This video is the first in the series called Using The Whacky Wizards Program. It was created as a resource for teachers who are interested in trying out Boomwhackers in their classrooms, particularly when used with Whacky Wizards.
Thanks for watching this video about tips and tricks when using Boomwhackers in your classroom. One of the nicest things about Boomwhackers is how little technique or special treatment they need, but nonetheless I hope that this lesson can help you preserve your instruments and your sanity.
THREE GOLDEN RULES OF BOOMWHACKERS
For many years I made my living travelling to schools throughout Eastern Ontario and West Quebec doing rhythm workshops with drums and Boomwhackers. Before any boomwhacker workshop, before the kids could touch the instruments, I went over these three rules.
Sometimes I will say something along the lines of Boomwhackers are NOT telescopes, they are NOT trumpets, they are NOT hearing aids.
Of course, the main reason for this is that you don’t want germs being spread around this way, but I did have an unfortunate experience once of a young boy putting a boomwhacker up to his eye to look through it at the kids sitting next to him. The kid sitting next to him didn’t like this and bopped the end of the boomwhacker, jamming it onto the first boy’s eye. The first boy ended up with an ugly purple shiner.
This last rule is essential to keeping order in your class. You can’t possibly give instructions or help individuals if others continue to play when it’s not time to play. One way to regulate this more is by doing something I call The Big Finish, which I’ll explain next.
THE BIG FINISH
In my experience, often when kids have something in their hands that can make noise, they just want to make noise. I don’t think there’s a way to completely suppress this, so it’s better to let them have some controlled releases.
When I am done a particular song or exercise with kids, I will often get them to do a Big Finish, which is simply a kind of drum roll where they can all play as fast and as loud as they want for a few seconds. I signal the end of the big finish by lifting up my arms and bringing them down to signal Boomwhackers down, at which point the noise needs to stop. You can call it a big finish, a grand finale, a thunder roll, anything you want. It’s just a great way to signal when it’s time for the music to stop and the listening to start.
My favorite way to store Boomwhackers is in 5 gallon buckets. You can store 6 one octave sets in 2 buckets. One bucket is for the four lowest notes of the set, one is for the four highest. You can make your own labels or download these ones from the link included in this lesson. Buckets work really well for distributing the instruments among your students and putting them away, which I’ll explain more in the next section of the video.
If your classroom has more than six sets, I recommend storing them in 4 buckets rather than three. Two for High, two for low. If you keep the distinction between high notes and low notes and it will make so many aspects of using the instruments and Whacky Wizards easier.
Don’t try to jam more into a bucket than will fit. If the Boomwhackers get squished they can loose their form and begin to crack. A happy Boomwhacker is a round Boomwhacker.
You can also store them in large totes. This one will hold 10 one octave sets with extra room for octave caps if you take the time to lay them in carefully. This is a great way to save space and transport the instruments, but is much less practical if you are using them several times a week.
WHERE TO PLAY
My favourite way to play and teach Boomwhackers is to have the kids sit in a semi-circle on the floor, ideally around a carpeted area, where they can all see the projector or SmartBoard. Unfortunately, this is not possible for everyone, in which case students can just use the instruments on the surface of their own desk or table space. Clear off everything from these workspaces before you begin, as the kids will need some space to move and accidents of knocking things to the floor can be avoided.
DISTRIBUTION AND COLLECTION
When you are first staring out with Boomwhackers, if the kids are really young, or you’re learning a new song, you might only assign one instrument per child. But I find that having both hands occupied with a Boomwhacker is most often the best way to go.
You can assign designated students to take the high or low buckets around the classroom to help distribute them. Often your students will need to take one from the high bucket and one from the low. When putting them away, again, students can walk around collecting high notes in one bucket and low notes in the other. If you use two hands to tip the bucket towards the person taking one or putting it back, it helps the Boomwhackers to fit nicely. If you keep your Boomwhackers this way, with practice you’ll find that you can get them out and put them away fairly quickly with your students.
Sometimes, particularly when using the rhythm tutor, you’ll want your students to just take two contrasting instruments, one high and one low, and the particular notes don’t matter. In that case they can just take one from each bucket. Other times, when they need to take specific notes, they are easier to pick out and find, because they will soon learn which four colors are high and which are low.
You can also simply leave the buckets at the front of the classroom, and once you have assigned groups or given instructions, ask students to come up and take the instruments they need from them. We’ll talk more about designating groups in the next section. It depends a bit on your teaching style, individual students, and protocols if you like kids to get up and grab them like that.
SETTING UP GROUPS
Again, there are times when using the Boomwhackers where it won’t really matter which notes the students choose. They like to have that freedom of choice. But other times, in order to make sure that certain pitches are represented equally, or when learning lessons about the relationships between pitches, or when trying certain songs or patterns, you’ll need to designate groups.
When specific pitches are required, most often you’ll need to distribute the instruments between three groups. You can use the seating arrangement of the class or count the students off into groups. You will probably find that when you first start, having the same instrument groups sitting together makes it easier for everyone. Kids can learn their parts as a group and take cues from each other.
When students have really achieved some mastery with a song or exercise try blending the groups so that students are not sitting next to someone doing the same thing as them. This is much more challenging, but makes the music they are creating sound more unified.
To make things interesting, and so that each student has the opportunity to try each pairing of instruments, I highly recommend having kids switch instruments often. Maye try a song three or four times, then have them switch. The first few times you try this it will be absolute chaos, but they will get used to it with a little practice.
This is my method for switching instruments. Regardless of how many groups you have ONLY ONE GROUP MOVES. This is the key. Group 1 will take their instruments and trade them to Group 2. Group 2 does not stand up or move, but will trade the two Boomwhackers they just had to Group 1. Group 1 will now repeat the same process with Group 3, trading the instruments they just received from Group 2 for Group 3’s. Then Group 1 will return to their seats with the instruments from Group 3. This way, all three groups will have a new pair of Boomwhackers, and the lesson can continue.
HOW TO PLAY
Making a sound with a Boomwhacker is pretty simple, you simply need to strike it against a surface for it to make a noise. You will get the clearest sound if the instrument is allowed to bounce naturally, which luckily they tend to do. Teach your students to hold onto the Boomwhackers with only enough tension that they won’t fly out of their hands to get the best sound. Clutching them too tightly isn’t good for the Boomwhacker or the player.
There are two things which should always be avoided.
First, never strike the boomwhacker so that it is hitting the edge of a desk or table, or across the back of a chair. This will dent and crease the tubes greatly affecting their sound quality and durability. Dents and creases can’t be fixed and your Boomwhackers will have a very short lifespan.
Second, never play the Boomwhackers so that the entire length of the instrument strikes the surface at once. This has less to do with protecting the instruments as it does about protecting your ears. Playing this way distorts the sound of the instrument and doubles or even triples the volume. My advice is to not even show the students that this can be done, and only deal with the problem when someone discovers it by accident. Otherwise, everyone will want to try it and you will never get that one mischievous kid to stop doing it. It’s no joke - Forty Boomwhackers in a classroom doing this simultaneously can create noise levels high enough to cause hearing damage.
Octave caps allow you to extend the range of the Boomwhackers by one octave lower than the standard pitches. Simply put the cap on one end of the tube to hear the effect.
Care must be taken when putting on the caps that the students don’t jam or force them on because this can crease and crack the ends of the instrument. Align them to the end of the instrument, and push them on with a gentle twist. Don’t force them on or pound the tubes down into them. Remove them in the same way, by pulling with a gentle twist.
When playing with Octave caps, don’t hit the capped end against the floor, or drop the instrument down on the caps. In addition to the fact that the sound it makes is not particularly pleasant, it can also damage the caps and tubes.
The octave caps work because of a very interesting principle of acoustics. For most kids the official explanation is too complicated, but you may want to explain it like this:
Normally when the tube is struck the sound wave produced can travel out both ends of the tube, creating a wave that corresponds to the length of the tube. When one end is capped, the sound wave tries to go out the capped end but is blocked, bouncing it back through the open end. This doubles the length the sound has to travel, which doubles the wavelength. Any time a sound wave length is doubled, it drops down an octave. The same principle holds true between the short red C and the long red C in the standard set of Boomwhackers. One is double the length of the other.
Boomwhackers are made of a very durable plastic and are incredibly easy to clean. Just wipe them down with a cloth or disinfectant wipe. Or you use the bucket to create a bleach solution, dip them in and lay them out to dry.
Another way to deal with germ sharing is to make sure the students use hand sanitizer before and after using the instruments, and even between instrument switches if need be. Most students during COVID times have a bottle at their desks or close by.
The biggest concern with Boomwhackers is keeping them round and dent or crease free. This might sound obvious, but don’t let your students sit or stand on them, or otherwise squish them in any way. If someone is hitting their boomwhacker too hard, this can cause the end to go flat. There is no need to hit them that hard, but if it happens, gently roll and massage the tube between your hands to get it round again.
If the instruments sound ‘out of tune’ being out of round is often the cause. A dented or folded instrument will never sound right.
Eventually, the ends of the Boomwhackers will start to crack and break. You can still continue to use them but this is a sign that you should start saving up to replace them. If they are treated well, they should last should last several years with regular use.
This summarizes the best practices that I have learned over 15 years of teaching Boomwhackers to thousands of kids at every age. But its certainly not exhaustive and it is equally not complete. I’m sure that you can adapt things to your own situation, and I would love to know what innovations you have found and tips and tricks that you could share.
As always, thanks for watching. See you soon.
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The following tables outline the curricular connections that are addressed by principles presented in this tutorial.
In particular, it lists which Specific Learner Expectations (Concepts and Skills) are covered according to the
Alberta Curriculum for Elementary Music.
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Reading & Writing
6. Play rhythm instruments correctly
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