|Level of Difficulty: easy
Age levels: Kindergarten to elderly.
Needed tools: Ears, brain, various beaters, clamps optional but useful.
Start to keep an eye open for interesting wooden containers to add to your collection. Listen to the sound made with a finger, a full length pencil (each end sounds different) and/or a chopstick.You can spot the good ones right away.
Craft & hobby shops are the first place to look, but don't stop there; designer teas and other foodstuffs sometimes come in well made wood boxes you can rescue from the eventual trash heap.
If you or a friend knows someone who regularly smokes CIGARS, that too is a great source of boxes. Not all of them sound good, but the good ones are REAL good. The two cigar boxes at above right represent the two main types. The one on the left has a hinged lid, and the one on the right a sliding lid. Each is useful in its own way.
The hinged lid box is much like a Peruvian instrument that our friend Tito brings to the rumbas in the park.. first check out the box drum Tito plays by clicking on the image below to enlarge. Tito is on the left.)I'm not sure of the name of it, but will ask him when i see him.
He plays the side of the box with a stick while changing the pitch by opening and closing the lid.
Notice the similarity. The side walls on this particular cigar box are too thick to work well, but you can play on the box TOP while opening and closing it. The closing of the lid makes another sound. Listen.
This cigar box also has a nice agogo mode, found by opening the box and turning it over, playing on the bottom and the top simultaneously. The pitch is higher on the top than the bottom, because the top is THICKER.. Listen..
sliding lid box
Homemade percussion - Wooden Boxes
The sound of wood is one of the most ancient of musical sounds. Wood idiophones and gourds very possibly were among the earliest musical instruments..a hollow place in a piece of wood amplifies the sound and helps it resonate. This makes wooden boxes and containers of all kinds likely candidates for sound exploration.
Of course, the larger and professionally made musical wooden boxes are known as Cajones, and quite a bit is going on with them already It is possible to make a cajon from a wooden drawer, like the one Len is playing at right. For more on cajones, visit our cajon page.
This page, however, is devoted to the "poor man's cajon" the often smaller wooden boxes we find that may not have been originally intended for use as musical instruments.
The sides usually sound different from the bottoms, and the sound can further be manipulated by muffling in various places, or by changing the airspace, such as shutting the lid a bit or holding the open side of the box against one's body in varying degrees.. In general, the thinner sides are the sides to play on..use your fingers, 1/4" dowel, or pencils, chopsticks, or superball mallets..
Wood box bongos and agogos
To make temporary agogos or bongos, simply clamp two boxes or box tops together, using a clamp like the black one in the illustration. Drilling holes and fastening boxes or lids together can also work, but the temporary method is sometimes preferable, because you are not stuck with those configurations. An adept percussionist often won't even need the clamp.
The trick is to find the boxes that are truly well made. Small wood boxes from the hobby shop may well be a bit on the flimsy side, so it's wise to look and listen carefully. If there are any staples holding the box or tray together, rather than glue, skip that box and try to find another...
The sliding lid cigar box, the one on the right on the picture above, has nice tone on the sides and the bottom, so I took off the sliding lid, and used those two surfaces for this agogo effect..
This was done by putting the right hand on the bottom and the left hand on one side of the box.The more you open the lid, the higher and brighter the sound goes. Listen to the same box, first with the lid mostly closed, then open a bit more. Notice the flams, played with the middle and ring fingers of the right hand..
We should soon be doing a section on dowels, not as beaters, but as a sound source; they have lots of uses. One can set a number of different length dowels out on a foam bed or on the carpet or the grass, and have an immediate melodic instrument, to be played with two thinner sticks. The same batch of dowels can also be used with each other, to be played more like claves..
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