A Musical Approach to Buckets, bottles, and pails..

This page is designed as an aid for music teachers and students who are using homemade materials in their music study.

In the wrong hands, buckets and bottles are merely the source of noise. The seat of creativity and musicality is in the BRAIN..

Music is the art of choosing the exact right sound at exactly the right time.

Therefore, really pay attention. Use ALL the dynamics of the instruments, from soft to loud. Natural music fits the place in which it occurs. The place or sound space you play in is part of the music. They should fit together if possible.

All options, from hands to thick sticks to thin, and mallets of various materials, and scrapers, and so on, should be tried. Pay close attention to the sounds you are making.

Ask Yourself

What percussion music would fit the mood, the atmosphere, in

A playground field?

A downtown sidewalk?

An apartment living room?

A courtyard?

Outside the stadium on game day?

On a front porch at sundown?

We love the cheap white LOEWS buckets, made by Encore Plastics, because the lid fits so tightly on top that it actually creates another head, a 4th down from the pitch on the other side. It isn't very loud, but for indoors, living room, and other reflective situations, or miked up, it works fine.

The video examples we have included have largely made use of this lower head for the video examples in this article, miking it closely.

If we are going to play on the street, without mikes, we'll bring a skin head, even if it is a skin bucket or a bushel basket drum. this holds down the low end better for us.

Alter Your Buckets

When playing the standard way, on the 'bottom of the bucket with two sticks, the lip around the edge yields the high sound, a nice contrast to the 'head' surface. When one tries to play with the hands on the bottoms, however, this lip gets in the way, and can really damage the hands.

SO, what we have done lately is to sand down HALF of the rim, flush with the bottom of the bucket, and PRESTO! the bucket is now a usable hand drum, not unlike a cajon. The volume is not high when playing by hand, but that isn't always a bad thing. In some spaces, it is perfect. We can still turn the bucket around and play on the side with the rim when we are using sticks. Buckets in the videos accompanying this article are altered in this manner. We also put natural skins on buckets and other containers, and highly recommend it. This is quite cost effective, and teaches the basics of making skinned drums at the same time. See the article about coffee can drums.

Experiment with different sticks and mallets, and with using all hands, one stick and one hand, or two sticks. Remember that wood is tougher than plastic, and be aware that thick wood sticks WILL break through your bucket eventually, whereas some plastic alternatives offer better durabuility for the drum. Ideas: Those short whiffle ball bats from the dollar store; the plastic bone that came with Mike Pieburn's caveman Halloween costume..

Background Note from STU: "This type of drumming is ages old, older than plastic, that's for sure.

I've been playing on the street off and on for many years now. Back in 1962, I watched my uncle Gene Williams, on the night time streets of New York City, playing a restaurant sized Dentler's Potato Chip can, back when the tin cans were thicker and the metal sounded great, probably better than plastic does today. . Read the story.



Bucket Drumming 101

Welcome to the world of Bucket Drumming, a 20th and a 21st century urban manifestation of an age old phenomenon. After all, street musicians have been around for thousands of years, and down through history, we percussionists have selected materials and made instruments from what was available in their our immediate surroundings. And one thing we definitely have on hand, in this age of petroleum products, is plastic containers..

Not everyone loves bucket drumming, however. In fact, many people find it obnoxious.. Let's face it, most examples of bucket drumming nowadays are show-offy, "look-at-me!" displays of speed and technique, as much as can be mustered.

The most famous 'bucket drummer' video guy on the web, Larry Wright is good example of this. His original YouTube video has over half a million views on it. We know what he does is pretty intense, we are just not sure how long we want to watch him do it. He has lots of fans. Maybe we are just getting old. :-D He plays fast and loud very well. Even we can see, after a few hours, how it would become tiresome to nearby residents and business owners.

Technique CAN be exciting, however. Our favorites in this genre are groups like the Chicago Bucket Boys, a highly talented group. They apparently come from the drums corps/ rudimental school of drumming, which is great..We like Funk Plastic too, up in Seattle, a little more R&B based, with a backbeat.

We checked out CBABA , a street player who uses a different approach, with a bigger, shopping cart based rig, with glass bottles and lots of different shapes, not just buckets..

But we longed for something more laid back, more atmospheric, more natural, Layered, I don't know, and then..

Then we stumbled upon this video of these young kids in Zambia, and to us, THEY have the right idea. For them, and for us, it isn't a competition, nor a show off session. It's about the groove. They are playing with one hand and one stick, and the music is ON. These musicians have real grace, despite their young age. Their concept of music grows naturally from the Zambian culture they have grown up in. They are playing parts, layers. Each part is simple, but they sum up so nicely. We wish more bucket drummers thought this way.


  • Watch the Zambian grown ups, not on buckets but on skinned drums.) Notice how their music contains some of the same parts as the Gambian kids in the other video..
  • Watch the crazed dude in Boston who rides around on a bike and plays; (sort of dangerous, but still cool. His cameraman is a genius.) note from stu. Do NOT try this in your neighborhood. This guy is really good at riding without holding the handlebars..
  • Bucket Drummer, New York City Subway, New Year's Eve 2004/2005. this one is worth watching. The subway in New York is so bizarre New Year's Eve; Rated PG-13 for language. There's a djembe player sit in at about 3 minutes and by 4:18, he's playing some very cool triplet stuff. Notice the change in his environment from when he set up, early in the evening, to when he was packing up, and everyone was getting on the subway going home.

Three 'easy' 4 part rhythms
for buckets, shakers, and pipe caps.

We present here, in order of difficulty, three simplified arrangements, based on traditional rhythms , in versions which are generally playable by early intermediate students from 4th grade to adult, in small bucket drumming groups. They make a good starting point for improvisation. Included are related exercises to develop creativity and furnish material for developing spontaneous composition skills. (When drummers jam, they are composing together, as they go along.)

Please understand: If you learn these rhythms as shown, on the buckets, this does NOT mean that you 'know Bomba' or Afoxe or Rumba. It isn't quite that simple. Any one of these three rich cultures could take up a lifetime of study. an authentic Bomba drum , Atabaque, and Tumbadora are much richer and fuller than a bucket. Take the time to look into these instruments.

Profound thanks are due to the parent cultures for giving these vital rhythms to the rest of the world for us to to enjoy. So be it. To learn more about the source cultures, surf the terms at YouTube. For starters, here are three good video links.

Now, get out your buckets, a pair of thin sticks, and a pipe cap or two. Make a simple shaker from some beans or peas and a plastic bottle. That's all you'll need.

About the notation - When playing with two hands, c is a closed note and o is an open note. When playing with sticks, all played notes are all represented by x. We designed these rhythms to be used with buckets, which, like the Lowes buckets, have two available pitches, one on either side. If you are not using these buckets, simply choose your buckets so that one has a higher and one a lower pitch. A rubbermaid 16 gallon utility tub will work for the low drum. Play it with a boomwhacker or other fat plastic beater, if you need volume, but better yet, with the hands.

Bomba Sicá (One of the main types of bomba)

1...2...3...4... (the downbeats)
c.co.oo.c.co.oo. low bucket

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 'gua gua' , the ride, rim/side of bucket, sticks
x..x..x...x.x... clave, see below for more on this part

x.xx.xx.x.xx.xx. (alternate guagua part, two sticks)
XxxxXxxxXxxxXxxx (shaker)

Watch the video

The bottom part is very recognizable and works great as a groove for others to play over. Simply add the "gua gua" part,(traditionally played on a section of Bamboo with two thn sticks), and you are grooving. The 3rd person can improvise to his/her heart's content.

Step 1: First practice session is learning the parts.Use revolving parts method. player D is finished improvising, takes over the guagua, and the guagua persontakes over the clave parts, then the old clave pattern person is the new improvisor.

Gua Gua Variations: Once you have the basic parts down, you can begin to experiment. Doing the guagua part, practice varying the area of the bucket that you are playing on. Experiment to see how the feel is changed when you move the ride, to the sides, or the rim, or elsewhere, with the tips, then the shaft of the stick. Volume is another variable. PLay one bar loud and three quiet, or two bars loud and two quiet or whatever. Different sticking combinations can be added, each with a characteristic feel, so you see, there is ample room for stretching out and widening them spectrum of available I and I choices. extend it to the playing of accents in different places. different stickings give a different feel as well. these are some possibilities.

rlrr lrll
rllr lrrl
rrlr llrl
rlrl lrlr
rllr llrl rrlr lrll [feel free to experiement]

Often the gua gua player will not play a steady ride, but rather the the following pattern


How is the feel affected by using brushes, or very thin or thick sticks? Playing on the side? the rim. All these are compositional elements, to be decided upon by the players or the arranger. use the sound-syllables available to you, and your bucket will speak accordingly.

The Clave Pattern as a Compositional Tool: Claves, the instrument, are not used in traditional Bomba. (side trip: watch traditional Bomba.) The pattern itself, however, is useful here, played on the rims or elsewhere. It acts as a flexible compositional element, for students to use as a starting point for experimentation. For example, if one alternates the figure with a measure of rest, it acts as a call, to be responded to in various ways.

Thus (the call) is followed by a space for improvisation)


Exercise: Really learning to use the elements of the clave as a compositional tool

1. Play the clave pattern, and vary the tones but keep the pattern consistent. (Also practice this playing the pattern every other time. If you have two players playing this part, can then have one play in the space created by the other. ).

2. Begin by playing the clave pattern, then remove or take out a single note from the pattern , then another, then another. Add them back in, but not in the same order that you removed them.

Afoxe, A rhythm from Northern Brazil

1...2...3...4...1...2...3...4... (the downbeats)
....o.o.....o.o.....o.o.....o.o. (Low bucket)
s..ss.t.s..ss.tts..ss.ttssttsstt {high bucket)

h.h.l.l.hh.l.ll.h.h.l.l.hh.l.ll. (Pipe cap agogo)
h...h.l.h...h.l.hh.hhll.h...h.l. (pipe cap 2, different size)

The high bucket part has a variation {in red and blue} which can itself have many different versions. The low and high pitches of the agogos may be switched, or the pattern may begin halfway through, i.e. be reversed.

Watch the video

Rumba, the foundation of Cuba folkloric music

cc.cc.O.cc.cc.O. Low bucket, two hands
x.xx.x.xx.x.xx.x cascara two thin sticks on rims
x..x...x..x.x... clave, played on flat top of pipe cap.
.......uD....... Shaker (u for up D for down)



Watch the video

Bomba (Puerto Rico)

Bomba en Loiza 1980's

Making a real Bomba drum

As played on Bomba Drums
This is so good! they go through all the main forms of Bomba on this one clip. outstanding..

Afoxe (Brazil)
Rumba (Cuba)


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