Sunday, June 30, 2013

Music is 'Electrical Soil'

Here are a few favorite music advocacy quotes and my latest poster. Enjoy : )
(JPEG is printable.)

“When faced with a problem to solve, students in music and the arts produce more possible solutions, and their solutions are more creative, according to a nationwide study.”           
                             - N. M. Weinberger, Arts Education Enhances ‘Real Life’ Personal Skills,  
   MuSICA Research Notes, Spring 2000.

“…The ability to be creative is native to the arts and is one of the primary processes learned through arts education...  arts promote work habits that cultivate curiosity, imagination, creativity, and evaluation skills. Students who possess these skills are better able to tolerate ambiguity, explore new realms of possibility, express their own thoughts and feelings and understand the perspectives of others… Students’ capacity to create and express themselves through the arts is one of the central qualities that make
them human, as well as a basis for success in the 21st century.
                            -  21st Century Skills Map – The Arts, 2010,
                                   Partnership for 21st Century Skills,

Making 'Glassical' Music - Glass Hand Bells

Glass can create such pure, musical sounds! Here's one of my 'glassical' music projects. These hand bells are easy and inexpensive to make, and they always fascinate students, colleagues and friends.
I've always been intrigued with musical sound. I remember discovering the pitch of our vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, and junk items as a child. So making found-sound instruments is a passion of mine and a FUN music education tool.

As for musical-sounding glassware, I've collected it over time, bought a set of crystal at an estate sale for a 'song', and turned the glassware aisle at my local thrift store upside down a few times (fastest method and inexpensive for a project). 

Materials List: 

       Stemware sorted by pitch

     Wooden beads
     String or strong thread

     Quick-grabbing clear glue
     Acrylic paint (optional, to color-code the pitches if desired)
 Tools: scissors, toothpick, permanent marker, bottle lids (or something of similar size)

Here's a picture I took during a visit to my local second-hand charity store. I was delighted with the quantity and variety of stemware they had. As I tapped pieces that interested me, I gathered the pieces of best quality and tone and placed them on the floor. Then I organized them according to pitch, from lowest to highest. Next, I narrowed my selection by choosing my fundamental note (G below middle C) and glasses that produced the pitches of the G major scale. I used my phone app tuner to check intonation. As you can imagine, all this tapping drew an intrigued audience, and I think a few customers gained a new appreciation for found-sounds : )

 After you've gathered materials (see above list), cut a piece of string for each 'bell' you'll be making,  measuring about twice the height of each glass. Thread a string through a bead, placing the bead at the half-way point of the string. Then tie the string in a square knot around the bead as shown.
(Repeat for each instrument.)

Next, holding the string ends together, dangle the wooden bead in the glass about 1" above the bottom, and use a marker to mark the string adjacent to the rim. (Note: This will be the distance from the rim where the bead strikes the bell. 3/4 of cup height is a 'sweet spot'.) Holding both ends together, make a knot at this point. (This will 
a good contact point
for the glue. Trim string ends. 

(At this point, you will need to work on one 'bell' at a time.) Put a generous drop of glue inside the cup at its base and use a toothpick to poke the knotted end of the string into the glue. Hold the bead for a minute or more while glue begins to set.

Invert the glass, placing the bead on a bottle lid (or something of similar size, even a piece of wadded-up paper) to keep its weight from pulling the string out of the glue. Let glue dry/set for a couple of hours.

Using a permanent marker, label the base of each piece of stemware with its note name. If desired, color-code the notes to match Boomwhackers (R) or hand bells by painting the wooden beads with acrylic craft paint.

I bought a small child's suitcase at the thrift store ($2) and created cardboard dividers to protect, store and transport these instruments, but I usually leave them out on a bookcase for display and easy access. Of course, I'm careful with these, but I've had the set in the top pic for four years and not had to repair or replace a note.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Making Maracas out of Gourds

My recent shekere post reminded me that I have also made MARACAS from gourds. So I'm posting a couple of pictures and basic instructions.
  Materials List
  Dried/cured gourd(s)
  Small saw
  Contact cement
  Leather or cloth/ribbon strips 
         (to support & camouflage handle joint)
  Dowel - (for a handle, the diameter of the inside of gourd's neck)
       (A dowel isn't needed for bottle-neck gourds. Just saw off an end
          and then glue it back after cleaning and filling.)           
  Beads, rice or lentils (optional, as you can use the dried seeds)

I bought six gourds at my local pumpkin patch a couple of years ago and let them dry out for about eight months. Four of them dried nicely enough that I could use them. (A couple rotted because I left them in a box. Lesson learned!) 

Note: Let gourds fully ripen before picking. Ensure they have good air circulation so they won't rot, and leave them alone through the winter. Better yet, leave gourds on the vine to dry. (That's how it's been done for centuries.) I've tried drying gourds the fast way, cutting a hole near the stem, and most of them shriveled. When done the old-fashioned way, gourds don't just dry, they cure. (Don't want to wait till next year? You can also purchase cured gourds online.)
Once these gourds were ready (when they felt light and the seeds rattled around inside), I sawed the stems off at the very tip, cleaned out the stringy fibers, and saved some seeds for refilling.
I bought a dowel that was as close as possible to the inside diameter of the gourds' necks (1 1/4" in this case), and cut two 5" lengths for handles. I wood-burned a little design around the ends of the handles just for fun. (When using small bottle-neck gourds, you don't need handles; you can just glue the ends back on after cleaning and filling.)  
I partially filled a couple of gourds with their own seeds, and I used some small beads in the others. (Note: I suggest filling the gourd not more than 1/4 so the seeds/beads can move freely and strike the inner walls of the instrument with  energy.) 

Then I applied contact cement generously around the inside of the gourd necks as well as around the top end of the handles. I inserted the handles 1 1/2 to 2" into the gourds, being careful to keep the filling away from the glue till it dried.

(Note: One of the necks was a bit a loose, so I rolled some paper and glue
around the handle tip to make it a bit thicker and create a tight contact.)  
To finish these off, I cut and tied some leather strips around the joint of the handle and gourd, which both supports and camouflages the seam. (Ribbon or fabric works well too.)
These are sturdy little instruments, and they sound GREAT!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to Make a Shekere (African Gourd or Bottle Shaker)

I've made a few shekeres (shay'-kuh-rays) that sound and look great (IMHO). Although I love saving money and creating something unique, my main goal when creating a home-made instrument is always to create something musical and useful.
Both of the examples I'm posting here rival the sound of any purchased/imported instrument. Example #1 below is made from a plastic vinegar bottle and pony beads at a cost of about $2 versus $20-25 if purchasedExample #2, a more authentic-looking instrument is made from a gourd and wooden beads at a cost of about $18 versus $50-70 if purchased. (This one cost more because I purchased the gourd, dried and cleaned.)

#1 - Plastic Bottle Shekere by Jeri Crosby

#2 - Calabash Gourd Shekere with Wood-burned Designs by Jeri Crosby
 Materials List
Body: (1) sturdy plastic bottle with a narrow neck or (2) a clean, dry calabash, bottle-neck or pear-shaped gourd (available locally perhaps, or online)
Ring: (1) Plastic or metal ring that fits over the neck but not the shoulder of the bottle. The ring is optional but makes the project easier, and I recommended it if you make these with children. (2) You can simply create a base ring with several thicknesses of your string (as I did for the gourd shekere).
String: Strong string, thick crochet thread, upholstery thread, soft fishing line, etc.
Beads: Plastic pony beads or wooden beads (available at craft and variety stores)
Tools to decorate: (1) Permanent markers (optional) for the bottle or (2) a pencil and wood-burning tool for the gourd

First, decorate the body with markers or wood-burned designs as desired.

Second, check the fit of your ring or create a ring out of string, ensuring it rests on the 'shoulder' of the body. 

Third, cut strings four times the length of your bottle. Cut enough strings to fit evenly spaced around your ring about 1/2" apart.

Fourth, fold each string in half and 'hitch' strings around the ring. (Hitch: fold string in half, place middle/folded end of string beneath the ring. Lift the 'loop' created by the fold, and keeping the open ends of the string together, stick them through the loop and pull to tighten.)

Fifth, macramé (weave with knots), square-knotting each string with a neighboring string to the left. Insert beads on every other string, and then knot the each string with its neighbor on the right. 

Continue inserting beads and knotting strings (left, then right) with neighboring strands until you've created desired length of the bead-mesh. Important note: Be sure to leave enough loose string between knots/beads so the bead apparatus will move freely against the body. 

Finish by knotting/weaving a couple of rows and tying strings together as in this picture, or create an end ring with your string and tie each string onto the ring as in the gourd example below. Note: an open end allows the player to tap/drum the gourd (but it is a more complicated finish).

Here are a couple of pics of the gourd shekere under construction:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to Make Joy Tubes, AKA Flop-ophone

 Another of my home-made tube percussion instruments:
Joy Tubes, AKA Flop-ophone
Similar to Joia Tubes - Save hundreds of $$$!
This set cost me $32 to make. (I bought the shoe rack for $4 at a thrift store, and I bought the bungees at a dollar store.)
       Materials:    Two lengths of two-inch PVC pipe
                         ABS flanges (adapters, 2" x 3") - 
                           one for each note
                         An old shoe rack (open style)
                         Bungee cords - one for each note
                                        (or cut up long ones) 
                         PVC glue or plastic cement
                         A pair of old flip-flops
                         A saw (if you don't have lengths
                          cut at a store)
                         A knife to trim down the flip-flops
                         Markers or stickers for labeling
                           and/or decorating pipes
                         Rubbing alcohol or Goof-off to
                           remove black ink on pipe.
(The picture below shows materials I used.)
1- Have your helpful hardware store clerk cut the PVC for you. Take a measuring tape and marker (with millimeters for accuracy) to the store with you and mark your PVC pipe to be cut in these lengths:

               G     793 mm
               A     703 mm
               B     630 mm
               C     594 mm
               D     529 mm
               E     473 mm
               F     440 mm
               F#   418 mm
               G'    396.5 mm

Notes: if you must cut the pipe on your own or trim pipes to tune notes, be sure to wear a mask to protect your lungs from the PVC dust.

The average shoe rack will hold five tubes. I change out tubes according to the key and tone set I need. With the notes G, A, C, D, E, and F, you can play in pentatonic major keys of G, C, and F. (That's all I made for this set.)

2- Label your tubes with markers or stickers, and if desired, decorate them a bit. I used vinyl-like scrapbooking borders on this set. They added a nice touch and have held up well.

3- Glue a flange onto the TOP end of each pipe.
4- Loop, tie and/or fasten bungee material around the two top braces of the shoe rack to create a holder for each pipe. You may have to experiment a bit to find the best way to use the materials you have to work with.
Here's a close-up of what I did on this particular set.   

5- Trim flip-flops as shown, creating a handle on the heel end. Glue the stub from the toe piece in place to make the floppers air-tight.

To play, simply 'flop' the top of the pipes, covering the open/flanged end with the wide part of the paddle.

Add these to your collection of tube percussion and enjoy your Joy Tubes!

(Instructions for the BOOM PIPES in the above picture are included in an earlier post.)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

How to Make a Panpipe / Pan Flute

My homemade pentatonic pan flute always surprises those I play it for because it has a lovely tone (better than my purchased bamboo one) and plenty of volume. As promised, here are the instructions:

Materials: one length of half-inch plastic pipe (available at hardware stores), a plastic ware lid, colored string or embroidery floss, two craft sticks (optional horizontal braces), glue (for plastic), beads (for optional embellishment)  Tools: small saw and/or knife, marker, sturdy scissors

         for Half-inch Plastic Pipe

         C     6 1/16
          D     5 3/8
          E     4 ¾ “
          G     3 15/16
          A     3 7/16
          C'    3 1/32

Measure, mark and cut as accurately as possible. (Remember cutting a bit long is safer than cutting short.) Then trim with a knife to fine tune if needed. (The pipe is quite soft.)

Using the end of a piece of pipe as a pattern, trace end caps onto a plastic lid. Cut the caps out with scissors and glue them onto the bottom end of each pipe. (Hint: Use the smoothest, prettiest cut ends of the pipes for the  top, open ends of pipes where your lips will touch.)

 Place pipes in order, left to right, lowest to highest. You may choose to use two crafts sticks, one on each side, to stabilize the pipes. (On this particular flute, I simply wove the string very tight.) Weave and or wind colored string or embroidery floss between and around pipes (and craft sticks, if applicable) to hold them together. Sealing knots with a dab of glue is a good idea. Add tassels made from your string/floss and beads or charms if desired.

You have a playable and to-be-proud-of panpipe!