Dear Music Educators,
Please allow me to introduce you to a set of instruments for music class that are very inexpensive and great for developing rhythm and ensemble playing skills, "Bucket Percussion". On this page is a series of photographs of some of the materials I have used and am willing to share with any other teacher that might be interested. Below are some "bullet points" to give you a basic idea of the concept, but feel free to contact me for more detailed information:
Equipment: I have purchased many of my buckets at Lowe's or Home Depot. I have no idea why but somehow when any of the buckets are struck with the mallet the bottom and side sound a perfect fourth apart. There are several photographs that show how one might set up a "bucket line" using chairs and milk crates. One photo in the album shows how little space is needed to store a set of bucket drums.
Mallets and Sticks: For each bucket I have a sequence of sticks or mallets that my students are promoted through. You can make your own bass drum mallets using a “swimming noodle” and PVC pipe for only $1 a pair (see “stick & mallet” photo). In the same photo you will see "silent sticks", "quiet sticks", and regular sticks or mallets that I use when teaching bucket percussion. I will start the class out with either silent sticks (straws) or quiet sticks (1/8 inch dowel rods). I visually observe the students as they begin an exercise and will pass out the regular sticks or quiet sticks to those students that are initially performing the exercise correctly. I promote just a few students at a time so the rest of the class can hear what their part is supposed to sound like. Promoted students who cannot transfer the performance skill to the louder sticks or mallets will return to their original sticks and softer volume level. Stick Levels can also be a great motivator as well as a handy tool in assisting with classroom management. Students that play too loud, cannot keep their sticks in the appropriate "at rest" position, or cannot remain quiet during instruction, should be demoted one stick level and then given a chance to earn that level back.
Counting and Theory: Decoding skills are vital in all academic subjects, especially in music. A horizontal timeline is used to show students when to play and the vertical placement indicates which part of the bucket is struck. Almost any counting system can be used, so teachers can easily set up their own timeline masters. Another aid to help students decode their individual part is the "color code" system. If I am passing out a "master" sheet for the students to read their part on, the color of the notation indicates which bucket is playing. The precise “sticking” that is to be used is also color coded. Red for the Right hand and white for the left. I have found that many students at the elementary level have great difficulty in identifying their right hand from the left-hand. However, I have no problem at all when I use the terms "red hand" and "white hand". This initially makes part reading much easier and as the curriculum continues and the students gain confidence you can gradually "morph" into standard music notation.
Peer Tutoring and Leadership Skills: I do not have the floor space in my classroom that will allow every student to play on a bucket. Coordinating when to play on an instrument and where to look to find out what to play (eye scripting) is difficult for many young children. For this reason I'm a firm believer in the "Players and Pointers" system. The students that are the "pointers" are given a thin red straw and their task is to point where the class is on their music timeline and say the counting out loud. By rotating tasks you can put two students at each instrument station and it is actually as the “pointer” where the student can process the information regarding counting rhythms. In my class I use the P1, P2, and P3 system (from the movie “Drum Line”) which is an additional motivator for the students. Section leaders and even a drum major can be selected through an audition, or based on accuracy while playing their part during class.
Warm Ups, Cadences, and Performing with a CD: Percussion warm ups are a great way to develop the concept of sub-division with your students. When they get really solid with a warm up, have some fun with your class and add “stick flips”. All of the bucket arrangements that I have written came from a single CD, ESPN presents “Stadium Anthems” by Hollywood Records. All arrangements are in an “A” –“B” format and each part is only 8 to 16 counts long. I will switch back and forth using "timeline" and standard notation with my classes. As a rule, I will use "timeline" notation with the class the first time and traditional notation the second time I see them.
Technology and Student Composition: I am very fortunate to teach at a school where all the children are issued school i-pads. I ask the students to compose their own drum cadence using the Garage Band app. Specific percussion sounds are assigned for each different bucket size in order to get a general idea of what each student’s cadence will sound like if performed. I have the class select one of the students "bucket cadences", or I will let the class put together a composite arrangement using “tracks” or "grid locations" from several different student works. The selected composition becomes a “class project” and that cadence is prepared for a performance or possibly even a “Drum-Off” between the classes or grade levels.