Boomwhackers

Two Fridays ago I co-led an all-day professional learning workshop for teachers on composing in the classroom for Musica Viva. Called Sound Safari, the course takes teachers through a range of possible musical starting points for interesting composition work.

We had a box of instruments to help us explore some of the tasks, and for the first time, I found myself enjoying boomwhackers and the possibilities they offer. If you aren’t familiar with boomwhackers, they are tubes of plastic cut to particular lengths so that when you bang them on the floor/your hand/your knee/your shoe etc, a specific pitch is sounded.

I’m not a big fan of them because – like any set of instruments that comes in different sizes, the students are completely focused on getting the biggest one. I don’t find the sound they make particularly inspiring. Young students also aren’t often immediately drawn to the sound, only to the size and the action of hitting it on something.

In our workshop, however, we explored using them in pairs. We were doing a composing task with words that use the letters of the musical alphabet (A-G). One of the teachers and I decided to play out the words CAGE and FEED.

We sat facing each other. We had 3 boomwhackers each – I had C, G and D, she had A, E and F.

We played the words as straight crotchets. We held one boomwhacker in each hand, and had the third pitch on the floor in front of us. After playing CAGE we had to put one boomwhacker down and pick up our third – once we got the hang of the coordination it was quite a good spectacle, I think!

I played (using ‘|’ to indicate a crotchet rest):

C | G |

| | | D

And swapped the G for the D after I’d played it. My partner played:

| A | E

F E E |

And swapped the A for the F after she’d played it.

It took us sometime to work out the best way to coordinate the boomwhacker swap. This kind of work in pairs has heaps of possibilities for extension in classrooms. After students have worked out how to coordinate the notes of two words between them, can they add a third word? Can they at some stage in their performance swap letters so that they reverse their roles (like jugglers?) Could they start to incorporate more interesting rhythms than just straight crotchets? Could they add some body percussion, claps or patsching? Can they go on to harmonise their words?

I wouldn’t say I’m converted completely to the boomwhacker cult, and I don’t know if the Pelican students would have the patience to figure out a routine like this without a great deal of adult support… but I can see that they offer some very engaging creative outcomes, and have quite a unique timbre that definitely has a place. Worth experimenting with!

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1 comment so far

  1. eleanor on

    I’ve just stumbled upon your blog and am really glad I found it! I run a music school in Sydney and our youngest class is a group of 4-5 year olds who do Orff and Dalcroze. We bought 2 sets of Boomwhackers as a way of approaching Orff repertoire but I also find that the kids want the biggest one all the time and, when one is four, it is a bit difficult to keep an even beat with something that is longer than your arm! I like your composition exercise with them and I’ll try it out next lesson. 🙂


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