Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Boom-Whack

I first came across Boomwhackers about 9 years ago when I was running a music store in Ireland.
All of a sudden, teachers who would normally be buying recorders and Tin Whistles were suddenly demanding Boomwhackers and I'd never heard of such a thing.


Well for those of you feeling the same way, Boomwhackers are sets of tubes, cut to lengths that will play a particular note, or Boom, when whacked against something solid, preferably with a bit of padding, for the best sound. Thighs, and carpeted floors work particularly well. Desk edges, wooden floors, other Boomwhackers etc. also work but can be a bit harsher in tone as they pick up the resonance of the struck object.

Boomwhackers are also colour coded too so that the Cs are red, As are yellow etc. This is immensely helpful when organising an exercise.

So here is a robust pitched percussion instrument that sounds great, stays in tune and doesn't hurt your ears. That alone puts it in a fairly exclusive group when it comes to classroom instruments. Good quality xylophones and chime bars might fit that bill too but a set of 8 Boomwhackers is going to cost you about the same as a reasonable ukulele,  (and by reasonable I mean stays in tune and the intonation is fine at least on the open chords.) 

A boomwhacker will always stay in tune and the intonation is pretty good as a result.

And being pitched, Boomwhackers lend themselves to rhythm, melody and harmony, as shown here.




Now that's fairly advanced stuff. I had a class last year who after seeing that clip wanted to reproduce it for a school concert item. It took many hours of practice but we got there in the end.

There's a lot that can be done with them before reaching for that sort of performance level. In fact, I've found recently that many of the games and activities that I use in my drummers' circle work equally as well, and occasionally better than my trusty buckets.
One such activity is one I like to call fruit salad. I've done it for years using colour coded buckets but the change to a pentatonic set of boomwhackers suddenly brought in harmony as well. The idea is pretty simple.
Each colour plays the rhythm of a fruit's name. The rhythms are written on the board. For this, I use a set of laminated notes that I made myself and attached 1cm magnetic squares to the back of. This saves me a lot of time and is significantly cheaper than an IWB.

We have apples, grapes, oranges and  boysenberries. Bananas are a little trickier with the accent on the second syllable. Groups learn their fruit rhythm in isolation them we play in parts or all together as fruit salad.
Here's today's fruit salad, as written on my board:



And here's what it sounds like ( from 20 second in until end).


They're great for teaching the mechanics of harmony too. I use this slide to guide classes through a simple accompaniment to Radioactive by Imagine Dragons using just 4 boomwhackers that are arranged to play open chords on Bm, D, A and E in a continuous cycle through the song. It's one of my favourite musical activities at the moment because the kids just hit the groove immediately and play the whole song with great gusto.


So in summary, easy to teach and learn,  a lot of fun and a great tool for warm ups and teaching harmony.

Just don't believe the part on the instructions that says they are indestructible.  They're not.

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