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Making Musical Instruments at Home
Multicultural Instrument-Building Instructions for Families
Courtesy of Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou

Make Your Own Cajon!

What is a Cajon? A drum shaped like a box!

     In the coast of Peru and in a few other Latin American countries you'll find a drum that is square.  Originally made out of dresser drawers or crates used in shipping, this instrument has an amazing sound all it's own.  Played like any other drum, you can strike it with your hands, palm, fingers and create wonderful rhythms.  Listen to the sounds of the cajon.
How do you make a Cajon?
     A cajon is basically a box with a round-shaped soundhole.  A simple project would begin with a cardboard box of any size--even a shoe box will do.  For a sturdier project, you can buy a wooden box at a craft store or look for one at a produce store. An adult that does basic woodcrafting can also help you to assemble a wooden box to begin your project.  
      Next, you'll need to make a sound hole--the place where the sound will escape.   Draw and cut a circle from your cardboard boxes or have an adult help with the preparation for the heavier wooden boxes.  Although most sound holes are round, you could experiment with other sizes and shapes as well and see what happens!

Decorate your Cajon!
     If your cajon is made of paper or cardboard, use anything you like to decorate it.  Paper, paint, ribbons, stickers, photos, drawings, sharpie pens or rubber stamps.  If you are working with wood, you can also use paint and pens and you may wish to add a coat of lacquer afterward to keep your designs from fading.

Play your Cajon!
     Drumming is played by creating a series of patterns.  Strike your box and get to know its different sounds.  Then mix them and match them to make beats, or find out how your beats can play along with your favorite songs. Your cajon will sound great played with Latin American songs. If you like, you can play along to some of Daria's songs, like La Bamba and La Cucaracha.

You Can Make a Didgeridoo!

What is a Didgeridoo?
     If you've ever seen a movie or TV program about Australia - you've certainly heard a digeridoo!  According to legend, the Australian ancestors were camping one night and it became cold.  One ancestor went to find firewood and was about to throw a hollow log into the fire when he noticed small white ants inside of it.  Not wanting to harm any living creature, he took the stick and gently blew out the ants, creating an amazing noise that is eerie, funny, strange and very cool! Listen to a digeridoo.

How to Make a Digeridoo
      Although digeridoos were originally made from hollow tree branches, you can make yours from a number of different materials. From simple materials like rolls from wrapping paper, mailing tubes or more complex ones from pvc piping sold in a hardware store, they will all make interesting music! 
      You need to start with a long, hollow object.  Pick one of the following -- wrapping paper rolls, mailing tubes or a length of pvc piping cut to your order at a hardware stores.  You can also use paper towel and TP rolls - but the sound is better on longer digeridoos.  If you are using the pvc piping, make sure to buy sand paper and sand the rough edges so as not to cut mouths or hands on the instrument.
      Listen to a real digeridoo.

Decorate Your Digeridoo!
      For the simpler digeridoos made from paper products, use stickers, paint, sharpie pens or ribbon.  You can also make woven bracelets or feathered handles for your instrument.  Be creative and have fun.  For the pvc didgeridoo, permanent markers work best.  Make a design that is special to you -- most traditional didgeridoos have animals like a lizard, a snake or something that is special to the instrument's owner.  Most traditional designs are made of a series of dots.  You can make one that looks like something from the outback or one reflects your own creativity.

Play Your Digeridoo!
      Technically, the digeridoo is played by blowing "raspberry" sounds into it.  Let air pass through your lips while they blow back and forth.  You can also simply hum or speak into it and notice how different sounds change as they pass through your instrument.  With younger children, try saying their name or a series of vowels (like A-E-I-O-U) and hear how these sounds transform as they pass through the sound tube. 
      Advanced players, may want to try "circular breathing",  This means that you blow out of your mouth while breathing air in through your nose.  This is not easy, but worth a try!  If done correctly, a digeridoo player can make his instruments sing for ten, twenty minutes or longer! One player that Daria knows tells stories, using his digeridoo to sound effects and animal voices for his Australian tales.

Make Your Own Rain Stick!

The rain stick is an unusual instrument that was created by native peoples in the rain forest.  They took a hollowed out branch from a tree, covered both ends and used it to carry their seeds and precious items from one place to another as they traveled.  Inside the branch were thorns or sticks that would "catch" the seeds as they fell, creating a noise that sounded like the slow drizzle of rain. Listen to a Rainstick

Make Your Own!

  1. You will need a long tube.  One of the best is a mailing tube that you can get at the post office or a stationery store.  You can also use cardboard tubes from gift wrap, paper towels, or toilet paper (for a tiny rain stick!).
  2. You'll need a clever way to seal the ends!  Use aluminum foil, felt, fabric, or very strong paper!  Use strong tape to seal the ends, like masking tape or duct tape.  Seal only one end for now!
  3. Decorate your stick!  Use whatever you like!  Native peoples would have used things they found around them: colored dyes, colored string, or even bird feathers.  Use whatever you can find:  pictures from magazines, crayons, markers, stickers, glitter, glue, yarn, string, fabric.
  4. Create the rain stick effect!  To create this effect, push tooth picks or nails through the mailing tube.  Of course, this part of the project is best with bigger kids or with grown-ups around.  For smaller children, focus on the decoration and performance because you'll probably want to omit this step.
  5. Fill your rain stick!  You can use a whole bunch of things here!  Try using birdseed, macaroni, beads, lentils, unpopped popcorn, buttons, or just about anything else that is small!  When doing this project with a group of children, set up a "filler buffet" and have the children go down the line while they fill their rain sticks.
  6. Close the rain stick!  Seal the other end of the rain stick now.
  7. Play your rain stick!  Turn your rain stick from side to side and upside-down.  Do this at different speeds to listen to the rain!

Make Your Own Shekere!

Let's Make a Shekere

The shekere is an instrument from Africa made out of a hollow gourd.   Outside the gourd is a netting that holds seeds or bead so the instrument makes a wonderful rattling when played.  How do you play it? This is the best part of this instrument.  It gets to jump between your hands and into the air.  Of course, you try to catch it and shake it in the rhythm to your song and that makes for lots of fun.  Do you want to hear one?  Click here!

Since it can be hard to find a hollow gourd, we're making our shekeres from recycled milk jugs - or similar containers.  Start by cleaning out the container and getting some materials you may wish to use. These might include, sand, salt, bird seed, unpopped popcorn or uncooked macaroni. Anything that will shake, rattle and roll!

Decorate Your Shekere

Can you make your recycled container look like a gourd with netting?  Draw on beads or seeds or be creative and simply decorate it to your taste.  For younger children, you can draw the netting and they can affix their favorite stickers.  Some people like to leave their container clear and then fill with interesting contents like glitter and marbles.  Experiment and see what you like in your homemade shekere. 

Play Your Shekere

To play a shekere - you shake a shekere.  Let it shake or shimmy for you  or toss it gently from hand to hand.  If you have a group of children, each can shake it and pass it to the next.  And, try it to some music.  Although it will sound great with all kinds of music, it is especially suited to the music from Africa (easy to find online or borrow from your local library).  Especially wonderful and kid-appropriate is music from the South Africa artists Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba.  You can also hear my Zulu song called Here Come our Mothers Bringing Us Presents.  This is a another perfect song to play along with.

About Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou

     Internationally recognized Folksinger, Daria (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou), has traveled around the world performing, studying and collecting music in 14 countries including Peru, Egypt, Israel, Spain, Turkey, Italy, Panama, Honduras and the former Soviet Union.  For several years, she performed with her rock band playing for the USO/DOD and won the honor of representing the United States at world's largest outdoor festival - World Expo 1992 in Seville, Spain.  Along with her performance abilities, Daria holds a degree in ethnomusicology and her field work includes extended stays in Peru and Appalachia, work for Sing Out! Magazine and an internship at the Library of Congress.  In 2003, she was named as one of five national STOMP! teaching artists by Honda Corp. and has been awarded national honors for her Music.

     In concert, Daria shares a wonderful mixture of favorite songs from American and world folk music traditions.  Instruments in her show include guitar, dulcimer, buffalo drums, washboard, spoons, limberjack, guiro, shekere, maracas, hand bells, doumbek, pueblo drum, afuche, rainstick, cajon, goat hoof rattles and much more.  During the show she presents songs in a variety of languages; including English, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Zulu, Quechua Indian and Oneida (Iroquois).  Along with performances at festivals, venues, schools, art centers and other locations, Daria also offers workshops and residencies for children to learn more about the diverse musical traditions that she performs during her show.


Many thanks to Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou for permission to display these homeschooling suggestions.
© Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou. All rights reserved. Used with permission.


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