Conch Trumpets, Flutes and Turquoise Beads, Treasured Items of An Ancient Culture

screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-10-54-44-amDid you know that there was a civilization as advanced as the Mayas discovered in the desert of the Southwestern United States?

A recent article published in Nature Communications, reveals a great deal about this advanced culture that flourished in the area now identified as New Mexico. Matrilineal in nature, one of the most complete digs of this Chacoan culture is a burial chamber – called Room 33 – that consists of elite women rulers and their most treasured items. Not surprisingly, among these items are special pottery, ritual objects, turquoise beads and musical instruments. Although the site is probably hundreds of miles from an ocean, screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-10-58-10-amRoom 33 includes a conch shell trumpet with a turquoise mouthpiece as well as several different flutes. Clearly music was an integral part of the most valued aspects of this society.

Want to learn more? Below are links to the complete article about the dig in Nature Communications as well as a blog post identifying all the objects in Room 33. Interestingly enough, conch shell trumpets are found throughout the world in a variety of diverse locations.  Below we’ve included links on posts we’ve done so far about conch shell trumpets in Japan, Mexico, Hawaii and Polynesian Cultures.

Links and Resources

Complete Article on the Archeological Dig in Nature Communications

What’s in Room 33?

Conch Shell Trumpets From Samurai Times In Japan

The Conch Shell Trumpet in Ancient Mexico

The Conch Shell Trumpet As Part of Hawaiian and Polynesian Culture

What Is Your State Song?


If you live in the USA, you probably know that your state has a state bird, a state flag and a state flower. But did you know it has a state song as well?

You could probably guess that “Carry Me Back To Old Virginia” written in 1878 by James Allen Bland was the state song of Virginia. But would you expect Yankee Doodle to be the state song of Connecticut? Or Swanee (Way Down Upon The Swanee River) by Stephen Foster to be the Florida state anthem?

Then there are some states, like Tennessee, that are so musically inclined they have multiple tunes as official and unofficial anthems. Tennessee has the Tennessee Waltz, Rocky Top, plus 4 other noteworthy songs associated with their state.

state-songs-iconDo you know your state song? Visit this link to find out:

Related Posts

National Instruments From Countries Around The World

Make Your Own Rainstick

cactus rainstick 1AHave you ever heard a rainstick?  It’s a long, mainly hollow tube that makes a quiet sound when tilted from side to side, very much like running water or gentle rain.

What Makes The Rainstick Sound?

pieces of dried chola cacturOriginally rainsticks were made of natural materials such as the dried lengths of the chola cactus. These long “arms” of dried cacti have small spikes inside so when they are filled with pebbles, seeds or small objects, the contents can’t easily swish back and forth.  Instead, the seeds, pebbles or beads gently fall between the spikes creating the unique sound associated with the rainstick.  You often see these instruments in South America in countries such as Chile or in the American Southwest, where these cacti are plentiful.

two homemade rainsticksMake A Mailing Tube Rainstick

Since most people don’t have dried cacti in their recycling bin, here’s a way you can reuse an old mailing tube or poster container and still make a great-sounding instrument.  If you can’t find one of these at home, ask around.  Chances are good your recycling needs can be met by a neighbor or family friend and you can save one more object from getting into the waste stream!

Creating The Rainstick Effect

To turn a mailing tube into a rainstick, you need to find a way to create an obstruction – something that will block the materials inside from falling at one time.  In bamboo or gourd rainsticks, a series of wooden spikes are used.  Instead of that approach, we’ll create a wire “maze” using a combination of floral wire/jewelry wire (or any lightweight wire) and pipecleaners.

Twisted wire ready to be placed inside the mailing tube

Cut a length of wire about two to three times the length of the tube. If you cover the ends with a bit of tape, it’s easy for a child to help scrunch the wire up giving it many twists and turns in a way that will still fit inside the diameter of the tube.  Then, twist in some pipecleaners cut in half, throughout the length of your tangled wire.  All these things will help catch the contents as they go from side to side to create the pleasing “falling water” effect.

Tune Your Rainstick

The sound of your rainstick will vary greatly depending on what you decide to put into it as well as how much of that item you choose to add.  For a quieter rainstick, use smaller objects such as seed beads, birdseed or tiny pasta such as pastina or acini de pepe.  Slightly louder are objects like rice, dried lentils, small buttons or paper clips.   Even louder are larger dried beans, pebbles, marbles or any large macaroni.

maraca-contentsHere’s a good way of “tuning” your rainstick. Have several bowls of contents nearby.  Close one end of your rainstick and add the contents.  Seal the other end and try the sound.  Dump it back into your bowl and try another.  What sound is most pleasing to you?  Or mix and match contents.  It’s a fun way of experimenting with sound to discover what sounds best to your ear.

Once you’ve decided on the perfect sound for your rainstick, there are lots of creative ways to decorate the outside of the instrument.  You can color with crayons or permanent markers, create stripes from colorful tape, or even decoupage photos or magazine pictures onto the tube. You can paint a coat of glue on the rainstick and slowly wind different colors of yard around it.  You can also cut squares or small pieces of fabric, cover them with a layer of glue and create a quilt or collage effect for a beautiful handmade rainstick.  Feel free to get creative and make something that is truly unique!

Play Your Rainstick

Rainsticks are most often played by simply turning them upside down.  However, you can also hold them horizontally and shake the contents back and forth like a rattle or shake the stick as the contents fall producing some nice variations in ways to play this simple but versatile instrument!

Make Your Own African-Style Tongue Rattle

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:

Celebrate Diversity With Multicultural Instruments To Make and Play At Home

Does your child love music? If so, music is a great way to introduce them to our amazing, beautiful and diverse world by creating some of the very instruments they might find by traveling around the planet. From Australia’s “way too funny” didgeridoo to a box-shaped drum from coastal Peru to recycled rattles, there are a multitude of ways to get creative with music as you shake, rattle and roll. Best of all, these easy-to-make instruments rely on the concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle so while you’re exploring world cultures, you’re also consuming less, being green and striking up the band for some excellent family fun.


Some Cajons Are Made Of Wood And Can Be Sat On…

On the coast of Peru and in a few other Latin American countries you’ll find a drum that is square. Originally made out of dresser drawers or crates used in shipping, this drum has an amazing sound all it’s own. Played like any other drum, you can strike it with your hands, palm, fingers and create wonderful rhythms. All you need to begin this project is an empty box.


..And Some Cajons Are Made Of Cardboard That You Hold In Your Lap. Here, Children In Israel Decorate Their Cajons.

A cajón is basically a box with a sound hole. The name comes from the Spanish word for box – “caja”. Traditionally, it is made from a sturdy material like wood so you generally see cajón players sitting on their instruments. With cardboard or smaller boxes, it’s best to play them on your lap or in front of you.

Start by drawing and cutting a circle from your cardboard box. Although most sound holes are round, you could also experiment with various sizes and shapes to see what happens!

If you want to try to create a sturdier version of this project with wood, it isn’t too difficult. You just need an adult with a bit of woodworking skills (to cut the sound hole) and a box discarded from a produce store, purchased from a craft store or assembled from rectangles of wood at home.

Use anything you have handy to decorate it. Try paint, stickers, paper, electrical tape, photos or drawings. You can use markers, sharpie pens or rubber stamps. If you are working with wood, try paint and pens and add a coat of lacquer afterward to keep your designs from fading.

Strike the middle of your box with the palm of your hand, for a loud “dum” sound. Tap with the tip of your fingers to the edges for a “bek” sound. Mix the sounds to create patterns or listen and try to match the beat as you play along with your favorite songs. Your cajón will sound great played with any music but especially good when played along with Latin American songs.

Hear a cajón here:
Hear a cajón song here:
Color a cajón online here:
Color a cajón, print out:
Make a cajón pdf:


Homemade and Traditional Versions of Rattles and Shakers

Just about every culture in the world uses some sort of rattle. And the cool thing about rattles is that they can be made of practically anything from bottle caps or the toenails of goats to dried gourds, paper cups, milk containers or recycled bottles of any sort.

For this project, you’ll need any cleaned recycled containers and some sort of filling. You can use sand, salt, birdseed, dried peas or beans, gravel, pebbles, dried pasta, marbles or practically any small dry items. These will generate the sound. Try filling, refilling, adding and subtracting from your chosen rattle until you get the sound you like. Smaller fillings will give a softer “whoosh” sound and larger items like macaroni, marbles or pebbles will give a louder, sharper sound. Play around with what you have on hand to create just the sound you are looking for.

Then… decorate! You can add glitter, beads, small buttons or confetti to make the inside of your rattle more appealing. You can decorate the outside using paint, paper, stickers, markers, fabric or even yarn and fabric.

Last, make sure you seal your rattle with electrical tape in order to keep the smaller pieces from being swallowed. You can add a handle made from a pipe cleaner or colorful ribbon, if you like.

Rattles sound great with any kind of music. Just shake it up and play along. Even small children begin to hear rhythms when playing along with them. If you make several rattles, your child will begin to hear the difference between each one and it can be fun to explore what sounds best with different types of music. For instance, a sand rattle sounds great with quiet songs and lullabyes. A macaroni rattle can be heard easily while you’re rockin’ out to more upbeat tunes.

If your child has noise sensitivity or is on the Autism/Aspergers spectrum, stick with quieter rattles and allow them to choose what sounds most pleasing to their ears. For autistic children, make sure the contents are visually appealing as they may want to zone into moving colors as well as listen to the repeating sounds they create.


Play Your Own Homemade Didj!

If you’ve ever seen a movie or t.v. program about Australia – you’ve already heard a didgeridoo. It produces a wonderfully odd sound that most kids describe as a cross between a ship’s foghorn and an elephant lost in the jungle. If you have a long tube from giftwrap or a length of pvc piping, you can create a homemade version of a didg that sounds amazingly like the real thing.

Start with a long, hollow object. Your best bets are the inner roll from giftwrap or any length of pvc piping (odd lengths can often be found at hardware stores for a dollar or two). Look for a diameter similar to that giftwrap tube as it will work perfectly for the size of a child’s mouth and lips. And speaking of lips, if you are using pvc piping, make sure you use sandpaper to sand both the top and bottom of your didg to avoid sharp edges when playing or holding your instrument. Other choices for homemade didges might include old mailing or photo tubes, toilet paper or paper towel rolls, but the longer the tube the deeper and more authentic the sound.

If you check out most traditional didgeridoos there is elaborate dot-design artwork generally with an animal or reptile theme. It’s said that most traditional didgeridoo makers decorate their instruments with animals that are special to them or that represent their clan. You’ll often see lizards, snakes, turtles and other great creatures crawling up and down the artwork on Australian didgeridoos. You can have fun creating your own animal totem or a putting a favorite design onto your instrument to personalize it.

Traditional Didjs Feature Beautiful Elaborate Dot Patterns Much Like The One Shown Here

A didg is properly played by “blowing raspberries” into the mouth end. The length of the instrument converts that sound into the loud drone that most folks recognize as a didg. Experiment with your new instrument until you find the sound that you like. Serious didg players utilize circular breathing (blowing out the mouth while taking in air through the nose at the same time) and can continue playing for ridiculously long times. However, a small amount of basic practice will have your backyard sounding like the Australian outback in no time.

Hear a didg here:
Hear a didg song here:
Color a didg online here:
Color a didg, print out:
Make a didg pdf:

Whether you are playing along with your favorite tunes, making up songs or having an informal jam session, playing music is an excellent way of connecting with those you love. Adding instruments; especially ones that are easy to play and personalize, make the experience even more creative and enjoyable.

Who knows – perhaps you’ll find a new favorite song or style of music or discover a hidden talent in a family member! In any event, you’ll be discovering a world of musical fun to enrich and enliven your day.

-Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou

Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has five cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her website; located at, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.


If you live in colder climates, January is a time when you are probably hoping for a change in the weather. All around the world, people have ways of anticipating and predicting the seasonal shifts that are so important to their lives. Most of these practices involve observing nature and a respectful relationship with animals. In my home state of Pennsylvania in the United States the rites and rituals of predicting the Spring center around a fat little groundhog named “Phil”.

In the town of Punxatawny, Pennsylvania, “Phil” the groundhog is a big celebrity and even has quite a few helpers on February 2nd when the big day arrives. If it’s cloudy, Spring is said to come early. If it’s clear and Phil sees it’s shadow – then 6 more weeks of cold weather for us all! In this area these traditions began with the Pennsylvania Dutch and they even created special “Groundhog Lodges” where there is food, entertainment and skits or plays at this time of year. All who attend must speak only in Pennsylvania Dutch dialect or they are fined a nickel, a dime or a quarter for speaking English! Whether your’re a farmer wondering when to plant or just someone who can’t wait for warmer weather, this can be a great time of year to celebrate our little furry friends and consider why animals are important to our lives.

I spent many of my teenage years in a Native American culture where animals are highly respected. For us, the web of life is woven not just for human beings but by every one of the amazing creatures – large and small – put here to dwell together. Whether it’s a prediction of spring by a hibernating creature or the companionship a favorite dog, cat or bird, wool from sheep or eggs or meat from other animals, it’s clear that animals provide so much for us. With that in mind, it is always a good time to stop and be grateful for how we are all interconnected and how much animals enrich our lives.

Would you like to learn more about groundhogs and Groundhogs Day? Check out some of the books I’ve listed below. Some are rather factual and others are a bit more creative – like one about a groundhog starting a weather school and another where the groundhog can’t sleep when he needs to and can’t get up when he should – very funny! And if you’ve ever wondered how much wood a woodchuck could really chuck, you can check out a tongue-twister song (The Groundhog’s Day Song) that I wrote because my family also wondered how much ground a groundhog could hog, if a groundhog could hog ground! We also considered how much sap a sapsucker could suck if a sapsucker could suck sap. (A sapsucker is a rather large bird in the woodpecker family that manages to make huge holes in lots of our pine trees!) And if you’re thinking about animals, you can also listen to a song I wrote with my daughter when she was 9. It was about riding on a horse and listening to the wisdom that it can share with us. I was very grateful to record this song with a local Native American Clan mother. The Lenape (or Leni Lenape) are the Native Americans that originated in the area of Pennsylvania where I now live.

And what about activities? Pennsylvania Dutch lodges always have Groundhog’s Day skits. Could you come up with your own skit for this special occasion? Could your kids or your class write and perform one? You could also make sock puppets or paper pop-up puppets – great fun for acting out whether or not the groundhog will see his shadow from your own personal perspective. You can find the pop-up puppet activity on my monthly song page. And if you’re reading this after that page has changed, simply e-mail me ( and I will send the activities out to you right away!

In any event, I hope you have an outstanding Groundhog’s Day! Whether or not Phil sees his shadow on February 2nd at Gobbler’s Knob in the wonderful little town of Punxatawny, Pennsylvania; I will be keeping my fingers crossed that we all get to enjoy an early Spring!

Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou

Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has five cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her website; located at, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.

The Groundhog Song on

The Groundhog Song on Itunes

Ride Horse Ride on
Ride Horse Ride on Itunes
(from the album: I Have A Dream)

Books About Groundhog’s Day
Groundhog Day!
Gail Gibbons (author)
– Wonderful fun and great facts about groundhogs and the Groundhog’s Day celebration.

The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun
Wendie C. Old (Author)
Paige Billin-Frye (Illustrator)
– A sampler of groundhog facts and a good description of the special day in Punxatawny, PA.

Go To Sleep, Groundhog!
by Judy Cox
Paul Meisel (Illustrator)
– A groundhog can’t seem to fall asleep when it’s time to hibernate and has a tough time getting up when his own special holiday comes. Lovely illustrations.

Ten Grouchy Groundhogs
Kathryn Heling (Author)
Deborah Hembrook (Author)
– A cute counting book for young children with some good groundhog facts sprinkled in!

Groundhog Gets a Say
Pamela Curtis Swallow (Author)
Denise Brunkus (Illustrator)
– A groundhog thinks his holiday should last more then one day. His animal friends help make his case for the world to know more about groundhogs.

Groundhog Weather School
Joan Holub Joan Holub (Author)
Kristin Sorra (Illustrator)
– A groundhog is encouraged to open a weather school everyone gets to learn more about hibernation, groundhogs and the holiday.