Tongue Drums @ Sound Play workshops

An invitation to explore sounds on the tongue drums with different beaters

Over the years, it has been an absolute pleasure and honour to be able to contribute Rhythm Circle music sessions to IYAP ( Inclusive Youth Arts Programme at the Attenborough Arts Centre) both online and in-person.

Last Sunday on 28th April, I brought along my newest musical toys (tongue drums) to share with the young people who attended two IYAP sessions. Tongue drums are simply one of the most useful instruments for music workshops. These versatile instrument are tactile, incredibly robust and immediately playable. They were especially useful for young people with PMLD (Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties) as they only neede the gentlest little tap to make a sound.

Larger tongue drums give deeper pitches which are the best for feeling vibrations. The smaller ones can only make higher pitches which some young people preferred. We placed the tongue drums on backs, tummies, heads, knees to feel its vibrations. We then explored the timbres made by using different beaters with felt / rubber heads and the swishy sounds made by drum brushes. Did you know that you can pop in small rubber balls into the cavity of the tongue drums? The balls make lovely soft chimes if you roll them around. A great way to create some aleatoric music (music created by chance elements).

Tongue drums also tempt players to indulge in a spot of spontaneous musical composition. The tongues are numbered and players can easily make up sound patterns using the numbers as a visual aid.

I am already looking forwards to my next visit in June 2024 – can’t wait to build on the musical explorations started last week. Perhaps we should measure the duration of sounds made by the tongue drums….

The Inclusive Youth Arts Programme provides activities for children and young people with complex needs and disabilities. The Attenborough Arts Centre has been supporting families with special needs for over 20 years and has an amazing  year-round programme of events.

Talking about Timbre

Timbre is a musical element which describes the quality of a sound.

You could describe a sound in terms of pitch / intensity / duration / whether or not it had a repeated pattern but also in terms of its timbre (clanking / rasping / chiming / thudding / buzzing / metallic etc. sound). Interestingly, this musical element can be simultaneously easy and difficult to articulate with words depending on one’s vocabulary and life experience.

We use lots of onomatopoeic words (zoom, bang, whoosh, hiss, etc… words whose sound matches the sound of they describe) to describe sounds found in everyday life. So it can be just a little step to apply these words to music.

Commonly used onomatopoeic words. What is your favourite?

This summer, Rhythm Circle’s Musical Holiday Club ended with a workshop on Timbre. We explored sounds which you could make using the human body (no rude sounds allowed!). Cue lots of foot stomping/ clapping / finger and tongue clicking / hair swishing. What made a ‘tap’ different to a ‘boom’? How could you make whispery sounds without using your voice?

Vocal sounds were great fun and led into a discussion about how a face might look when producing a particular sound. It was great spelling practice for the students to write down their lists of sounds.

In the RC workshop, two different groups of students used Rebecca Rochelle’s poem ‘Fireworks’ to create a musical soundscape. The poem consisted of words which described the sound of fireworks. The students explored and demonstrated ways to create sounds which matched each word. We discovered that ‘zoom’ seemed to inspire movement, and everyone unanimously agreed that ‘whizz’ was the hardest one to demonstrate.