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March to Your Own Drummer

By Debbie Cavalier

Drums are at the heart of any musical groove. They're fun and expressive, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They provide a driving beat that can make us want to dance and move. Drums are percussion instruments; they are played by being shaken or hit.

Following are some ideas to make drums from simple household items, and use them to make music, play games and communicate.

Make Your Own Drum
Here's what you'll need:
  • One empty coffee can with a plastic lid (one can per drum)
  • Two wooden spoons (two sticks per drum)
  • Construction paper, markers, crayons, paint, glitter and other decorative items of your choice to make your drum festive and fun!
  • Scissors
  • Glue or tape

Decorate your coffee-can drums and play them with the handle end of the wooden spoons. For a unique drum sound, put a layer of coffee beans, rice, small pebbles, or popcorn kernels at the bottom of the can. Experiment with different materials and discover together how the sound (timbre) of the drum changes.

Drum Games and Activities
Put your homemade drums to use with these six kid-tested drum activities:

1. Percussion Popcorn Game
One person (or a group) crouches down on the floor like popcorn kernels ready to pop. The leader plays a popcorn-popping rhythm on the drum: starting slowly with just a few popping beats. The kernels listen closely and try to jump up like popcorn on each beat. The leader can play faster and faster as the popcorn pieces jump all around. Take turns being the popcorn-rhythm maker (the leader) and popping kernels.

2. Rhythms All Around
Listen to the rhythms all around you. Some rhythms are steady and some are "free." Here are examples of some steady rhythms that can be found every day:
  • The windshield wipers of a car
  • The ticking of a clock
  • The clippety-clop of a horse walking

Here are some common free (or unsteady) rhythms.

  • Popcorn popping
  • Raindrops falling
  • Someone typing on a keyboard

What steady and free rhythms can you find together (inside or out)? Make a steady/free rhythm chart. Play the rhythms you hear on your drums together. Then, make up some of your own.

3. Secret Drum Code
There are lots of interesting facts about drums. For example, they are the oldest instruments known. Drums have been used throughout the ages as a communication tool among tribes in Africa. Different drum beats and patterns were used as signals, warnings, and messages. Create special drumbeat patterns to communicate with family members. Make up your own secret drum code for, "Dinner is ready," "I finished my homework," and other ideas.

4. Let's Go Team
Four steady beats played over and over again: this is the beat used at many sporting events to cheer on the home team. Bring your drum the next time your family goes to a soccer or baseball game, and lead the crowd in a cheer: "Let's Go Red Sox" (insert your team's name). Get the crowd going with your homemade drums and team spirit.

5. Play-Along Fun: Family Jam
Play a steady beat as you sing along with some of your family's favorite songs. Try "Twinkle, Twinkle," "Five Little Monkeys," "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Eency Weency Spider" ... they all sound great! Then, try playing and singing along with your favorite recordings.

6. Sing-Along Fun: "Drum" the Clapping Parts for "B-I-N-G-O"
Your drum is a great instrument to use to fill in the "clapping" parts for game songs like "B-I-N-G-O." Follow the instructions below and play the clapping parts on your homemade drum.

Bingo Song

  1. Sing the song as written.
  2. Repeat the song and play your drum together on the letter "B."
  3. The third time, play your drum together on the letters "B" and "I."
  4. Continue until you play your drum together on all of the letters.
  5. End by singing, "And Bingo was his name-O."


I hope these activities inspire even more music-making ideas to share with all the different drummers in your family.



About the Author
Debbie Cavalier is the Dean of Continuing Education at Berklee College of Music. A prolific author, she has penned more than 100 music method books and arrangements. Debbie is also an award-winning children's musician with "Debbie and Friends" including a 2008 Parents' Choice Approved Award. For more information, please visit


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