Bob Pepper bangs out a welcome to a range of innovative beat instruments. Brightly-coloured jungle creatures peer out from the undergrowth in a vibrant collage bristling with movement and luxuriant plant life. A touch on the skin of the drum and the deep, resonant sound gives further sustenance for the imagination of any young player to feed on.
This "Kid's Konga Drum", with its combination of great looks, sturdy construction, sonority of sound and colourful decoration will, I am sure, prove irresistible to teachers and pupils alike. It is just one of the items from Acorn Percussion's exciting new American range of percussion instruments.
All drums used to be decorated to enhance their aesthetic appeal and, no doubt, for the pleasure this gave to the maker. It is this feature as much as any which makes many of these instruments a sheer delight. The lollipop drum, for example, with its colourful, candy-like swirls looks almost good enough to eat. It is portable and makes an excellent instrument for the teacher or pupil to lead group activities with a steady pulse that everyone can follow. It also offers a range of sounds, depending on which part of the skin is struck with the soft beater provided.
The large goblet-shaped djembe drum originates from Africa and has the added feature of being tunable, which makes it adaptable for use with pitched instruments, perhaps with older children in ensemble work. It possesses a very good range with a particularly impressive bass sound. The tubano, on the other hand, is Afro-Cuban in origin and has the advantage of integral feet, leaving the hands completely free to concentrate on performance.
When purchasing for the classroom, it is sometimes difficult to select instruments which are sufficiently varied in the range of sounds and creative inspiration they offer. The advantage of the drums in this collection is that they each possess an individual character, are held differently and make a variety of sound contributions to singing, performing and composing activities. The buffalo drum derives from a Native American model and uses a rope-cross hand-grip, whereas the ocean drum is double-headed and produces realistic surf-breaking sounds by virtue of the visible infill of constantly-moving steel shot.
Originality of design and aesthetic appeal are also important features of the other instruments in this set. The tamboracca, for example, is light with a novel hexagon shape and is available in a variety of attractive colours. Alternatively, you might prefer the fish tambourine which boasts a resonator handle that is capable of producing an extraordinary "wah-wah" effect. Perhaps the least attractive instrument in appearance is the nutshell cluster rattle, ugly in shape and a dirty brown colour. It is nevertheless quite sturdy and capable of producing a subtle range of sounds over a wide dynamic range.
In selecting these instruments, Acorn Percussion has managed to strike a balance between good looks, sturdy construction and professional sound. The prices are not cheap, but they are certainly reasonable for the quality on offer. Although they are mainly directed at key stages 1 and 2, they are well worth consideration by secondary schools as well.
The ocarina is technically a "round flute" and is ancient, going back to pre-Columbian Latin America, writes Gerald Haigh.
Fat and jolly in appearance, and good to hold, the ocarina looks child-friendly. It is also easy to play, using a special notation that indicates finger positions on a chart rather than notes on a stave. It has a pleasant mellow tone, and a further advantage is that if you blow too hard it refuses to sound, whereas other kinds of flute can give off all manner of discouraging squeaks.
David Liggins is an ocarina expert. Although he is by no means anti-recorder, he suggests that many teachers will find the ocarina more suitable than the recorder for general classroom use.
He says: "The recorder is a complex instrument with a lot of notes and a lot of finger patterns. Many children don't get beyond the first three notes. The ocarina is a simple instrument with simple finger patterns and yet it has a full chromatic octave."
At the Education Show David Liggins will be running mini-workshops every hour and there will be some free sets of ocarinas for selected primary schools.
Ocarina Workshop, David Liggins, PO Box 56, Kettering, Northants NN15 5LX Acorn percussion - stand 875
Ocarina Workshop - stand 962