Published in the Bucks County Courier Times
By: Ron Seidman
VP/GM A Child’s World ECE Centers

Yes, when the tree falls in the woods, it makes a sound, even if there is no one there to hear it. Before man ever put a percussive foot to the earth, herds of animals were making thunderous percussive sounds as they ran across the plain. Percussion, or the crashing of one object against another, is the oldest and most primitive of sounds and of music. Because it is primitive, it is one of the first areas of the brain to be developed. Babies love to bang things. They love a rattle toy, which is just a maraca–a primitive and basic instrument. Even if you don’t realize it, this is introducing your child to music, rhythm, and communications. While it was very difficult on the vocal cords to make a call prior to the invention of the telephone, ancient tribes used hollowed out logs or stretched an animal skin over a hollow log or pottery to create drums. These drums were among the first methods of long-distance calling.

Everything makes a sound. I am a percussionist and have spent my life banging on things. One doesn’t have to be an expert to understand this concept and to teach it to early learners to be meaningful and fun. How many different sounds can you make by clapping different parts of your hand palm? The density, in various parts of the hand palm, will create a different sound. If you clap your hand with two fingers it will make a different sound than if you clap with 4 fingers. Try it yourself by clapping four times quickly with two fingers and then four times quickly with four fingers. Repeat that for 30 to 60 seconds and I’ll bet you find it fun. Have one group of children clap several times with two fingers and then stop and have another group answer back with four fingers clapping, and you have created a drum circle. Do it with made-up beats or to a straight 4 cadence. Drum circles are when humans of any age gather to play percussive musical games and are a great activity for children and adults.

I have participated in many drum circles. People bring their own drums of various kinds. the Djembe, of African origin, is a very popular drum. There are some that make their own Djembe. They are very well-made, beautiful drums. You can make your own percussion instrument as well. The Blue Man Group uses many common items, but the ones I like the most are the PVC pipes and tubes. They are used for common plumbing and can be purchased at a hardware store. They slide smaller ones into bigger ones and can change the pitch by sliding them in and out while banging them with mallets and drumsticks. This is basically how a trombone works. Stomp is an incredible group of percussionists. They use everything you can think of from brooms and even the kitchen sink to create musical percussion. As with Blue Man Group’s sliding tubes, the Stomp group uses a kitchen sink filled with water that empties as they bang on it to change the pitch. These are just two examples of how percussion and melody are created, and the role science, math, and spatial concepts have in the creation of music.

Everything makes a sound. I can still hear my mother saying, “Stop banging on that”. It used to be that groups would hang on the corners in the inner city and sing acapella. Today you can find them as groups banging on trash cans. The old steel trash cans made a great sound but the plastic ones work great also. Different cans of different sizes make for a diverse set of drums and they are very inexpensive. Every child in the class can have their own drum. As with the clapping of the hand they can play the percussion games of call and answer or mimic. Divide them into two groups. Select one child from each group as leader. Leader A will create a beat that his group will repeat. Leader B will answer with a beat of his/her own that the group will repeat. It’s fun to go back and forth changing leaders. Everyone gets a chance and everyone can bang a drum. Search the internet with your children for fun simple percussion instrument-making projects and for more information and ideas about Drum Circles. Have fun. Bang on something.