Junk Percussion: Recycling, Design and Music

Our junk percussion workshops create a space for learning all sorts of skills. Participants use every-day objects, many of which would otherwise end up in the rubbish or recycling bin, to build their own instruments, experiment with sound, compose music and prepare for a performance.

The workshop develops a range of activities across the curriculum. In inventing, building and playing the instruments, students explore aspects of music, design, science, geography and World cultures.

Junk percussion isn’t a new idea. Centuries ago, people made drums and other instruments from objects they found, including bones, wood and hard-shelled fruit called gourds. African slaves who weren’t allowed to play their own drums would make instruments in secret from shipping boxes and dresser drawers. Orchestral instruments have been made from rubbish recovered from landfill sites too. In Paraguay, The Orchestra of Instruments Recycled From Cateura, is a youth orchestra for deprived children with even violins and cellos made from scrap material.

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Instruments can be made from almost anything, from ‘ready made’ drums such as plastic dustbins, pots and pans and plastic or metal buckets to plastic bottles, chopsticks, pencils, boxes and metal bottle tops.

Make Your Own Instruments

First, decide what kind of instrument you want to make. There are lots of different percussion instruments, some you hit, some you shake, others with rough surfaces that are played with a stick, some that ring or clash and some that are tuned. In fact, the piano is even classed as a percussion instrument because it works by a series of hammers, activated by the fingers on the keyboard, which strike strings inside the instrument.

Think about the way a drum works. It has a hollow body through which the sound vibrates, and some kind of skin that can be struck with the hands or with drum sticks. Any hollow object could form the basis of a drum – an ice cream box, a bucket, an old tin or anything you can think of. Similarly, the drum skin could be made from all sorts of materials; plastic sheeting, paper, fabric, balloons or cling film. The skin needs to be stretched across the top of the container and fixed firmly in place. You can try using pencils, sticks of wood or chopsticks as beaters. Different materials will produce very different sounds.

Likewise, a shaker can be made from any hollow container that can be sealed, and can contain all sorts of things to shake inside it. Dried beans perhaps don’t count as junk, because you could always eat them, but how about lost buttons, nutshells, bottle tops, coins or even pebbles cleared from your garden.

Different materials will have different qualities. Metal rings, cardboard thuds, harder substances will make clearer, louder sounds than soft materials. Plan your instrument with a sound in mind. For a deep sound, the instrument must be bigger, so a dustbin could make a great bass drum. Have a look at some pictures of orchestral percussion instruments to see the variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Can you imagine what each would sound like? If you can listen to some percussion music, that will help stir your imagination.

Once you’ve made and decorated your instruments, it’s time to learn some rhythms, compose your own pieces and practice playing together to build up to your performance. World music contains many rhythms that work together to create fantastic sounds. You can explore these using the instruments you have invented to make a truly unique piece of music.

If you would like to read more about the workshop contact the Music Workshop Company for a Junk Percussion Education Pack.

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