Making shakers

homemade percussion home

Shakers are among the oldest of musical instruments, almost certainly a found instrument in the beginning. After all, a calabash gourd, left to dry for a month or two, will be a crude shaker when you pick it up. Someone somewhere in the pre-dawn of music making must surely have picked up a dry gourd, shook it, and and went "Wow", and brought it home for later ;-) Thus perhaps the first collection of percussion instruments began. Gourds are always an excellent source for making shakers and shekeres, instruments of all kinds. As a matter of fact, I planted a batch of ipu seeds from the Gourd Connection this week, and four have come up so far, so next year, we may have some nice gourd shaker making articles for you.

As a matter of fact, though, the industrial age resources are excellent for shakers too. Every trash can in America has a plastic, metal or wood container in it. There are lots of tubes of various around too, and by stopping up the ends, they make nice shakers. The trick is to find the right sizes, shapes and materials to suit your purposes.. it isn't always the most expensive bottle, and certainly not usually the biggest, although I do have a few big loud ones for those occasions..my biggest is made from 4" PVC, two feet long and full of BB's. The smallest is a 35 mm plastic film can.

The best way to understand the variables is to EXPERIMENT. First assemble a batch of different containers and fillers. Then use your ears..

  1. The container - Plastic vitamin jars or other pill bottles are all likely candidates
  2. The plastic lids that come on almost EVERYTHING in the grocery store these days. [Glue two together, with your choice of filler inside.]
  3. Film cannisters
  4. Wooden and metal containers that designer TEAS come in..
  5. Smaller sized coffee cans with either a plastic lid or goatskin. these can be used for shakers, scrapers, and drums all at once..
  6. Many energy drinks now come in ALUMINIUM bottles, and these are GREAT for shakers.
  7. To build up a larger number of shakers for group events, etc, consider a couple months of drinking 6 packs of Sunny D or another juice with suitable 6 pack bottles..
  8. Beads vary greatly in sound according to the size and also the hardness of the material. a good hobby store has beads of wood and metal as well as a large variety of plastics..For an experiment, get several sizes and types of beads. use the same type of container to compare fillers..and notice how different they sound and feel.
  9. Try copper jacketed lead shot from the gun store. Finer than BB's, it gives a great feel..(The copper reduces the risk from working with lead..)

    In general, the harder and more rigid the materials, the brighter and louder the projection. BB's are louder than unpopped popcorn, for example. Volume and projection are also affected by the size and thickness of the shaker and the amount of filler.

    More is forthcoming, including a good look at the technique of playing the Caxixi, a special type of shaker which allows for a particular approach, and the technique's use with homemade bottle shakers..





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