Monday, May 6, 2013

Bucket Drumming 101

So, I've seen bucket drumming videos all over YouTube. It got me really excited so I decided to do a bucket drumming unit in 6th grade to end the year. The only thing....where to start???

My middle school students are difficult to say the least so I knew this might be a challenge; however, they are the most capable for this kind of activity. I was hoping that they would catch a bit of success early and run with it.

We started this unit in April. I wanted to write a post about what has worked and what could go better for anyone in the same boat as me.

Getting Started
  • Getting Buckets
    5 gallon buckets are expensive! Ok, not Orff instrument expensive, but for what they are, they are expensive! So, one day I had a brilliant idea! Ask the cafeteria manager if they have empty 5 gal buckets that they are just going to throw away. And....they did! Woo-hoo free buckets!! The only downside: it will take a few weeks to gather enough buckets for an ensemble.
  • Plan B: The Dollar Tree! I got several different shaped (different sounds) buckets. They had mop buckets that sound great! I also got some popcorn bowls and mini trashcans without the lids. It is really nice to have different timbres.
  • Drumsticks: For now we have been using mallets from the sound shapes and some wooden mallets intended for elementary music. This has worked fine and no one has complained! I'm amazed!

    How to Teach
  • In my class, we reviewed note values. I didn't spend a ton of time on values that they don't see when drumming. We covered quarter, eighths, sixteenths and quarter and eighth rests. Our main focus was counting! Everyone has their own way to teach this. I just made sure that there was no confusion on the eighth notes and counting 1 &. HERE is a PDF of my smartboard presentation. (For some reason, when I saved it as a pdf my drawn eighth rests have disappeared. Just pencil them in when you use this)
  • We did a bunch of rhythm echoes! I think this is a great method to get kids to perform without all the stress of reading, especially when they are beginners. We started out with body percussion, then did a day of Boomwhackers and now on the buckets.
  • Boomwhackers were a great help in this unit. We played echo patterns, poison, pass the rhythm and several tunes from the Boomwhacker song book. 6th grade really enjoyed this and it helped them develop their skills when playing together. It also made everyone more responsible for their part. ;)

    Music and Teaching Materials
  • A great intro to this unit was "Boom Sha Boom"! This was fantastic! Everyone loved it and it really served the purpose of learning to play together and listen across the ensemble. Once we knew the words, I had them close their eyes and chant. When they were successful at that, they then closed their eyes and said the chant to themselves, silently. It is very entertaining to watch!
  • I found a great site when I was researching materials for this unit. Bucket Drumming Stuff from Mr. Moss Music Teacher is a wonderful resource. You can download rhythm exercises and ensemble pieces here. Fabulous! And the sequencing is great! If you can't download them from that site, try HERE for the pre-levels and HERE for levels 1-7.
  • When we finally started drumming with the buckets (week 5), I took the time to hook up the metronome to the loud speaker and make them follow the beat. As awful as that was, the results were miraculous! They are so excited and wanted to go so fast. I stared them off at 120 and it was a huge failure. I turned it back to 80 and they were a million times better instantly. I also set the met to subdivide eighths and made them play straight eighths at different tempos for a while. 
  • Also, I ALWAYS COUNT THEM OFF WITH THE SUBDIVISION!!!!! (1 and 2 and ready and go now). They melt down without it.
  • I taught them a modified version of Eight on a Hand. We play eight clicks (4 eighths) on the right hand, 8 on the left, 8 with hands together and 8 eight with hands alternating. Set the met at 100 and use the eighth note subdivision. We play through it once, fix hand, posture, etc. then loop it 2 or 3 times. This really helps coordination, especially with the left hand.
  • I am planning to use "Sonata for Seven Rulers" by Cathy Blair. I found it in an old Activate magazine and thought it would be a perfect "end of the unit fun song". I did buy wooden rulers and yard sticks and painted them with glow in the dark paint like the piece suggested.

I have loved bucket drumming! I want to start an after school ensemble next year! I am so optimistic with this unit that this will become a core part of my curriculum. If you are interested in starting a bucket drumming unit, I really hope this helps!

Questions or concerns? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Thank you! I'm a first year teacher who is looking to inspire some sixth graders and your resources will be a great help!

  2. I was so excited to see this in my feed! I teach 5th and 6th grade music and am looking for a next step rhythm activity to use between the cup dance and applying it to recorders. The buckets could also double as seating options as that is another post I was looking at. Thank you for the fun ideas, I can't wait to give it a try next year!

  3. I never thought to ask my cafeteria staff for buckets. So smart!

  4. Thank you for posting what all you did - I'm just starting into elementary music after 10 years of middle school band and general music! I wanted to try something like this, so thanks for all the ideas!

  5. I did bucket drumming this year and had a parent (who is a drummer) come and present in my class. I loved it, except after 9 classes of drumming, my ears were shot! I had the worst headache (and I don't normally get them). I was using drum sticks. Any suggestions? I don't have enough soft mallets to go around.

    1. I haven't tried this myself yet, but I'm considering using vinyl or rubber tubing from the hardware store. If I put pieces on the ends of my rhythm sticks, I'm thinking it would dampen the sound from the stick. Might bounce better against the plastic bucket too.

  6. We used mallets that come with those sound shapes. That was tolerable.

    Here is an example of the mallets we used:

    Since this was my first time trying this unit, I just used what I had. We also used some small rhythm sticks which were louder than those sound shape mallets.

  7. Thank you so much I was part of an after school program where they taught students but drumming and not that I am in my first year of teaching I am adding a unit of bucket drums for rest of the fall semester. I have a 40 minute general music class and I plan to use buckets with my 4 and 5 grades. The grade level has been difficult at times but they really need more hands on learning and buckets is where it's at. My school has no instruments at all and no money to buy anything. Thank you for sharing your ideas with all of us. Happy Drumming!!!

  8. Call up pool cleaning companies during the spring and they'll give you dozens and dozens of buckets. Different sizes too!

  9. For drum sticks...get some wooden dows and cut them into 12 to 14 inches...different widths make different sounds

    1. This is a "why didn't I think of that!?" moment! Thanks so much!

  10. Also ask your custodial staff to save you the wax buckets from over the summer when they rewax the floors. I got a bunch that way

  11. Cassandra, Thanks SO much for sharing your adventure with bucket drumming, including your visuals and resources! You saved me so much time this week! Though, I was unable to download from Mr. Moss' site... maybe due to school filters or program issues?

  12. Great ideas! What is poison? and Pass the Rhythm? Thanks for you help.

  13. I was able to get free buckets from the bakery department of my local grocery store. Just ask for their icing pails. I performed the Sonata for Seven Rulers with my Grade 6 class last year. I approached my local hardware store and they donated paint sticks to use instead of rulers.

  14. Thanks so much for sharing your bucket drumming resources! I'm a private music school owner and I'm teaching Junior Drum Camp next week (rising k-3rd grade), and we're building a table-top drum kit from household items... bucket (bass), book (snare), taped-together silverware (hi-hat) and tin cake pan (crash). Your blog post has given me some more ideas. Thanks a ton!