The beautiful, wide and diverse continent of Africa has some truly amazing and clever musical creations. One of my favorites is a small percussion instrument called a tongue rattle. Generally made from carved wood, the rattle is shaken quickly back and forth and a “tongue” within the two carved sides makes a noise like a person who just can’t stop talking.
It’s loud, funny, clever and a great way to allow kids to explore making rhythms and creating music.
A Few Simple Supplies
To make a homemade version of a tongue rattle, you need two (same size) plastic or styrofoam cups, tape, two twist-ties, yarn or string and some small items for making noise inside the cups. Beads, paper clips, buttons or metal washers all work perfectly for this craft.
Assemble Your Rattle
To make your cups work like a tongue rattle, turn them over and poke two holes in the top. Next, fold a small twist-tie in half. Then, take a small string or a piece of embroidery thread and string beads, buttons or other noise-makers onto it and tie it into a circle. Slip the string circle with the noise-makers onto the twist tie and twist that into place, attaching it inside the cup. Adjust your string for size so that it will rattle about an inch or so from the far end of the cup. Here’s a picture of what that might look like.
Once you’ve assembled both cups, place them together and tape them up. Now you’re set to move your hand back and forth and get the same kind of sound that’s made by one of these unusual African instruments.
Different Sounds From Different Materials
If you want to make several rattles you can compare how different ones might sound. A rattle made with two plastic cups using heavier beads or metal washers as noise-makers may be rather loud. A rattle made with two styrofoam cups and plastic paper clips may be a bit quieter. You may want to experiment with what’s inside that creates sound or what’s on the outside as decoration for your musical creation.
Play Your Tongue Rattle
To play a tongue rattle, flick your wrist back and forth while holding it. Play it slowly. Play it quickly. Or try something tricky like starting slowly, going faster and faster and then come to a complete stop. Sounds cool – doesn’t it?
After you’ve discovered some of the sounds your rattle can make, put on some of your favorite music and play along. See if you can play in time with the beat or match the rhythm you’re hearing. You might be surprised at how this simple instrument can really speak to you!
Win a Carved African Tongue Rattle
During October 2012 we’re giving away a really cool tongue rattle plus two other African instruments. You can learn more and enter here:
More Crafty Musical Fun From Africa And Around The World
Explore a shekere made from a dried gourd or a recycled milk jug. Turn bobby pins into a working mbira thumb piano. Make the type of ceremonial instruments found in the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt. Find all this and more at: