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A Sound Safari is an easy activity, requiring virtually no musical expertise and very little preparation. All you need to do is beat, shake or bang on unbreakable items from your classroom, or if you're doing this at home, your cupboards. Before the kids come into our music room, I fill three drinking glasses with varying amounts of water--1/4 full, 1/2 full and 3/4 full--to produce the notes for "Mary Had a Little Lamb." I set one on a table, one on the floor and one by my desk.
STEP 1: I seat the children and explain that this is an experiment in sound. I ask them to close their eyes and be absolutely quiet, then try to count and remember the sounds they hear. When we do this, I count to three and we sit in silence a minute. When the spell is broken, the children usually explode with comments: "I heard nine! I heard the table creak! I heard somebody breathing! I heard a bird!" We talk about where the sounds are coming from and how they hide in everything around us.
STEP 2: I ask the kids if they want to make some noise. When they stop screaming, tell them they are going on a Sound Safari and should make as many sounds as they can (but not hit anything too hard, especially glass). Then I let them loose. My classes experiment with all the instruments in the room and with sounds they can make from their bodies. At home they can discover shakers in a box of salt and in canisters of dried beans. They will tap on everything in sight. At home pots became gongs, cabinet doors became drums and pot lids became cymbals.
STEP 3: With the kids' interest piqued, I initiate a guessing game. Begin by closing your eyes while the kids clang different objects and strikers. My classes are exacting examiners--I couldn't just guess, "A triangle and a drum" I had to specify which drum. When this activity has played out, I tell the kids I have a song hidden somewhere in the room. They should zero in on the glasses (with your prompting, if necessary).
Bring the glasses together and ping them with a rhythm stick or spoon. Next, I challenge the kids to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and to make up new songs. My students' favorite trick is running their damp fingers around the rims of the glasses to make an ethereal sound.
By making their own instruments, children learn how sounds are created and gain concrete experience with music fundamentals, such as timbre and pitch. Two big hits are the glockenspiel made from a length of copper pipe and a rain stick made from a mailing tube. Both are simple and fun to make.
MAKE MINE MUSIC! by Tom Walthar (Little, Brown & Company) has by far the easiest directions for making a copper-pipe glockenspiel. When it is done, the instrument makes a lovely ringing tone.
• 1 10-foot length of 1/2-inch copper pipe
• Yardstick and pencil
• Pipe-cutter (the best inexpensive cutters are tubing cutters with no exposed blades) or a hacksaw (which should be used only by a parent)
• 2 strips of foam rubber
STEP 1: You need to measure and cut the pipes to the following lengths in inches: 11, 10 1/4, 9 3/4, 9 1/2, 8 7/8, 8 1/2, 7 7/8 and 7 5/8. Start with the longest--if you make a mistake, you can cut them down to a shorter size and not waste the pipe. Have the children measure the lengths as closely as possible and mark the future cuts with a pencil. Open the pipe cutter and position it so the blade is right on the marking. Tighten the screw, then turn the cutter around the pipe several times. You can rest the pipe on a workbench for easy turning. Periodically stop to tighten the cutter screw, then continue turning around the pipe. Repeat turning and tightening until the piece of pipe falls off, or until you can break it off with gentle pressure. Continue until you have all eight lengths.
STEP 2: Place the two strips of foam rubber parallel to each other on a table or flat surface. Arrange the pipes in order from the smallest to the largest. Lay then across the rubber strips, giving the appearance of train tracks. Experiment with different strikers and when you find one you like, start playing.
THE RAIN STICK
If you make only one instrument with your children a rain stick is the one to try. Not only is it immensely satisfying to the kids to hammer a pound of nails into a mailing tube, but it also is a wonderful listening exercise as the kids try out the sound effects of a variety of beans, lentils, popcorn, sand, macaroni and rice. Indian tribes were said to have created rain sticks to bring showers. This is definitely an instrument that makes children want to get up and dance around.
I came across a modified rain stick in Ann Wiseman's MAKING MUSICAL THINGS (Charles Scribner's Sons) and leaped at the chance to make one. I make two versions, one using tubes three inches in diameter, the other using 1 1/2-inch-diameter tubes. By randomly hammering a pound of nails into each tube, you make a kind of inner maze into which you pour a cup or so of small solids, such as rice or beans. While each tube size produces something great, the 1 1/2-inch-diameter tube works best for a close copy of a rain stick. Because the tube is narrower, the rice or beans pass through the maze of nails more slowly, and the effect is more like falling rain. With the wider tube, you get a sort of percussion instrument. The contents pass through it more quickly, producing a larger sound.
• 1 1 1/2-inch-wide mailing tube (or 1 3-inch-wide mailing tube) per child
• 1 lb. 1 1/2-inch nails (or 3-inch nails) per child
• 1 hammer per child (borrow from friends)
• Wide plastic tape (only if your tubes don't have their own stoppers)
• Selection of sand, rice, lentils, popcorn kernels, dried beans
• Origami paper, wrapping paper, contact paper, colored electrical tape
STEP 1: Set up each child with a mailing tube, a supply of nails and a hammer. Instruct them all to drive the nails into the tube wherever they like. Be sure to advise them to drive the nails straight through, because the ends will poke out if they are driven in at an angle. (If this happens, you can simply push the nails back out and adjust their angle by hand.) The kids will enjoy peering down their tubes to see the nail maze. Encourage them to use up the entire pound of nails. When I try it, the kids ran out of nails before they ran out of interest.
STEP 2: Once the kids have finished the nailing, have them seal up one end of each tube, either with a stopper sold with the tube or with wide plastic tape. Then let them experiment with the choices you've provided for the contents. To minimize spilling, use a funnel to pour a test amount of rice or beans into the tube, and have the children seal the open end with one hand while they experiment with sounds. Once they decide what the contents of their tubes will be, seal both ends securely, so that it doesn't rain beans all over your kitchen floor.
STEP 3: Decorating the rain sticks comes next (wrapping the instruments also ensures that the nails stay in place). When my classes try it, I offer them a packet of origami paper and a couple of rolls of colored electrical tape.
You won't need to demonstrate what to do with these instruments--as soon as my children are finished making theirs, they are all up on their feet dancing and shaking their rain sticks.