"Essentials for Classroom Music: Percussion"
If there is any instrument family that absolutely caters to our primitive instincts, it's Percussion.
It's just human nature to want to hit things or crack them together to make as loud a sound as possible – but thankfully we have evolved (to a degree) to learn to control our inner Neanderthal to create rhythm. Rhythm is the bedrock, the foundation of music as we know it - it is Tempo, it is Feel, it is Structure - and there is no better way to teach the fundamentals of Rhythm to your students than with Classroom Percussion.
There is a plethora of Percussion instruments to be found across the globe - ever heard of the Caxixi? Neither had I until a few days ago! I'm not going to get into every single instrument on the planet - let's just focus on the essentials for a Classroom Music Program. A lot of these instrument suggestions will transfer well between Primary & Secondary year levels, but you may consider different brands for higher year levels.
Picking the right Percussion Instruments for your Classroom is like deconstructing a Drum Kit, so you might start with the Kick Drum - it's the part of the drum that gives us the Beat - it's big, boomy & hits you in the chest, so we need something that simulates that bass when you hit it.
Some great options for this are Djembes & Congas - depending on the sizes, both offer a fantastic Bass resonance to fill the role of a kick drum. Djembes come in a range of sizes - usually starting at about 8" & continuing with 10", 12" & 14". The bigger you go, the more bass you’ll get - that's not always going to be practical for Primary students as a 14" Djembe is nearly as big as a Grade 3 student, so opting for some of the smaller sizes would be beneficial. Congas are much taller, usually come in a pair (in 10" & 11" diameters) and mount to a dual stand which leaves the bottom
With the Kick drum out of the way, next you'd think about a Snare sound - there's a lot of ways to achieve this with Classroom Percussion - you could use a Tambourine by choking the jingles between hits, you could strike a pair of Claves (which get really fun used on the off-beats too!) or even Bongos would make a great Snare, being tuned higher than their larger family members (Djembes/Congas).
The main thing to consider for the Snare sound is Brightness, it wants to cut through the mix of the other instruments. Always feel free to experiment with Classroom Percussion as well, getting a blend of these kinds of instruments will really help fill out this sonic space.
Again, the LP Tambourines are really nice in tone & sound more tuned/balanced than some alternatives without breaking the budget. Mano Percussion are a great alternative if you need to get a bulk amount of instruments, offering Tambourines in headless, with skins, half moon & many more, as well as a great range in Claves and some very reasonably priced Bongo options.
So far we have Beats 1 & 3 covered (kick drum), and beats 2 & 4 (snare drum) covered - now we need to fill in the gaps, something that will add a bit of pace to the rhythm, a Hi-Hat sound! For me, this is any instrument that goes 'chuka-chuka-chuka'. We're thinking Egg Shakers, Maracas, Tambourines. There are many other bits and pieces that will also work but for basics these three will work a treat. Having a mix of these in your classroom will allow for different tonalities in the music
your students are creating - Egg Shakers will be much quieter & smoother & sit just under the mix to provide a bit of pace. The other end of the sonic spectrum will be the Tambourine - in full force these will sit above the other instruments and really drive the song, especially getting a 16th pattern happening - what was once a calm walk is now a flat out sprint. Not only are these kinds of instruments great in a purely percussion circle environment, but using them as a part of your
contemporary band line-up is a great way to add another element of pace to Rock & Pop songs.
That's a great mix of classroom percussion instruments that will give you a platform to expand on & get adventurous with. One more really great thing to include in is Keyboard Percussion - that's instruments with keys that you hit, we're talking Xylophones, Glockenspiels, Metallophones, Marimbas, Vibraphones - all those sorts of things. Not every school has the budget or space for a Marimba or Vibraphone, but most will be able to squeeze in a couple of Mano Percussion Xylophones which are available in Soprano, Alto & Bass sizes, as well as a class set of Glockenspiels – a fantastic way to introduce notation into your Classroom Music Program and get your students thinking about pitch & melodies.
Classroom Percussion is an absolute staple of Classroom Music Programs, it teaches students the fundamentals of rhythm so that when they're learning or listening to music they already have that subconscious metronome counting - 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &...
Sneakily, it's also teaching them a bit of Maths - but Shh! - don't let them know that!