Music and Culture/Creating Simple Rhythms – Lesson Plan

Students make and play homemade drums.

  • Length: 1-2 class periods
  • Grades: K-3


  • Students will begin to demonstrate an awareness of the elements of music.
  • Students will experience music of diverse cultures, periods, and styles.

Resource Used:
“Grass Dance Song,” performed by Dennis Banks
From: Old Music for New Ears Program 19

Vocabulary and Materials

percussion instruments, rhythm

TV/VCR or DVD player

materials for making drums, such as

  • large juice or oatmeal boxes, coffee cans, water or milk jugs, etc. for the drum body
  • material to stretch tight over the body for the drum skin, such as balloons, paper sacks, inner tubing, etc.
  • large heavy rubber bands or duct tape to affix the skin to the body
  • mallet materials such as pencils
  • materials and supplies for decorating the drum, such as paints, construction paper, beads, feathers, paste, etc.

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Instructional Strategies and Activities

Large-Group Activity (10 minutes)

  1. Ask students: “Who were the first Americans?” [Native Americans, American Indians] Tell them: “Percussion instruments were used by the first Americans. Percussion instruments are played by striking, shaking, or scraping.” Then ask: “What percussion instrument was often used by Native Americans?” [drum] “How do you think drums were used by Native Americans early in our country’s history?” List students’ responses on the chalkboard.
  2. Show the KET video excerpt “Grass Dance Song” by Dennis Banks.
  3. Add to the students’ list of drum uses from material learned in the video. For example, drums were used to mark births, naming ceremonies, marriage, and passing into the spirit world.

Cooperative Group Activity (20 minutes)

Making a Homemade Drum

  1. Materials to make a variety of drums should be gathered, organized, and ready for student use. The Mudcat Café web site has lots of suggestions for making homemade drums (see Resources section for web address).
  2. Divide the class into groups of 2 or 3.
  3. If possible, allow students to make some choices as they make a drum: choice of drum style, choice of materials, choice of mallets, etc. If you make the “balloon tom tom” from the web site, let students choose balloon colors for their drums. Choices can be made with the help of the Twin Talk Communicator communication device (see Resources section for explanation). If time allows, let students decorate their drums.

Playing a Homemade Drum

  1. Drum playing adaptations: A student unable to play may hold a drum in his/her lap as another pupil strikes the drum. Also, a student unable to play may hold an inflated balloon in his/her lap to feel vibrations from drumming (students must sit close to drums to feel vibrations through the balloon). Adaptive technology or communication aids, such as BIGmack switches, can be used instead of playing the drum. Drum sounds can be recorded on the switch and activated by the student. See Resource section for more information about adaptive technology.
  2. Lead students in playing a steady beat on their homemade drums as they heard Dennis Banks do in the video. Tap the beat on a student’s shoulders to help establish the beat.
  3. Alter the drum-playing pattern to include some silence. For example, play “strike, strike, silence.”
  4. Instruct students to plan and then play their own patterns of striking and silence on the drum.
  5. Tell students: “You have been playing different rhythms on the drum. Rhythms are long and short sounds put together with long and short silences. Now I’d like you to share your rhythm with the class.”
  6. Evaluate each student’s ability in these areas:
    • manipulating the drum
    • making a sound on the drum
    • using the mallet (if a mallet is used)
    • manipulating the mallet
    • copying a drum pattern
    • creating an original drum pattern
  7. Add movement to drum rhythms by having students explore shuffling movements with their feet, as Dennis Banks describes in the video.
  8. Lead the class in performing, with half the students playing drums and the other half making shuffling movements to the beat. Switch so that every student gets a chance to move and to accompany the movement on the drum.

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Performance Assessment

Performance Event:
Students will demonstrate an understanding of rhythm by playing their own homemade drums.

Students will plan and perform their own patterns of drumming—striking and silence—for the class.

Performance Scoring Guide

4 3 2 1 0
Student successfully creates his or her own drum pattern of striking and silence. The student successfully performs the pattern for other students in the class. Student successfully creates his or her own drum pattern of striking and silence. Student performs the pattern for other students in the class. Student successfully copies a drum pattern presented in class. The student is not completely successful in performing the pattern for other students in the class. Student is not successful in creating or copying a drum pattern. The student is not successful in performing for other students in the class. No attempt is made.

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K-12The Arts