An Instrument from An Armadillo? The Charango!

charango full color image If you were to travel to the Andes mountains of South America you might hear a small stringed instrument called a charango.  At first glance, it looks a bit like a mandolin, but instead of four sets of double strings like the mandolin, the charango has five sets of double strings for a total of ten strings.  And there’s something else that’s different about it.  If you turn over one of the older style charangos, you’ll see that it is made from the shell of a hairy armadillo!

harry-the-armadilloIf that seems like an odd choice for an instrument, it helps to know the background of how this strange and beautiful instrument came to be.  Historians believe that the majority of instruments in the Andes before the Spanish arrived were wind and percussion instruments.  There were an amazing variety of flutes – some several feet long.  There were different sizes and shapes of panpipes as well as rattles and drums that varied from location to location.  When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 1500’s, they brought guitars, mandolins and the harp.  Many of the records dating back to that time period share how local musicians adopted and integrated these stringed instruments into their culture with great enthusiasm.   Since wood was scarce; especially at altitudes that soared above the tree line, the hard shell of an armadillo became the sounding “bowl” for their new world version of the old world mandolin.

Screen shot 2013-03-12 at 3.24.17 PMYou can hear the unique sound of the charango on many of the songs on DARIA’s new album – Cancioncitas De Los Andes/Little Songs Of The Andes.  You can also color your own version of a charango as well as other instruments from around the world on the craft and activity page of DARIA’s 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

DARIA’s World Music For Kids – Craft and Activity Page

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

During the month of March 2013, you can download a free mp3 of the song, El Condor Pasa, at the link below:

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

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Make Your Own Tingsha Handbells

Most historians believe that about 4,000 years ago, craftspeople in the region around China began experimenting with metal and bronze. Although the region around China, Tibet, Nepal and Southern Asia is quite diverse, these countries share a common history of discovering and creating unique musical instruments made from metal such as gongs, bells, singing bowls and handbells known as tinghsa. Tingsha (also, ting-sha) are two small, rather heavy cymbals that are attached to a rope or piece of rawhide. They are usually about 2.5 to 4 inches in diameter and can be plain or have decorative images on them. Some have symbols such as dragons that are considered lucky or they may have mantras or other words or phrases that are a part of prayer or devotional practices.

Tingsha can be played in two different ways. Either the string is held and the two bells are allowed to strike each other or both cymbals are held and tapped together to make them ring out. Because the sound of tingsha bells is so beautiful and relaxing, they are often heard in the United States as part of

yoga or meditation practices.

MAKE YOUR OWN TINGSHA BELLS

Want to make your own version? Here is an easy project to create your own tingsha bells out of recycled materials.

SUPPLIES

Two matching bottle caps – “Snapple” caps work perfectly

String or yarn

Paint, textured paint or glitter and glue for decorating the handbells.

To make the hole in the bottlecaps:

A piece of wood (as a work area)

Hammer and nail or hammer and awl

Start by creating a hole in the center of each of the bottlecaps. You can do this by putting the bottlecap; outer side up, on a work surface (such as a spare piece of wood) and tapping it gently with a hammer and nail or use a hammer and awl.

Once you’ve created the hole, it’s a good idea to turn the cap over and tap it with a hammer to flatten the sharp edges around the hole. This makes it safer to handle when adding the string.

To decorate your two “cymbals”, you can paint or add textured fabric paint. You can also apply glue and glitter. When you’re done and they are dry, you are ready to string them together.

Thread the strong or yarn through each side and make a knot to hold it into place. Check that you like the length of your tinghsa and adjust the knots accordingly.

Play and have fun!

Make Your Own Bilma – Australian Clapsticks!

Clapsticks – two sticks that are tapped together – can be found in different countries all over the world. Although they all consist of two small lengths of wood tapped together, they are amazing different in how they look, sound and how they are played as part of the music from their culture of origin. In Australian Aboriginal culture, there are special clapsticks called bilma that are often used to accompany the didgeridoo when it’s played.

What Are Bilma?
Sometimes when a didg is playing, you can hear these small but loud clapsticks keeping a beat for the music. Most traditional bilma are made from the hard wood of a eucalyptus tree, native to Australia. They are often used as part of the Aboriginal corroboree ceremony where dancers become of sacred “Dreamtime” through dance, music and special clothing or costumes.

What Do Bilma Look Like?
One movie about the history of the Aboriginal people in Australia; “Rabbit Proof Fence”, shows a woman playing bilma that are simply two sticks found on the ground.  Other bilma used in ceremony are carved out of hard wood and look more like they are the work of an expert craftsperson. More modern bilma can also have the distinctive dot pattern found in Australian Aboriginal art and can be quite beautiful and creative.  If you make your own, you can be inspired by Australian culture and designs or you can use art that reflects your favorite colors or patterns or images that you find inspirational.

What Supplies Do You Need?
Supplies for this project are simple. For the sticks, you can use two sticks (about 6-8”) found in the woods or a length of wooden dowel found at a hardware store. You can also use an old broomstick or recycle the handle of a broken shovel or garden tool.  If so, cut two pieces that are about the same size that will fit easily into your hand. You’ll also need some of the following for the design: craft paints, Q-tips, fabric paint and possibly a few permanent markers.

Prepare Your Clapsticks
First, start with your sticks. They might need a bit of sanding to smooth out rough edges.  You might want to leave them natural or paint them an overall color as the basis of your design. Once they are prepped and/or painted, then you’re ready for creating your own design.  Here are two options you might like to try.

A Simple Dot Bilma
If you look at most Australian Aboriginal art, it’s formed by a series of dots that create a picture. You can make these dots by dipping a Q-tip in craft paint and them touching it to the surface of your stick. Since making patterns with dots can be a bit unusual, it’s a good idea to play with the Q-tips and dot patterns on a piece of paper first, before you move onto decorating your stick. One creative way of practicing painting with dots is to put your child’s name on a paper and allow them to fill up their name with dots as well as create designs around it. Once you feel you’ve gotten the hang of it, move on to decorating your sticks.

A Crafty Textured Dot Design Bilma
For a more elaborate bilma, you can work with the type of textured fabric paint that is found at any craft store.  Although this type of paint is often used on fabrics, it also works perfectly on wood. Since the level of paint that comes out of the nozzle is a bit tricky, it’s a good idea to practice on a piece of paper first to see how the fabric paint will flow for you. Once you like how it works, start creating the design on your sticks. There’s one warning here, though.  Fabric paint takes a bit of time to harden, so make sure you’ve set your bilma on something to dry – such as an empty, open egg carton or toilet paper holders. That way your dots can dry perfectly and not smudge as you complete your project.

Once you’re happy with what you’ve created, you can seal the project with a coat of clear lacquer, if desired.

Playing The Bilma
Traditional bilma are played by holding one stick in place in one hand and tapping on top of it with the other clapstick. If you make a didgeridoo, you can have one person play the didg and another can keep the beat with the bilma. You can play like this or you can experiment with tapping the sticks together in any number of other ways.

Sing a favorite song and tap to the beat or put on a cd you enjoy and see it you can play in time with the rhythms you hear. Try it with slow or fast music – it’s a great way to learn to listen for the beat of a song.  And take a moment to appreciate what you’ve done.  Making music is a great way of expressing yourself and learning about world cultures at the same time.  Enjoy!

Supplies
2 wooden pieces about 6 – 8” in length
Sandpaper
Craft paint
Q-tips (for the dot design pattern)
Textured fabric paint (for more intricate patterns)
Clear lacquer (if desired, to seal the project when it’s completed).

Related Links:
Make Your Own Didgeridoo – http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Didg.php

Hear, color or create other instruments from around the world: http://www.dariamusic.com/cajon.php