Creative Percussion Activities


Objectives: Levels 1&2

compare and contrast instrumental sounds
identify contrasting sections in a musical structure
echo rhythmic patterns
echo short melodic patterns (Level 2)
improvise rhythmic (and, at Level 2, melodic) patterns within musical structures
use instrumental timbres for expressive purposes

Assessment is by teacher observation, in the light of these objectives.



Activity A
Organise the untuned percussion instruments (Level 1) and the tuned/untuned percussion (Level 2) into two contrasted groups. This can be done in accordance with any musical characteristic and some activities can be repeated, each time taking a different musical parameter for the grouping, Here, I suggest timbre, the tone quality of the instruments. This demands particularly focused listening and is often a particularly good trigger for compositional ideas. Put all the instruments with sustained sounds in one group and those with short, 'dry' sounds, in another. It will be found that the first group are nearly all made of metal, while the second group are made of wood/plastic. The children should arrive at their decision by listening, though, not just considering materials. Seat the players in two, well-separated, groups.



Activity B
In order to accentuate the contrast in sound, give each group a different rhythm, with most of the long notes assigned to the 'metal' group.

e.g. play the rhythm made by saying these words (4 beats to a bar)

1) wood: run-ning run-ning walk walk

metal: slow----------- slow-----------



2) metal slow---------------- walk walk

wood walk run-ning walk (shh)

walk= 1 beat (crotchet/quarter-note)
run-ning=2 half-beats (quavers/eighth-notes)
slow=2 beats (minim/half-note)
shh= 1-beat silence

Once they have got the idea of this, two soloists can take turns to invent their own rhythmic patterns, or a soloist from one group can be answered, with a pre-arranged rhythm, by all the players in the other group Individuals can also improvise 4 - beat rhythms to which everyone responds with a pre-arranged rhythm. If the improvisers are rhythmically secure, everyone can try echoing their rhythms. If all goes well, extend this to 8-beat rhythms. At Level 2, this activity can be tried using two, or more, pitched notes.



Activity C

Level 1
Examined in terms of the rhythmic/timbral ideas focused on in the last activity (i.e. mainly long notes = metal; mainly short notes = wood) or as examples of 'call and response', there are probably songs in the class repertoire which lend themselves to antiphonal performance, each group playing the rhythm of the appropriate phrase/section.



Level 2, (Key Stage 2 onwards),
As for Level 1, but tuned percussion can also be used. Highly repetitive call & response items should, wherever possible, be learnt by ear. They can be played on tuned percussion and any other available instruments (divide these into 'call' and 'response' groups). When they are secure in this activity, soloists can take it in turns to improvise new calls, the whole class playing the response. (Use the notes A,C & D for the call and F, G, and A for the response).



Activity D
We tend to restrict our use of untuned percussion instruments to playing rhythms but their individual sound qualities can make an important contribution in terms of evoking the mood or character of a song.

Level 1
Ask the children to choose an instrument(s) to accompany familiar songs. If necessary, restrict the choice, e.g. "Which instrument is most suitable to accompany 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star - a triangle or a scraper?" Try out each suggestion because sometimes the most unlikely things work, especially if the child has experimented with playing an instrument in unusual ways! Should the instrument be used to play a rhythm or played sparingly, just on the first beat of each bar or, perhaps, on the first beat of every second bar?

Level 2
Have the children listen to various pieces of recorded music and determine whether they might be appropriately accompanied by our two percussion groups (playing freely). They should be able to give reasons for their choices. Perhaps, some pieces or sections would be better accompanied by a single instrument. A well known example from my own teaching is 'The Sound of Music', from the musical of the same name. This works very well with a solo cymbal played gently and sparsely for "The hills are alive...", the rolling, reverberant sound conveying a feeling of the spacious hillside, whilst instruments such as claves and maracas suggest the beating of hearts and bird-wings, etc.. Another example is 'See The Conquering Hero Comes', from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus (better known as the Easter hymn, 'Thine be the glory'. Here, the metal instruments work well in the bright, noisy opening and the, quieter, wooden instruments suit the more reflective passages. The children are, of course, free to disagree with this instrumentation but they must be able to argue their case!



Special Needs
Playing/clapping the rhythms of familiar melodies (as in Activity C) is, in itself, an important skill to practise. Some children, for example those with physical disabilities, may be quite unable to do this . These pupils should be allowed to play freely for the duration of the section. In this activity, it is more important that they should learn to recognise contrasted sections in a musical structure, starting and stopping at the appropriate time. An appreciation of the duration of musical phrases and the ways in which they are organised underlies confident and coherent improvisation

Most children with special needs do experience some rhythmic or coordination difficulties, so the suggested activities which focus on the expressive use of percussion are particularly useful.


Audrey Podmore, 2001-2002


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