Friday, April 4, 2008

Schoolhouse Rock: Five Exciting Ideas for Using an Ocean Drum!

The ocean drum is one of the most unique, yet versatile instruments I usually keep in my "bag of tricks." When it is tilted gently back and forth, the small ball bearings inside create a sound very much like that of waves on the beach. The drum comes in a variety of different sizes including a very large 22 inch drum. I generally use the 16 inch drum because it is easier to carry around but still provides a nice, rich wave sound. I have found that the smaller 12 inch drum does not provide enough surface area to make good ocean sounds, but if portability is an issue, this may be the better choice. The larger 22 inch drum sounds incredible and works well when used by a pair of children to teach sharing and team-work! If you have a closet or classroom close to the area where you are working, this is the drum to get! All of the sizes come in either a fish print graphic design or a plain white/tan. I use the fish print drum, but children who may be over-stimulated may respond more appropriately to the plain fabric.

1. Relaxation ~ The ocean drum works great for creating a background sound for relaxation. Play the drum by gently tilting it from side to side or in a motion that sends the ball bearings around in a circle. If you keep the clear side of the drum facing up, the ocean sound will be softer. I like to get a volunteer to play the ocean drum as I facilitate relaxation to music. Try some appropriate music from Enya or Kevin Kern and slowly describe some imagery of sitting on a warm beach or resting by a babbling brook.

2. Fishing ~ One of my favorite activities is to go fishing for songs. Turn a gathering drum upside down and use it as a "pond" for paper fish cutouts. Place paper clips on the mouth of each fish and use a magnet as the fishing lure to go fishing for songs written on the fish. As each child takes turns fishing, have another child play the ocean drum and sing the song, "You get a line, I'll get a pole..." In between fishing, sing the songs indicated on the fish that are caught. This is a great activity to give multiple kids something to do as they take turns using the fishing pole. The activity also provides a good structure for transitioning between songs and activities that can target specific learning objectives.

3. Portable gathering drum ~ An ocean drum has a great sound when played as a regular drum with your hands or soft headed mallets. This can be very useful if you want to share a drum with another person when sitting in chairs. A gathering drum, for example, is best played sitting around it on the floor. When sitting on the floor is not appropriate due to age or disability, the ocean drum provides a good substitute. The ocean drum can also be placed on a tray-table attached to a wheelchair. It maintains a good resonant sound even when it is placed on a table.

4. Focus of attention ~ The ocean drum is visually attractive and aurally unique. The drum with the fish graphic is colorful and full of a variety of sea creatures that stimulates discussion. The drum without the graphic still has the movement of the small ball bearings that have the ability to mesmerize! I have found that children with autism will often respond to the sound of the ocean drum by looking for the source of the sound. When they see the movement inside the drum they may respond to instructions to wait their turn or follow specific directions in order to gain the opportunity to play the ocean drum. This is a very strong motivator/reward for children with many different disabilities!

5. Surfing ~ This is an obvious choice of activity for use with the ocean drum. Get out your old Beach Boys recordings and turn on, "Surfing USA!" While two people make the waves on the ocean drum, get out those surfboards and catch a wave! This is a great movement to music activity for any age. Use pictures or a short video to set the stage if necessary.

Grab your ocean drum and I'll meet you down by the fishin' hole!

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