How to Use Boomwhackers in Your Music Classroom
Updated: 2 days ago
If you're looking to begin boomwhackers in your elementary music classroom, this is a great place to start! From simple, introductory activities to bigger group activities and manageable 1-day projects, I've got a bunch of ideas for you to make boomwhackers a reality in your classroom.
Your students will not only have fun, but they'll be making music right away- that means feeling successful and proud of themselves (part of why I think we love being music teachers!).
P.S. Did you know I have a YouTube channel where I do music teacher toolbox chats about topics like this? If you're not connected with me there, make sure you subscribe to learn more meaningful elementary music strategies!
Boomwhackers are noisy. They're colorful. They're big. But they're awesome! And you should be using them with your students.
Yes. I am telling you to enthusiastically put long, colorful, noise-making tubes into the hands of 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds.
Even if you've never used them before, even if your classroom management skills are still developing, this post will help illuminate why boomwhackers are something you should definitely try with your elementary kids.
In this post, I focus on activities good for grades 3, 4, and 5. We'll talk about introductory rules, beginning activities, whole class activities, and songs to use with your students. Every student can have a boomwhacker in their hand and have a great time with it!
Make sure to read to the end for a boomwhacker activity and a boomwhacker freebie! :)
You need rules around these instruments that keep the tubes safe and in good condition, keep the noise level down, and have kids playing only when you want them to.
I like showing my students how to use the boomwhackers by performing something simple, like Hot Cross Buns or just a two-note ostinato. Asking them to notice how you're holding the boomwhacker, how hard you're hitting it, from what joint (wrist, elbow, or shoulder), and whether it bounces or not makes it more interactive than a lecture. They then know how to use, and have seen me using, the boomwhackers correctly: holding them about a third to halfway up, hitting to hear a full sound, and striking from the wrist with a rebound.
You do, though, need to explicitly state your expectations. My students may play only when I say, and when my hand goes up, the boomwhackers are placed on the floor out of hands. I tell them that it may be tempting to play, and I understand that, but we are going to try our best. We practice these rules, which also helps us understand what safe and unsafe volume levels sound like.
If it's your first time using boomwhackers with kids, be firm about these rules. We do several simple exercises, which I'll get into below, and if students do it correctly or incorrectly, I tell them (ex. "I asked for us to hit three times. Did we do that? Let's try again."
Keeping activities simple but fast-paced keeps kids on the ball, and giving them immediate feedback lets them have another opportunity to show they can listen to instructions. I want my kids to do well with boomwhackers, so I give them lots of these opportunities on the first day.
Hot Cross Buns
We might all be tired of this one by now, but Hot Cross Buns is a simple song that a lot of kids know. If I'm not ready to give every kid a boomwhacker right away, I give them the opportunity to be...
the "buns", or the Prima Bunn-erina (I was VERY proud of that name).
A student comes up to play the song with me. I have E and D, or Mi and Re, and they get C, or Do, which means they play on the words "buns" and "one a penny." It's very exciting for them and I make a big hurrah when they finish!
Once a few have mastered the buns, I ask for another student to be the "cross" and "two a penny," so now all I have is Mi, or "hot."
I don't have three students come up to play the whole song, because this becomes a mini project in the next class or two.
Whole Class Activities
You can totally start the whole class with boomwhackers (once you've modeled and stated the rules). But you will need to divide the boomwhackers so that you can get at least one full diatonic scale, and two is better. (Don't have that many? You'll have to have kids switch off with each other- just wipe them down in between or have kids hand sanitize.)
My kids sit in a circle so we create a two-octave diatonic scale. Depending on how many kids in the class, I double up some notes and make it clear that they are TWO people but ONE note so they need to hit together.
You can talk about the relationship between length and pitch here, or when you're first introducing the boomwhackers. They'll wonder what the black caps do too, if you're using them. This is a great time to introduce the vocabulary word octave!
Have your students play a scale from low to high, note by note, listening to the rising pitch level. Then have them do it in reverse, low to high. The first time might be rough, but have them try again with a steady beat. Once they get the hang of it, go up and down in one run.
Pass the Rhythm
Pick a 4-beat rhythm and pass it from person to person in scale order. Tip: putting a rest on beat 4 helps kids practice internal beat. Often they like to rush the rest or skip it- nope! It needs to be felt for its full value.
Have the kids perform this pattern:
C E D F E G F A G B A C' B C'
and then reverse it! Ask them to try visualizing it beforehand, or (if you feel it's safe) have them pass a ball in the "shape" it will make. Then transfer that shape to boomwhackers.
Small group activities
Musication has a great playalongs that are diver and easy to follow. They're perfect for helping kids get used to boomwhacker etiquette (how to hold, hit, etc), and they're just plain fun!
For an added challenge, I mute the video on the 3rd performance so it's just the kids playing.
This was fun when I was an elementary band director, too. I wrote out a series of children's songs in solfege or letter names and had students try to figure out what these secret songs were!
With boomwhackers, this becomes a great digital activity to cut down on noise (because yes, these instruments get LOUD fast) and turn it into a little competition.
On my digital version, they look like this (written in fixed Do notation) and we use the website PlayXylo to play them.
It's a fun end-of-year activity for in-person or virtual/distance learners, or a good sub plan. If you think this is something your kids would like, you can grab it over at my TPT store.
I have a winter holiday version too! This one includes songs like Jingle Bells, Up on the Housetop, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and... can you guess Secret Song #4 in the picture? 😉
Hot Cross Buns
Even if you've done this as a beginning activity (detailed above), you can do this as a small group activity. But save it for day 2 or 3.
Have students get into groups with sets of boomwhackers (CDE, FGA, GBD; or use chromatics if you have them for greater variety) and have them figure out Hot Cross Buns.
As you circulate, ask questions before offering help. "Who goes first?" "Who plays on the word 'buns'?" "Do you think it would be easier to sit in a line or a circle as you practice?" Students knowing that the highest note starts will help everything else fall into place, so I'd make sure that every group gets to that point within a few minutes.
Check each group, then let them give performances for the class. Video tape them and watch them the next day!
I taught my 3s and 4s Mi Cuerpo, as well as a short dance during the refrain, this past week. On Day 2, we added boomwhackers to be the accompanying chords (I, IV, and V).
I wrote out the chords in 3 voices and printed the notation out for students to read. It's actually a freebie in my TPT store- grab it here!
(I realized the La and Ti colors should be reversed after I took this photo! But I did reprint it correctly.)
Then, 6 students went up to perform after I modeled every part.
As those 6 students performed the chords, the rest of us sang and did the dance! Switch it up so all students have a chance to perform on the boomwhackers. I recorded it with my 4th graders, and they were very proud of themselves.
You can do this with any simple song that uses similar chords. This kind of activity is a wonderful way for you to become more of a facilitator. Rather than teacher/students, you've got a groups of performers contributing something unique to make a more full performance. Students are part of the product but also the process- and that is the foundation for meaningful music education!
For older students, I highly encourage you to use boomwhackers in composition.
Songwriting is a great way to do this!
Type up a list of words that go with a theme, or are totally random, or are a combo of both. Print them and put them into buckets. Have groups draw a certain number of words to use in their song lyrics.
(This is why I like using themed as well as random words... I love the idea of writing a song about a sleigh, a tree, gingerbread, something magical, and a limousine!)
Once groups have written their lyrics, they can assign boomwhackers to each word. Write each note name under the word, or underline each word with the color of the boomwhacker they want.
The project itself is pretty straightforward, and kids will LOVE the chance to be silly songwriters.
If the idea of creating all of this yourself is daunting, go buy the whole project (all student and teacher materials) in my store. So far, I've got a winter theme and a Thanksgiving theme... but there's more to come, so make sure you're following me here!
Do you have boomwhackers in your classroom? How do you use them?
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Eager to try something of mine out in your classroom? This Animal Rhythms worksheet is a perfect first assessment or check-for-understanding when introducing quarter and eighth notes. Perfect for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders!