May 8, 2015
Found-Object Drum Set
I’ve always been a fan of anything that gets art into more places, especially places that we don’t often think of that way. That’s why I’m such a fan of buskering (playing music for tips in public). I also am a fan of anything that “unlocks” the music within people or objects. Finally, I’m a fan of recycling and reusing, especially when it’s easy to do.
As it happens, my latest musical experiment incorporates all of these elements: I’m working on a junk drum set. I considered the elements in a traditional drum set (snare, bass drum, toms and cymbals), and I asked myself whether I could replicate them with objects I found either at home, or in my neighbours’ recycling bins. Originally, I toyed with making a DIY bass pedal for a larger bass drum, but ultimately, I wanted a junk drum set that was smaller and more portable, without need for a stand to hold the various elements off the ground.
I also watched several YouTube videos on found percussion and improvised drums. I found some great ones, like the ones of the Italian drummer Dario Rossi (click here to see his). Some of the drummers quite naturally arranged the found objects on the floor in a semi-circle around themselves, usually sitting cross-legged on the floor. The arrangement looks like the top tier of a typical drum set.
My objects are currently as follows:
Sticks: two sticks cut from a tree in the woods. I left the bark on the handle portion for a rustic look.
Bass drum: medium-sized cardboard box, from a laptop.
Snare drums: metal toolbox and a frying pan with a metal jar lid and bottle caps inside.
Cymbals: metal lamp, camp cooking pot and drinking cup.
Miscellaneous: tambourine and wooden frog (these two are cheating, technically, as they’re purpose-made instruments).
I’m neither a trained stick drummer, nor even an experienced one. I’ve only used hand drums (djembe, bongos, bodhran, etc.) so far, and rather simply at that. I have rhythm, but haven’t pursued technical drumming, or drumming with sticks in particular. I’ve always been interested to learn but didn’t pursue it because drum kits are so loud, large and expensive. Also, as a vocalist, drumming wouldn’t be something I could likely do on stage. So, my junk set seems like a good way to work toward better percussion skills in a cheap and easy setup.
Here are some pros and cons of this type of improvised set:
2. Reuse and recycle old junk
3. Easy to transport (the whole set fits in a large suitcase)
4. Visually interesting, compared to the same old drum set everyone has seen
5. Not as loud: better for apartments and live acoustic jams
6. Easy to experiment/adapt. New pieces are all around and free
1. Not loud enough for live shows (though would be with microphones)
2. Some might laugh at its unconventional look
3. The items move on the floor, so precision takes adaptive playing
4. Would be hard to see in a concert setting (on the floor)
5. Durability for some items is an issue (e.g. the cardboard box), but replacements are free
6. Doesn’t have that ‘rock star’ look
In the end, I don’t plan to become a professional junk drummer (and, yes, such a thing does exist, as in the group STOMP), but I do plan to improve my percussion skills in general, which I believe has already happened in the few weeks of practice. In particular, my left (non-dominant) hand is coming into its own. This kind of experimental drumming is addictive—grab two pencils or a set of chopsticks, start banging on the desk and you’ll see what I mean!