From the earliest days of sitting on the kitchen floor, banging on a range of saucepans and bowls, with kitchen utensils, making music has been a part of most of our lives in one way or another. Society and music lessons may have moved us away from the earlier instruments we first played on, towards commercially produced traditional instruments. With online videos, and workshops by eco conscious musicians, there are more and more examples and opportunities to use products from our environment to make music. If it can make a sound, it can be a musical instrument. Music can be available to more people, not constrained by the availability of costly instruments and lessons, whilst also being green through repurposing and up-cycling, delaying or preventing the journey to the tip, and reducing reliance on newly manufactured instruments.
Our family recently attended a schools’ musical concert. The orchestras were fantastic. The skills and talents of the young people to playing in the classical musical instruments were inspirational. However the stars of the show were a group of unlikely musicians, playing on steel pans, followed by very energetic percussionists playing Japanese Taiko drums. Listening to both performances, even the most staunch supporters of the classical style of music, were unable to resist joining in with the enthusiastic performers, and the rest of the audience, swinging and tapping in time.
Below are some ideas and inspiration to create “junk music” – from professional performers, teachers and group leaders, and ideas to create and use your own! The link below shows great quality junk instruments in a professional performance.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8vvNCAK2NE link to Streets United a recycled junk MusicBand
One of the old favorites, simple and effective, using ingredients such as beans, pluses, dried pasta and rice that have somehow slipped past their use by date, in a variety of unbreakable containers, jars and bottles. The possibilities are endless. They can be decorated too. Sometimes less is more, with just a few, very small items in the container making a pleasing sound.
Drums can be made from no longer required large or small drum, cans or even water bottles. Usually the larger the drum, the deeper the sound. These can even be tuned by filling with liquids. You could make a whole band with enough drums!
The steel pans, often referred to incorrectly as a steel drums, are probably the only popular musical instruments to be made out of industrial waste – a true eco instrument. They originated from Trinidadian culture, emerging in the 1930s, to replace traditional bamboo drums. Metal objects including car parts, paint pots, dustbins, oil drums and biscuit tins, were originally used as percussion instruments, but at some point they began to be tuned. The shiny metal surface is a series of dents. Each one creates a different note, subtly different from the ones around it, according to their position and size. Whilst some pans are now beginning to be made from scratch, most are still made from oil cans or from more readily available old well cleaned chemical containers. Local groups meet to play this distinctive instrument. Search for a group in your area!
Junk Taiko drumming
Some traditional drums can be replicated using every day or reclaimed items. Simon Stokes, a teacher in England, took a class of school children to watch Japanese Kodo drummers. The children were keen to learn that style, and carry on drumming when they returned to school but couldn’t afford to buy a set of Taiko drums. They worked together and created a Junk Taiko drum kit from reclaimed materials. Simon also created a Junk Rhythm project, make use of a wider range of items collected and gathered from the local environment Eventually he gave up his full time teaching job and continues to share his musical skills using recycled, up-cycled instruments including the beautiful, disciplined methods of Taiko, with other schools and community groups. Whilst the members of the group develop musical skills, they are also exploring and using a variety of materials and building awareness of the musical value of everyday items which would otherwise be garbage! Presumably there are similar projects and groups in your locality and if there aren’t maybe you could form one!
Glass bottle water glockenspiel
Place the required number of bottles in a row. Measure and add the following amounts to the same size and shape water bottles or jars, adding and developing notes as you require them. Tap these with a beater and you can play a tune!
◦ Bottle 1: 19 oz. This will produce an F note.
◦ Bottle 2: 13 oz. This will produce a G note.
◦ Bottle 3: 11 oz. This will produce an A note.
◦ Bottle 4: 8 oz. This will produce a C note.
◦ Bottle 5: 6 oz. This will produce a D note.
Do you remember making those old Kleenex boxes with elastic bands stretched over them? The same principle applies to any hollow item which can be strung, and potentially tuned if the stings/ elastic bands are attached to pegs at one end, which can be wound to raise or lower the note. Guitars have been made out of skate boards, floor boards, old cookie tins and even guns.
Second hand musical instruments
Well-made musical instruments, well taken care of last for a long, long time, and some improve with age. Good quality second hand musical instruments a good eco option. Repairing and reusing instruments that others have finished with. Many children try musical instrument tuition, then decide it isn’t for them so there should be lots available. Ask friends and family, or look at local ads.
Body and voice
We can make music without any special instruments. Our body can be musical…some more than others! I am referring to clapping, tapping, stamping and of course the different use of our voices. A cappella, unaccompanied singing can be beautiful. Pentatonix are currently experiencing global success – not only do they sing, but use their voices to make musical precision accompaniment in the place of instruments. Beatboxing is another form of vocal percussion which involves making drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using mouth, lips, tongue, and voice. Other methods of making music are represented by combining dance, and repurposed instruments – such as in Stomp the musical where dancers use their feet and rhythm to create the music.
In the past musicians had to travel to be together. Now with the wonders of communication technology they can work remotely, with live communication on Skype or Face time. There are lessons on you tube, interactive music lessons using similar media.
A whole world of music is open to us, with traditional and modern instruments made with a variety of instruments. Music is good for the soul, good for our well-being. Making junk instruments and re-using old instruments, allow us to connect with natural materials, and reduce waste, and avoid placing extra drain on the resources of our environment at the same time. Making music can give us a break, giving us a chance to express ourselves. Music can be a great way to spend our time alone and with others, and reduces our reliance on passive electronic entertainment!
Warning: Music is noisy. And A lot of fun. Recycling and up-cycling can be messy. And even more fun! Some herbal headache remedies or fancy eco sound reducing head phones could be useful! But it’s Ok, when you have a budding eco-Mozart or Green Bruno Mars, it will all be worth it …