The tremendous successes of Stomp and Blue Man Group have been inspirational to many who wish to create their own instruments out of ordinary household items. Creating musical instruments from boxes, cans or other throw away materials is a great activity for children, but creating “real” musical instruments from items like buckets, trash cans, garden hoses, water bottles and boxes can take the skill and patience of an adult. The results, however, are well worth the effort and can be seen as a way to showcase one’s musical ability as well as ingenuity. Plus the construction of custom instruments from ordinary materials can bring those instruments into the hands of disabled or those otherwise unable to own or use their own standard instruments.
Cajon drums were originally repurposed from shipping crates, drawers and other boxes. Today, boxes can be used to make percussion instruments like bongos and agogos. Simply taking a well-made cigar box and playing its sides and top with a stick or other item can create a unique sound that is easily manipulated into different tones and notes.
Containers, such as glasses or bowls, can make unique sounds depending on what they are filled with, how they are played and what is used to make the sounds. Metal bowls can create more of a “singing” tone while unfilled glasses chime when lightly struck with an object. Fill them with water, and their tones change dramatically. Large water bottles, like those that are used for office water coolers, can also be used, creating unusual percussion sounds and tones.
PVC pipe can be used to create unique sounds that resemble the tones of a xylophone. Blue Man Group has taken the PVC instruments to a much higher level with their ability to manipulate their PVC pipe instruments onstage, producing a symphony of sounds for their audience. Copper pipe can also be used to create homemade xylophones, and The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra even has instructions on how to make a copper pipe glockenspiel.
Homemade and repurposed instruments are proof that if a person has enough time, skills and musical talent, new and creative ways to create music can be born. From the simple pot and pan drums of a toddler’s repertoire to complex instruments created from pipe or other household materials, the experience of music does not have to settle for typical instruments. By creating sound with unusual items, the world of music advances a step further into new territory. Finding new ways to bring the fun and advancement of music to people who may not be able to play an instrument otherwise helps to create an entirely new interactive experience with music, including planning, teamwork and general musical skills.