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Hands-On Review: Boomwhackers Tuned Percussion Tubes

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The fun way to learn rhythm, notation, and teamwork!

By Martina Padilla

As a primary school music education teacher I'm constantly on the lookout for tools that not only help instill music fundamentals in my students, but also nurture creativity and foster teamwork. When I was first introduced to Boomwhackers by a fellow teacher, little did I realize how perfectly this novel collection of brightly colored tubes would meet those criteria!

The dreaded fifth period

We've all had them-the classes that just won't jell. Simply maintaining order is a challenge, while actually imparting knowledge is practically off the radar. A couple of years ago I was faced with such a class. It was my fifth period group and I dreaded it. The chemistry wasn't right and given its slot late in the day, the kids tended toward boredom and fussiness. Pulling out all my tried-and-true methods for classes lacking focus or enthusiasm failed miserably.

Boomwhackers Tuned Percussion Tubes

Enter Boomwhackers

In relating my woes with the class to a colleague, she asked, "Have you tried Boomwhacker?"

"Boom what?" I replied.

"Boomwhackers. They've yet to let me down," she replied. "I had a really rambunctious bunch last semester in one of my classes and Boomwhackers did the trick."

"What are these Boomwhackers anyway?" I asked, intrigued.

"Tell you what," she said. "I'll loan you my set and you can see how they work for yourself."

Good to her word, I found a net tote bag leaning up against my desk containing a set of eight vividly colored plastic tubes the next day. A brochure packed with the set explained that each of the tubes was tuned to a note of the diatonic major C scale. A section titled "Gettin' the Groove" offered some simple suggestions on getting started with Boomwhackers. I then noticed that my benefactor had also left a book on my desk titled "Fun with Boomwhackers!" A quick perusal revealed 20 songs and activities that seemed to dovetail with my curriculum and lesson plans.

When fifth period rolled around, I was ready. I quickly distributed the set among some of my more troublesome pupils and they were soon whacking out the rhythm and notes of "If You're Happy." They were immediately engaged and enthusiastic. Here was a way to painlessly teach rhythm, notation, and chords that was actually fun and let the kids burn off excess energy!

Anatomy of a Boomwhacker

Turning to the LMI catalog I found that they carried the entire Boomwhacker line. The tubes come in well-thought-out sets ideal for primary music education. It wasn't long before I had assembled a complete set of Boomwhackers so that the entire class could get it on the fun.

Perhaps the best place to start with Boomwhackers is with the eight-note C Major Diatonic Scale Set tuned from C to C. The C Major Pentatonic Scale Set consists of six tubes tuned to C, D, E, G, A, C. It's easy to expand your collection with the other sets in the LMI catalog. Boomwhackers also come in five-note chromatic sets in both the upper and lower octaves as well as in a bass diatonic scale.

For even more flexibility and versatility, you can order inexpensive Octavator Tube Caps. They come in sets of eight and slip on the end of any Boomwhacker, lowering its tone one octave. Using them with bass octave tubes makes a full three-octave range possible.

All the ways of whacking

Over the past two years I've found a plethora of ways to incorporate Boomwhackers into my lessons. Their most straightforward use is in playing simple songs. As with a bell choir, each students plays their notes as they occur providing reinforcement for note-reading skills. Call and response rhythm patterns are great whacking material. Try having your students take turns with the calls and responses. "A Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits" is always hugely popular among my younger pupils.

Boomwhackers are also excellent for building songs one note at a time. Try assigning a different ostinato to different notes. This can be done with or without notation and is an effective way to teach rhythm counting.

Of course, Boomwhackers are also wonderful for encouraging improvisation. I often suggest that the kids add or subtract notes from a song they've mastered to begin creating their own songs. I find it is often helpful to establish a central rhythmic pulse then have the students make up their own song in its entirety. You can also have specific students develop rhythm patterns for their Boomwhacker note and have other kids with that same note follow along. As I discovered quickly with that troublesome class that led me to Boomwhackers in the first place, they lend themselves beautifully to activities involving movement. Marching to the rhythm and counting off patterns are two obvious examples - you're bound to discover more. They also make great stamping tubes forming the basis for some exciting, team-building activities.

Big fun and practically bulletproof!

The tubes themselves are made from rugged plastic in bright colors that offer a lot of eye appeal for kids. They can be whacked against just about any surface, hit with a multitude of objects, or against each other to produce varied timbres. Each Boomwhacker has a "sweet spot" a few inches from the end that produces the most powerful tone. I've found they also sound best when they're fully round. Should a Boomwhacker become flattened, it's easy to return it to roundness simply by running your hand down its length. Boomwhackers are pretty nearly indestructible and they can be easily cleaned up with a little mild soap and water-an important consideration with very young students.

Not that these clever teaching aids are limited to use by children. I recently witnessed a drum circle working out in a nearby park and among the conga, djembe, and doumbek players was a young man playing with a pentatonic set of Boomwhackers.

The tubes added a wonderfully distinct voice to the polyrhythms and it was apparent that the player had logged significant time developing his skills on the tubes. Given the success of "Stomp!" and its brigade of bucket-bashing percussionists, could a corps of Boomwhacker virtuosi be far behind? LMI offers the entire lineup of Boomwhacker products at prices that'll leave budget-strapped music educators smiling. For your convenience, we've bundled together a Complete Lower Octave Set as well as a Complete Upper and Lower Set which offers you the entire Boomwhacker range.

Tags: Percussion Instruments for Children

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