14 World Music Instruments That Can Be Made From Recycled Materials

How do people around the world make music?  In some really amazing, beautiful, and diverse ways!

The instruments used to make music around the globe are also quite diverse and often made from unique materials.  Some are crafted from dried gourds, bones, bamboo or from wood. There are also instruments that use repurposed items – such as the cajón from Peru.  This “box drum” was originally made in secret from shipping boxes and dresser drawers when slaves were forbidden to use their African-style drums. If you add a set of thimbles to a washboard, you turn a household tool into a percussion instrument! It’s easy to see how common items can take on new usages and meaning.

There are also some modern ways or recreating ancient instruments.  Didgeridoos; originally from Aboriginal culture of Australia, can now be found all over the world.  Instead of the original didg made from a tree branch hollowed out by ants, some are made from pvc piping – the type found in most modern bathrooms.  Other unique ones I’ve seen in my travels include one made from a long tube and an orange traffic cone and one made from used crushed, metal Chinese food containers. People have gotten really creative in making and remaking instruments – often with the coolest recycled materials.  And you can to!

Here’s a list of our favorite recycled instrument crafts along with the materials you’ll need to create them for yourself.

 

Cajon (box drum)

Materials: sturdy cardboard box, materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Cajon.php

 

Didgeridoo

Materials: pvc piping or long gift wrap paper tube, materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Didg.php

Washboard

Materials: Sturdy cardboard, manila folder, materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Washboard.php

 

String Thing

Materials: Sturdy metal or plastic box, rubber bands in various sizes

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_String.php

 

Guiro

Materials: plastic water bottle with ridges, unsharpened pencil, hair pick or used chopstick (as scraper), materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Guiro.php

 

Pow-Wow Drum

Materials: Large piece of sturdy material (such as vinyl), materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Drum.php

Make a Drum Beater

Materials: long stick, electrical tape, materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_beater.php

 

Shekere

Materials: Recycled milk jug, stickers, about a handful of any small material such as rice, birdseed or dried macaroni 

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Shekere.php

 

Recycled Rattles – Nature Walk Rattles

Materials: Any clear recycled container, any items found on a nature walk, electrical tape

Link: http://tinytappingtoes.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/take-a-nature-walkmake-a-recycled-rattle/

Maracas

Materials: two small plastic water bottles, two toilet paper tubes, about a handful of any small material such as rice, birdseed or dried macaroni, electrical tape 

Link: https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/make-some-marvelous-maracas/

Sistrum

Materials: Either a wire coat hanger or a tree branch shaped like a “y”, jewelry wire or any thin wire, beads, jingles, buttons or other “jangley” objects.

Links: http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/ecosistrum.pdf and: http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/naturalsistrum.pdf

 

Gong

Materials: Large roasting pan, pipecleaners, large tube from gift wrap or large stick, stick (ruler or unsharpened pencil) for the beater, electrical tape, materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/chinesegong.pdf

 

Cajita  (little box percussion instrument)

Materials: cigar box, wooden dowel, small cabinet knob, materials for decoration

Link: http://wp.me/p1gB0a-13

 

Kalimba

Materials: small pieces of wood, bobby pins, push pins, glue

Link: https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/she-made-a-homemade-mbira/

Ocean Drum

Materials: any shipping box, small piece of sturdy plastic or vinyl, packing tape, about a handful of any small material such as rice, birdseed or dried macaroni, materials for decoration

Link: http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/Ocean%20Drum%20Instructions.pdf

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rock Out! E-Book 

Would you like to see 10 of these ideas in a step-by-step format with illustrations and photos of the projects plus instruments?  I’ve just published an e-book called Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rock Out!  It’s available from Teachers Pay Teachers and from my Little Village Store at the links below.

Enjoy!

From Teachers Pay Teachers ($5.99):

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Rock-Out-E-Book-With-10-Musical-Activities-653502

From Syllabuy

http://www.syllabuy.co/earth-day-e-book-of-musical-crafts-reduce-reuse-recycle-and-rock-out

From DARIA’s Little Village Store ($5.99):

http://dariasvillagestore.storenvy.com/products/1346002-e-book-reduce-reuse-recycle-and-rock-out

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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