Body Percussion

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  • Hand claps
  • Hand rubs
  • Finger snaps
  • Foot stomps
  • Foot shuffles
  • Knee or thigh slaps
  • Chest, tummy, and shoulder slaps
  • Tongue clicks – see how many different sounds you can make this
  • Finger flicks against a cheek – again, you can get very different
    sounds depending on what you are doing with your mouth


 Different drumsticks or
beaters will give the same “instrument” many different sounds.

  • Hands, fingers, thumbs
  • Sticks, pens, pencils, rulers
  • Short lengths of dowel or bamboo
  • For a “brushed percussion” sound, use a kitchen basting brush, a
    scrubbing brush, a large, stiff paint brush, or wire brush
  • Spoons


Secure one of the following
onto the end of a stick, a pencil, or a short length of 1/2″ dowel.

  • A cork
  • A large wooden bead
  • Wrap many rubber bands around one end of the stick
  • A rubber ball or “superball”
  • Wrap one end of the stick, or wrap the bead or ball, with yarn or
  • Wrap felt or cloth around the end of the stick, or around the
    bead or ball


Real drums (instruments in which
you beat on a thin, taut membrane) are quite sophisticated,
difficult-to-construct instruments. Here are some easy stand-ins.

  • Empty plastic milk jugs
  • Upside-down pails, buckets, basins, or large cans
  • Empty plastic tubs (like margarine or ice cream tubs) with the
    lids on – usually, the bigger the tub, the better.
  • Lid or bottom (or both) of a large, empty coffee can
  • A sheet of canvas, plastic, plastic wrap, plastic bag, rubber,
    wrapping paper, waxed paper, or poster board stretched very taut over the lip of
    a wooden bowl or a clay flowerpot, held in place by strong tape, heavy rubber
    bands, or strong cord. Most “drums” made in this way will be much more delicate
    than real drums.
  • The bottom of an empty cylindrical oatmeal box
  • Don’t forget the traditional favorite: pots and pans
  • Two of any of these in different sizes is a set of bongos

Fillers for Shakers

Different fillers
can make very different sounds. Some will last better than others, and some will
be messier to work with than others. You may want to seal your shakers once you
have made them.

  • Dry rice, noodles, or beans
  • Unpopped popcorn
  • Beads or sequins of any size (different sizes and kinds will make
    different sounds)
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Pebbles
  • Sand or salt
  • Bottle caps (If you can make holes in the bottle caps you can
    also string them together to make rattles or tambourines.)

Containers for shakers or maracas

turn your shaker into a maraca, make a hole in the container, put a stick,
pencil, or short length of 1/2″ dowel into the hole, and tape it

  • Paper bag or plastic bag
  • Plastic Easter egg
  • Empty plastic tubs with lids
  • Dried gourd – very authentic and easy to grow in many places
  • Hollow balls, for example tennis balls and plastic “softballs” –
    you’ll have to make a hole in them to fill them; so you might as well make
  • Some seed pods come already filled with dried seeds and make
    great shakers
  • Make your own with papier-mache.

Cymbals, Gongs, Bells and Triangles

– The
trick to getting a good sound out of these instruments is to let them vibrate
freely. Don’t touch the part that is supposed to “ring” with your fingers or
anything soft. Hold it by a handle, hang it from a piece of string (make a hole
in the object, or tape the string to it), or set it on a hard surface.

  • Metal bowls that are a single curved surface (with no extra rim
    on the bottom to steady them) make great gongs. Set them on a hard surface. For
    a really cool effect, try swirling a very small amount of water in the bowl and
    strike it while the water is still swirling.
  • A metal clothes hanger
  • Trash can lids or pot lids
  • Metal pie plate
  • Hung flowerpots (use a soft beater)
  • The chimes from a windchime
  • Hammer large nails to different depths in a piece of lumber. Use
    another large nail as a beater to strike the nails in the wood.
  • For home-made wood blocks or marimba, rest hardwood boards or
    pieces of bamboo of different lengths across two other pieces of lumber.
  • String jingle bells or bottle caps on yarn, ribbon, or string to
    make hand, ankle, or wrist jingles.

Guiros and Washboards

These instruments
are played by scraping a hard stick or beater across the corrugations.

  • Heavy corrugated cardboard
  • Wrap and glue heavy string around a short piece of 1″ dowel.
  • Cheese grater
  • Saw, file, whittle, or cut notches into a piece of dowel or 1X1
    lumber, or a thick stick. Notch spacing should be on the order of 1/8″-1/4″.
  • Sandpaper

Sticks and Clicks

  • Stamping stick – A large, thick stick can be played by “stamping”
    it on the floor or in a bucket or basin.
  • Claves – Cut two short lengths of dowel, lumber, or sticks (about
    1″ diameter, and about 6″ long) to beat against each other. Smooth, hard wood
    gives the best sound. Make the sound more resonant by holding one clave cupped
    lightly in one hand while hitting it with the other.
  • Play thick pieces of bamboo as you would claves, or hang them and
    play them like gongs.
  • Pencils and wooden spoons can also be played like claves, but the
    sound will be much softer.
  • Finger Castanets – tie one button onto the thumb, and another
    onto the middle finger. Or use the halves of a walnut shell or small metal jar
  • Hand Castanets – loosely hold two spoons close together,
    back-to-back, in one hand, and swing them against the other hand to make them
  • Shake keys on a key ring, or click them against the palm of the

Not Percussion

  • The easiest way to get a “string” sound is to stretch rubber
    bands between fingers, nails, or thumbtacks, or around tubs or boxes. An
    old-fashioned wash tub bass, made using a small metal tub, broom handle, and
    thick string, is fairly easy to construct.
  • Blow across the lip of a glass jug or bottle.
  • The easiest “wind instrument” to make is a kazoo, which you play
    by humming into it. Use a square of waxed paper or tissue paper, and either
    rubber-band it onto one end of a cardboard tube or fold it over the teeth of a
    small comb.
  • You can make a simple “horn” or “trumpet” by taping a tin funnel
    to the end of a yard or two of garden hose, plastic pool tubing, or any other
    flexible tubing about 1″ in diameter, but getting a sound out of your instrument
    may require a real mouthpiece and someone who knows how to play a brass

Thanks for the original article by Catherine Schmidt-Jones @