want parents, teachers and everyone to find lots of fun and creative ways to share music with kids. This year, our theme is “31 days of rhythm” so I wanted to share a bit about how pow-wow drumming.
What’s A Pow-Wow Drum?
If you’ve ever been to a Native American gathering, the pow-wow drum is at the center of the event. At most pow-wows you’ll see a group of either men or women gathered around a big drum and everyone is playing and singing at the same time. They are all playing in unison, meaning the goal is to strike the drum together. And when a great drum group is playing, it sounds like thunder and shows the power of what people can do when they work (or play) cooperatively!
Make Your Own Pow-Wow Drum
Actual pow-wow drums are beautiful and many are very special and sacred. But I’ve done a post that explores the first pow-wow drum and you can easily make that at home. You can find it here as well as check out the sound of a traditional drum group playing and singing: http://www.dariamusic.com/drum.php
Every child can find a place around the fabric drum, holding the drum with one hand and their beater in the other. Then, they strike the drum together – at the same time. At first, a teacher or adult may want to tap out a beat to any familiar song and encourage the children to play along, hitting the drum at exactly the same time. Once the kids get the idea, the leader can also ask the children to listen carefully and do what she/he does. While playing the same song, she/he can play softer and they should tap softer. He/she can play harder or a bit faster or slower and the drum group should do the same.
In Native cultures, drumming is just one way of teaching cooperation and listening skills as well.
To practice drumming together, you might wish to try a simple song I used while teaching music and English in the Middle East. The students wanted to learn the days of the week in English so they drummed to the following little song. Whoever was leading set the pace and played the rhythm as they sang. When they finished, they pointed to someone who had listened and played well to be the next leader.
(one beat) Sunday, (one beat) Monday, (one beat) Tuesday, (one beat) Wednesday, (one beat) Thursday, (one beat) Friday and (three beats) SAT-UR-DAY (beaters must stop and raised in the air).
Lots of young children and those of us who are kids at heart have fallen in love with the latest Disney animated film set in the Pacific Islands, called Moana. If you haven’t seen it yet; I promise, no spoilers here!
While enjoying the film, music-lovers will notice a unique drum makes a brief appearance and helps our young heroine discover an important aspect of the history of her people. To most Westerns eyes, this sideways, longer wooden drum may look a bit unusual. Were you wondering what it was? Although we don’t get a good look at it, it’s most likely inspired by the slit drums or a log drums found throughout the Pacific Islands.
The drum pictured above is very similar to the one seen in the movie. Made in Papau, New Guinea, this elaborately carved slit drum is placed on two wooden rests and played by striking the top (open) area. Unpainted and left it’s natural color, the inner carved area is rubbed with white lime, making the beautiful traditional designs stand out. You’ll notice lots of similarities between the artwork and the tattoos in the movie and the carvings seen on the drum here!
Although you can’t walk into a museum and see this drum first-hand, you can check out it’s complete information page on the Brooklyn Museum website, where it is part of an “Arts of the Pacific Islands.” You can also check out the link below that shares another similar drum from Tokelau, three islands that are north of New Zealand and East of Australia. The Wikipedia page on the music of Tokelau has some very helpful background about this drum as part of communal singing and dancing rites and rituals, used to not only bring the people of the island together but to preserve and share ancestral history, just like we see in this latest movie about a strong young woman finding her way and saving her people!
Intrigued by this type of drum and want to share it with your child? There are definitely kid size slit drums; like the one pictured here, that any child can use to rock their world!
Although it can be messy, it’s a fun part of so many celebrations. And we often add it to many of our recycled rattle projects to add color and a bit of extra merriment.
So what’s better then colorful confetti? Answer: recycling holiday wrapping to create your own endless supply of fun…con…fetti! Here are three ways to make different kinds of confetti from extra holiday wrapping supplies. Naturally, if working with younger kids, be aware of safety issues with scissors and substitute kid shears. If working with very young children, you may want to make confetti in advance then allow them to choose or pour confetti through a large-mouthed funnel into your holiday rattles or crafts.
So don’t throw out that holiday packaging! Here’s how to make it part of your next celebration.
Hole Punch Confetti
This is clearly the easiest method and makes perfect little circles. Just cut squares of used wrapping paper (the brighter, the better) and put several together before you start punching. You’ll easily find how many paper squares you can put together to get the most amount of confetti without straining your hand and your hole punch.
Other fun hole punches? Craft stores often have hole punches with different shapes and sizes, like stars and moons. These make for wonderful additions to this project!
Cut Across Confetti
Cut squares of used tissue paper or wrapping paper and put about 4 – 6 together. Tape one side to keep the papers together. Then make long scissors cuts up toward the taped side, but not into the taped area. Once you’ve made these long vertical cuts, you can cut straight across (in the opposite direction) and it will yield nice little uneven squares of confetti.
Have lots of used ribbon? This method yields a bit less confetti, but still makes colorful little squares. Simply hold 4 – 6 pieces of ribbon in your hand and snip across the top. You can also cut longer pieces and make mock shredded paper. Similarly you can curl ribbon and then cut the longer curls to add into your rattles.
By far, the two most popular confetti crafts are rattles and confetti poppers. We have our rattle post below plus two different creative methods for MYO poppers (aka confetti cannons) in the links below.
Here’s wishing you a happy and joyful celebration!
If you’ve ever made a homemade tambourine or sistrum, you’ve probably wanted to use bangles like those seen on traditional middle eastern drums or instruments. Technically, these round thin mini-cymbals are called zils. You can see some lovely large zils on this antique tambourine from the Middle East.
If you’re crafting an instrument that uses these bangles, it’s easy to make a simple version of zils out of recycled bottle caps using a few tools that are handy around any home or garage.
What You Need
Metal bottle caps
Piece of Wood
Large nail with a head
Although this is a reasonably safe and easy project, it’s always a good idea to use caution. Wearing safety goggles means that your eyes and face are protected if you accidentally hit the cap too hard and it bounces off the wooden work surface. In general, a good tip for this project is to use the hammer slowly and gently, tapping repeatedly until you get the desired results.
Set Up A Work Area
Set the piece of wood down either on the floor, the ground or a sturdy table. Place the metal bottle cap (cap-side-up) and then position the large nail above it, directly in the center. Gently tap until the nail has pierced the cap and reached down into the wood. This creates the hole that will allow you to thread it onto whatever you are making.
Next, With cap-side-down, next gently strike all the edges of the bottle cap until it slowly flattens. This can take 15, 20 or more gentle taps with the hammer.
Next, turn the bottle cap over. Continue to tap the outer edges and the inner circle until all the sharp edges are flattened and pressed into the cap’s surface. Although some recycled projects use the bottle caps in their original form – such as the wooden sistrum from Africa seen below – flattening the bangles makes them safer to handle and use in any project.
If you’re doing this project with very small children, you might wish to create the bangles in advance and focus more on how the children can string the bangles plus other rattling objects onto their craft instrument.
Wondering what else you could add to a tambourine or sistrum project? In addition to bottle cap zils, you can add paper clips, buttons, jingles, beads or pull tabs from soda cans. Remember, while you’re reducing, reusing and recycling, you’re also teaching kids to limit their use of resources but never limit their imagination or creativity!