Instruments From Ancient Mexico – The Conch Shell Trumpet

conch shell trumpetA conch shell is a beautiful thing.

But who would guess that cultures all around the world would not only admire it’s beauty but also figure out that – with a few minor modifications – it becomes a completely functional, natural trumpet!  Among others, there are conch trumpets heard in music from the South Pacific, Tibet, Korea and pre-Incan cultures.  Archeological finds and older documents also place it in Aztec culture and ceremonies as well.  Here’s a bit more about the Aztec conch shell trumpet.

aztec conch trumpetPictured here is a musician called a “quiquizoani” playing the conch shell.  The name is in the Nahuatl Indigenous language of Mexico and this specific image can be found on page 23 of the Aztec Codex “Magliabecchi”, currently preserved and archived at the University of Utah in the United States.

One of the best sites for information on Aztec instruments, including great pictures from archeological sites and historical references is Mexicolore.com (see resources below).  Their research shows that there were 7 different types of conch shells and that the largest was called the ‘quiquiztli’.  As you might imagine, the shell trumpet was highly symbolic and associated with the breath of life as well as the rhythms of the sea.  Similarly, it was associated with the call to prayer, marking time during the day and during the night, the moon, fertility and Ehécatl – the Aztec God of the Wind.

Research also shows that conch shell trumpets were used by the Aztec military in a manner similar to modern day bugles.

Conch Shells in The USA

Closer to home, conch shells are part of a unique contest in the Florida Keys.  Although the tradition of blowing the conch trumpet dates back over 200 years, it was originally used mainly for maritime signaling. Recently, however, the contest is a lot more colorful with contestants that vary in age from 3 – 83 and even perform with unique outfits, hula hoops and other novelty approaches.

Want to find out more about this modern conch contest?  Check out the link below for some amazing variations on this ancient musical theme

What Does A Conch Trumpet Sound Like?

Check out this short video where a young buy demonstrates how to cut the conch shell and how to practice getting the trumpet sound.

http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?p=1002

Resources

MexicoLore’s Conch Shell Page
http://www.mexicolore.co.uk/aztecs/music/conch-trumpet

Florida Keys Newsroom – Info On The Annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest
http://media.fla-keys.com/section_display.cfm?section_id=295

The Ukulele – 4 Strings and Jumping Fleas!

The sound of the tiny but mighty ukulele plays a big role in the folk music and dance of Hawaii.  But, did you know that it was originally modeled after a Portuguese instrument called the machete, brought to the islands in the 1800’s?  From there is evolved into the ukelele we recognize now, with a guitar-shaped body and 4 nylon or gut strings.

An Unusual Name

How did the ukulele (or oo-koo-le-le) get it’s name?  Some people translate the name from the Hawaiian to mean “jumping flea” and say that it describes the “fidgety” movements of the musician’s hands when the instrument is being played.   Others translate it a bit differently.  One of the last Hawaiian queens, Queen Lili’uoklani, said the name stood for “the gift that came here” by combining the Hawaiian words: uku (gift or reward) and lele (to come).

A Family of Instruments

Like many stringed instruments, there are several different types of ukuleles that vary in size and tone.  Most commonly, you can find these four different types: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The instrument pictured here is a smaller-sized soprano ukulele.

Traditional Ukulele Songs

Here’s a short video that shows two ukulele players talking about how they began playing their instruments and performing a duet of a traditional Hawaiian song called “Noho Paipai” as part of a Hawaiian music festival.

Color A Ukulele

You can find a ukulele coloring page on DARIA’s world music for kids site at:

http://www.dariamusic.com

You can also find a full color uke poster plus coloring page at her TeachersPayTeachers store (.99) here:

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Ukelele-A-Stringed-Instrument-from-Hawaii-Mini-Poster-and-Coloring-Page-1095283

The Balalaika (балала́йка)

Balalaika WOmanAnother folk instrument of Russia, here’s a short post about a beautiful and well-loved instrument that might be heard at the Winter Olympics this year in Sochi.

A balalaika is a three-stringed instrument from Russia that is known and loved all over the world. Although it hails from Russia, you can hear it in many of the regions that made up the former Soviet Union (USSR) and it has also become popular in different countries around the world. If you listen to pop music, you will hear the balalaika mentioned in the Beatles song “Back in the USSR” as well as the Scorpions “Winds of Change”. You can hear Ian Anderson play balalaika on the Jethro Tull album Stand Up and Oleg Bernov plays a huge red electric contrabass balalaika with the popular Russian-American rock band, the Red Elvises.

So what is a balalaika? Well, it actually is a family of stringed instruments that are triangular in shape. They range from the smaller, mandolin-sized prima balalaika to the huge contrabass balalaika which is so large that it needs wooden legs to support it as it stands on the floor. Most often the prima balalaika is heard as the solo instrument and is generally strummed or played with the fingers. The larger balalaikas (listed below in order of size and tone) are generally played with a pick. The largest contrabass balalaika needs a pick so large it may be made from a large piece of leather or even a boot heel – wow!

Types of balalaikas (from smallest and highest in tone to largest and lowest in tone) are:
· Piccolo (rare)
· Prima
· Sekunda
· Alto
· Bass
· Contrabass

Would you like to hear a balalaika played with an orchestra? Check out this version of the popular Russian song – the Volga Boatmen. You will see the large contrabass balalaika right in the center of the orchestra behind the vocalist.

Want To See A Balalaika Dance?

I’ve just finished recording and creating a video animation for the song Tum Balalaika. It’s a Yiddish folksong and the title of the song talks about strumming the balalaika. You can see and hear the song here.

Want To See a Balalaika Orchestra?
In this group, you can see kids and adults in a balalaika orchestra performing a beautiful version of the Beatles song “Yesterday”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjdDq0IqBDc&feature=related

Color A Balalaika And More Fun Things To Do
You can also find a great balalaika coloring page below as well as links to other fun balalaika-related info! What a great way to share beautiful music and learn about the exciting cultures of the world!

Balalaika Coloring Page
http://www.dariamusic.com/images/Balalaika%20Coloring%20Page.pdf

The Wikipedia balalaika page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balalaika

Videos
Tum Balalaika – Daria’s Video

Multicultural Kids Music Vid’s
Shares many videos from all over the world

Yesterday (The Beatles) is played by Balalaika Orchestra

BALALAIKA VIRTUOSO DMITRY BELINSKIY, Moscow

Even Santa plays the balalaika

What Can An Erhu Do?

Erhu - Color ImageAlthough you might not recognize the name “erhu”(二胡; pinyin: èrhú, [êɻxǔ]), you would immediately know it’s distinctive sound.  One of a family of stringed, bowed instruments from China, the erhu is sometimes called a Chinese fiddle, a 2 stringed violin, a southern or spike fiddle and it’s origins date back at least a thousand years ago to when it was brought to China by the Xi people of Central Asia.

From these humble beginning, the versatile and evocative sound of the erhu has won it a major place in Chinese orchestras, as well as a starring role in modern musical ensembles  including, jazz, pop and even rock groups.

How Is The Erhu Made?

The erhu is an unusual instrument in many ways.  It consists of a small sounding box made of a hard wood, such as sandlewood, that was traditionally covered with snake or python skin.  Some musicians and orchestras; such as the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, have recently sought out more ecologically-friendly versions and developed a series of erhu and related instruments that are made from a polyester membrane instead of snakeskin.

The bow used for an erhu was originally made of a bamboo stick strung with horsehair.

Is It A Violin?

Although the sound of the erhu is similar to the Western violin in many ways, there are several striking differences.  First, the erhu has two strings and the violin has four.  Next, the erhu is played on the lap of the musician while the violin rests between the shoulder and chin of its player.  Also, on the erhu the strings are pressed but do not touch the fingerboard and the bow does not leave the strings.  On the violin, fingers touch the fretboard to create different notes and the bow will move on and off the strings while it is being played.

If you take a look at the video below from Danwei TV, you’ll be able to see many of the unique qualities of this beautiful traditional instrument from China.

If you’d like to print out a version of the erhu coloring page seen above, you can visit the links below.

Playing The Erhu

One musician comments on playing the instrument and performs a popular folk song called “Running River” on the erhu.

Resources

B+W coloring page of the erhu from DARIA’s world music for children site:

http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/Erhu%20BW%20Coloring%20Page.pdf

Free Coloring Pages of World Music Instruments from DARIA:

http://www.dariamusic.com/crafts.php

Color poster of erhu plus b+w coloring page from TeachersPayTeachers:http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-Erhu-Chinese-Violin-Instruments-From-Around-The-World-1037355

Vuvuzelas – The Horn That Is Loved (And Hated) All Over The World!

Although this horn originated in South Africa, it seems to have found it’s way all over the planet – especially where soccer fans want to cheer on their team.   One South African fan claims he fabricated the original vuvuzela from a metal bicycle horn, but since that time you can see many different versions made from a variety of materials, including some pretty creative homemade horns such as some of the ones seen here.

We’re grateful to the Media Club South Africa for sharing these many images of how different cultures have adopted, altered or welcomed this unique instrument into their world.

Above: A vuvuzela playing a duet with a Slovakian wind instrument called the fujara.

Above left:  A homemade vuvuzela decorated in team colors played by a child in São José dos 
Campos, Brazil.

Above right: A dad and daughter in Seoul, South Korea watch their team at the 2010 Fifa World Cup match.

Below left: Even Spiderman loves the vuvuzela! Photo from Berlin, Germany, 2010 Fifa World Cup 
quarterfinals.

Below right:  A soccer fan from Uruguay plays his homemade version of a vuvuzela as his team beats Ghana in the 2010 Fifa World Cup 
match.

——————–

During June 2013, you can win a vuvuzela on DARIA’s monthly song page here:

http://www.dariamusic.com/monthly_song.php

You can also find easy directions to make your own from recycled materials here:

http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/Vuvuzela.pdf

New CD and E-Book Share Music From The Andes In An Interactive Format For Kids

Music is a great way to discover and learn about world cultures. Just released is a new cd and E-book designed to not only share the music from the Andes, but to provide an interactive way for kids to learn about the culture that created it.  Officially released on April 2nd, the cd is titled: Cancioncitas De Los Andes/Little Songs of the Andes and the E-Book is called: A Child’s Life In the Andes.  Both have been created by multicultural children’s artist, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) who has won a variety of awards for her unique approach to sharing world music in various formats with young audiences.

What does music from the Andes sound like?  Most people recognize the sound of zampoñas charango coloring page(panpipes) and traditional Andean flutes called quenas.  The cd also features authentic instruments such as the bombo drum, rainsticks, chapcha rattles (made from the toenails of goats) and a delicate little instrument originally made from the shell of an armadillo called a charango.  Included on the Cancioncitas cd is also the most widely recognized song from the Andes: “El Condor Pasa”.

Aside from exploring the music and musical instruments of the Andes, A Child’s Life In the Andes also covers the geography of the area, daily life, animals, foods and languages spoken in this region.  Most children are surprised to learn that guinea pigs are often kept for food in some areas and that the condor – the inspiration for “El Condor Pasa” – can have a wingspan  of up to 10 feet!  Aside from rich photographs, detailed content, fun facts and coloring pages the book also shares activities perfect for classroom or homeschool play and learning.  There are directions for Make-Your-Own panpipes and rainsticks as a well as one other “Corrido De Cuy” activity.

Although most people might expect the songs to be in Spanish, the majority of tracks on the cd are in the native language of Quechua that dates back to the Incan empire.  Says DARIA:” I was honored to spend several of my teenage years in rural Peru and fell in love with the Quechua language and culture”.  Although Spanish is widely spoken as the dominant language throughout the Andes, great efforts have been made recently preserve and protect this valuable and beautiful indigenous language and resources like this are key to raising awareness.  Appearing with DARIA on this cd are three other musicians from South America who actively work to preserve, promote and perform Andean music.

Available as a cd from Itunes and Amazon mp3, the book and cd package can be purchased from the Teachers Pay Teachers site as well as from DARIA’s Little Village store.  In addition to the complete book that is available for purchase, many of the activities and coloring pages are available as free resources on DARIA’s Parent’s Choice Award-winning website as listed below.

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes – On Itunes

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cancioncitas-los-andes-little/id602798167

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes on Amazon mp3

http://amzn.com/B00BG9ABEE

A CHILD’S LIFE IN THE ANDES (E-book and CD) From TPT 

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/A-Childs-Life-In-The-Andes-E-Book-Plus-Music-CD

A CHILD’S LIFE IN THE ANDES (E-book and CD) from Daria’s Little Village Store:

http://dariasvillagestore.storenvy.com/products/1298006-cancioncitas-de-los-andes-cd-and-e-book-combo

DARIA’s World Music For Children’s Craft and Activity Page:

http://www.dariamusic.com/crafts.php

Crafting An Authentic Native American Style Turtle Rattle

Have you ever seen a Native American rattle made from the shell of a turtle? It’s used by a variety of tribes and it’s quiet sound is perfect for accompanying singing or special ceremonies.

These turtle rattles were made by craftsman, Ron Poole who actually started making drum beaters before he created these unique instruments. His story and comments below will tell you more about his background as a craftsperson as well as what it takes to make a traditional rattle such as the ones pictured here.

“As a young boy, I remember watching my grandfather and father create pieces of art out of materials found in nature. I was amazed at their creations and hoped I too someday would follow in their footsteps. It was not until a trip out west that the spark was lit and I began to infuse native imagery into my own work.

My carving is an effort to further the family tradition and explore the connection between cultures, myth and music.

I started out making Native inspired drum sticks also referred to as beaters which led to learning how to make Turtle Rattles. I began making the beaters after being gifted from my girlfriend a hand drum and beater making kit from Noc Bay Trading Company. They included a small black and white instruction on how to create a beater from a wooden dowel, piece of deer hide, artificial sinew, yarn and glue.

When I began making my first beater, I looked at the dowel and decided that I wanted to find wood from the forest behind my home. I enjoy trying to keep the beaters as close to their natural state as possible often leaving the bark on the beater.

When making the turtle rattles I use a power hand drill to drill out the holes and attach the leather using a thick needle and artificial sinew.  I fill the turtle rattle with sea shells that creates the percussion.  I handburn the rattles with a Nisburner hand burner. Hand burning; called pyrography, is one of my favorite parts of creating art. Burning yourself can be a bit painful but kind of comes with the territory.



Here is some of the information I include with my turtle rattles:



Legend says when Native Americans first moved into North America they called it Turtle Island. The turtle provided food and bowls. When the belly of the shell was split it gave them sharp tools and weapons. They later realized that the turtle lived a very long time. They believed it had a special spirit of longevity, strength, and wisdom. The turtles became revered and honored, and were made into rattles and hangers and decoration for use in ceremonies. Ceremonial drums were also made from larger species. This is the meaning of the Turtle Rattle.”

Links

You can view Ron’s artwork and hand-crafted items for sale at:
http://www.etsy.com/shop/RPooleDesigns

You can find a kid’s craft version of a turtle rattle made from recycled take-out containers here: http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/TurtleRattleInstructions.pdf
You can enter to win one of Ron’s beautiful turtle rattles until November 25, 2012 here: http://www.dariamusic.com/monthly_song.php

She Made a Homemade Mbira

Two actual kalimba/mbiras from DARIA's live music shows.

Leah from the Almost Unschoolers blog decided to take on the project of creating a homemade mbira (kalimba) while studying Kenya with her kids.  A complete list of supplies and tools she used for this craft are listed below plus a link to her inventive and creative blog.

homemade mbira - getting started with the basic materials

Leah started with a block of wood and added two popsicle sticks to it with hot glue.  This would create an area where the bobby pins would be higher then the wood block so they could be plucked.

After cutting the bobby pins in half, she shortened each one just a bit.  By doing this, the variation in length would create a slightly different sound for each “tine” or bobby pin when plucked.  Leah used four bobby pins here but you can experiment with any number of bobby pin “tines”.

bobby pin tines are hot glued in place

Then she taped the bobby pins in place in the order she wanted and hot glued two more popsicle sticks on top.  She tightened the sticks by adding pushpins.  Finally, she bent the bobby pins up to about a 45 degree angle.   At that point, the little instrument was ready to play.

Her kids jumped right in and began to pluck and play.  Although, it didn’t sound exactly like the kalimbas or mbiras they had checked out in sound clips on the internet, it still was a good working instrument that was fun to explore.  It also was a great experiment in encouraging kids to think about how instruments were invented or improved using only the simplest of materials.

Leah's homemade mbira - ready to play

What did the homemade mbira pictured here sound like?  Leah’s one son thought it sounded like a “dying grasshopper”.  You can hear a sound clip for yourself if you check out her complete post:

http://almostunschoolers.blogspot.com/2012/02/homemade-mbira-for-children-african.html

Supplies/Tools

A block or piece of wood
Four popsicle sticks
Bobby pins
Hot glue gun/craft glue
scotch tape
wire cutters
safety glasses (for use while cutting bobby pins)

Discover The Kalimba or Mbira and It’s African Roots

A wonderful “first instrument” to experiment with melody and sound is the thumb piano, kalimba or mbira. Mark Holdaway contributed this article to our blog from his Kalimba News series.  Need more in depth info?  His kalimba history PDF (below) is amazing, with many outstanding historical pictures and background proving that this is an instrument that is as exciting to learn about as it is to play!

Pictured Above: two mbira dzavadzimu; middle: two karimbas; center: student karimba

The kalimba is a powerful instrument – a powerful symbol of ancient African genius, and a powerful tool for peace and for multi-racial understanding. The mbira is an instrument that helps the Shona people of Zimbabwe to connect to the spirits of their ancestors. Many African Americans are the descendents of slaves who were torn from their rich African culture homes. Malcolm X took this name because he did not know his real name. The “X” represents not just his true family name, but the entirety of his lost African culture. The kalimba gives all of us an opportunity to connect with ancient African culture. As most kalimbas are non-traditional instruments, this connection is more symbolic than literal. That doesn’t make it any less emotionally real. Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire, inspired and educated a whole generation about the kalimba. Players like Kevin Spears and Kevin Nathanial find their own paths back to Africa with their own compositions, reflecting their understanding of what African music is about.

Stella Chiweshe with mbira dzavadzimu

On the other hand, there are rich traditions such as the mbira – there is speculation that the mbira tradition goes back to Great Zimbabwe some 800 years ago. There are dozens of songs in this tradition – many of them are newer, but the lore is that some of them go back to the birth of the mbira. Due to a number of fervent promoters of the mbira dzavadzimu, there are more mbira players in the world today than ever before, and the mbira tradition will never be lost – unlike some other less popular traditional African kalimbas whose old players are not being replaced by young players, so some of those traditional instruments are dying out. Andrew Tracey believes he can see even further back into the past than the mbira dzavadzimu. At the core of the mbira and mbira songs are a set of eight or nine notes that appear over and over in central African kalimbas, and Andrew lays out the case for these notes being the original African mbira. In fact, he says that Father Dos Santos, the first European to document the kalimba in 1586, almost surely wrote about an instrument made up of these nine notes.

The nine notes of the primal karimba or student karimba make up the lower row of notes on the karimba (aka mbira nyunga nyunga), and most of the traditional karimba pieces have essential parts that are played mainly on these notes. Hence, the student karimba actually has a repertoire of songs that could be very ancient – possibly going back to 1300 years ago when the iron age reached the Zambezi valley, when Gerhardt Kubik posits that metal tined kalimbas were first made in Africa.

When I play these potentially ancient songs on the student karimba, I feel that I can touch the genius of the Africans who lived over a thousand years ago and wrote this music that sounds remarkably complex and remarkably modern. The student karimba is a perfect instrument for young students today to play to learn about traditional African music and be touched by the genius of ancient African music.

- Mark Holdaway.

Explore the Kalimba Magic website:

http://www.kalimbamagic.com

Kalimba History And Instruction Download

http://kalimbamagic.com/newsletters/newsletter7.01/newsletter7.01_assets/BlackHistoryMonth_2012.pdf

The Cajita – A Little Box That Is An Instrument

Two wooden cajitas

As you travel around the world you’ll find musical instruments made from unusual items.  For instance, in Peru there is an instrument called the cajita.  That’s the Spanish word for a little box.   A traditional cajita is made from wooden donation boxes used to collect offerings of money in churches.  The box was generally worn around the neck and the top was opened and closed to receive the donations.

Then, when this clever little box was transformed into an instrument, a stick was added that could be used to tap the sides, front or top of the box at the same time the lid was being opened and closed.  In addition to tapping the outside of the box and lifting or closing the lid for sound, you might also see players opening the lid and rapping the stick on the inside walls of the box with a movement that looks like stirring soup.  Sounds confusing?  Once you watch it a time or two – you’ll see exactly how they turned a plain little wooden box into a remarkably fun and clever percussion instrument.

You can check out my simple cajita jam here:

DARIA’S CAJITA JAM

A HOMEMADE CAJITA
Can you make a cajita at home without a small scale woodworking project?  Sure!  You just start with a few simple supplies such as a sturdy box with a lid (cigar boxes are perfect), two dowels or small sticks, a small kitchen cabinet or dresser drawer knob and materials to decorate your spunky little instrument.  A complete supply list is located below.

Once you’ve gotten a hold of a box you can use for this project, begin by decorating it.  Paint it, decoupage it, add stickers, construction paper or glue and yarn and make it unique.   Next, add the knob so you can lift the cajita’s lid up and down.  To do this, get an adult to assist you in hammering a small nail or using an awl to pierce a hole in the lid of the box.  Position that hole in the exact center of the box, about an inch or so away from the edge of the lid that opens up. Once you’ve created the hole, insert your knob in the top of the box with the screw beneath and tighten it into place. Now you should be able to open and close the lid of the box easily.

Next, cut two wooden dowels.  One will weigh down your box so you can play your instrument without the cajita bouncing up and down.  The other will be the playing stick that you use to tap and play your instrument.  If possible, cut the first dowel to a length just a bit short of the inner width of the box.  Glue the dowel in place in the inner front of the box and leave it to dry.  In the meantime, cut and decorate your second dowel. This one can be any length that you find comfortable to hold in your hand when you play.

Once it’s all done –  you can begin to jam!  If you like, make several cajitas and you can play them along with each other or along with other instruments.

SOME CAJITA PLAYING TIPS
If you think you’re ready to dive right in and start playing – then skip this section.   If you want some good starter suggestions, these hints may be helpful in getting the hang of how the cajita is played.

Begin to learn the instrument by tapping the sides and the front and making a pattern.  Notice how the two sounds are different.  Try something like “front, front, side.  Front, front side.” Try something similar with the sides and the top.  Later, add the sound of the lid opening and closing.  Since this can sometimes seem like rubbing your stomach and patting your head, it’s best to start with simpler patterns and then work up to more complicated ones.  If working with younger children, sometimes it’s good to let them explore the instrument so they become familiar with the sounds the cajita can make before asking them to play specific patterns. That way, they are more focused on exploration and discovery and are not so nervous about playing rhythms or beats until they are ready to do so.

After you begin getting the hang of creating rhythms with your cajita, you may want to have one person play a very simple pattern – such as opening and closing the lid. The next person can add another sound, the third and forth, add their own simple parts. This can be a fun way of building rhythm in a group or classroom so each child hears how his/her part makes up part of the overall beat.  If you check out this jam, you’ll see how the rhythm starts on one instrument called a quijana (a donkeys jawbone), the cajita is added next and finally, a large cajón (or box drum) joins in.  How cool!

QUIJANA, CAJITA AND CAJON JAM

DARIA’s HOMEMADE CAJITA PICTURES
Check out some of my homemade cajitas here.

Homemade Cajita

Inside of the Homemade Cajita

SUPPLIES FOR A HOMEMADE CAJITA
Cigar box
Small knob and matching screw (knobs from kitchen cabinets or small dressers work perfectly)
Hammer and nail or awl tool (to make a hole for the knob to be inserted in lid)
Two dowels or sticks – about 8” in length
Materials for decorating such as paint, construction paper, stickers, yarn and glue