Submitted by Plank Road Publishing, Brookfield, Wisconsin

Idea posted August 7, 2002

Kids all over America have made it official: Boomwhackers® are now the coolest thing in the music classroom. As you may know, Boomwhackers® (or BWs, as we will also refer to them to maximize space) are pitched plastic percussion tubes. They are color coded for pitch (for example, C is red).

While there are countless ways to use them, it is perhaps most common to use them as one would use handbells. Students find their note or notes (if they are holding more than one BW) on a given piece of music and play when it is time. We have found that playing BWs helps kids learn rhythms better and concentrate on reading more. It just might be the tool to get some of those older students more involved in music class. (We've used them with players ages 6 to 60, and have seen the same glee... and problems.)

There are no rules for how to play a Boomwhacker®, but since we've had a bit of experience working with them in our recording sessions, we thought we might share a few tips with you.

  • BWs should ideally be round, so if they arrive a little flattened or the kids have beaten them flat, squish them until they are rounder.
  • We usually play them by striking them on top of wooden stools. We have also seen them played by striking them on the floor. (Kids sit on the floor and hold the BWs parallel to the floor beside them.) You can also strike your hand, your thigh, the wall, or any stable surface, such as a table or even a drum pad. One teacher recently mentioned using linoleum tiles as striking surfaces.
  • Alternatively, one might strike a Boomwhacker® with something such as a mallet or a stick. Experiment. That's half the fun.
  • Try different hitting techniques, too. If a Boomwhacker® is hit hard, you get more of a slapping sound than actual tone. We have found that hitting them at a slight angle prevents the slap and allows more resonance. And believe it or not, they can be played dynamically. Soft hits will produce soft sounds.

  • The moment a kid has a BW in his hands, he will not be able to resist the temptation to start playing it. We strongly advise you to let players have a few minutes to "get it out of their systems" before trying to actually accomplish anything. However, before you even hand them out, carefully establish your rules lest they become swords, clubs, et al. Once kids have had a few minutes to play around with their BWs freely, call an end to it decisively. Keep control. No more playing until you say so. (This protocol also works well with kazoos, by the way.)
  • When rehearsing with BWs, here's what we do. We identify each note one by one and ask the player(s) holding that note to hold it up for all to see. We might also ask Johnny, who has the G, to point to a G in his music for us.
  • Do not expect that the first reading of a piece of music will make any sense. It won't. It will be a mush of cacophonous noise. That's okay. To make the experience more tolerable and efficient, learn the music in pieces. This is really important. For example, start at measure 9 and practice eight bars. (Fewer if needs be.) Only do that eight bars. Do not allow them to continue. Again, keep control. You count it off (more slowly than it will eventually be), you clap or snap the tempo for them. In our experience, it will take at least 6 or 7 readings before they start to gel. Don't be discouraged if it takes longer. When they have the first section learned adequately, go on to the next section. When it is learned, put the first two together. Do this section by section until they have played the entire piece. This may take more than one rehearsal. But if they learn how to play one or two sections well instead of trying to do the entire piece at once, they will feel their sense of accomplishment. If you do need to go to more rehearsals, always begin with a review of what was learned last time. (After you've let them play freely for a few minutes, of course.)
  • It is also our experience that players tend to rush the beat chronically. Don't sweat it. It's part of the unspoken... um, charm.
  • Like other communal instruments, BWs can be germ carriers. So discourage students who try to make them into didjeridus, unless the BWs are newly sterile. They can be cleaned like any plastic instrument, though they are thin, so avoid extreme heat.