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Teaching Bucket Drumming: 5 Survival Tips

By David Birrow | March 1, 2021

Teaching Bucket Drumming: 5 Survival Tips

Celebrate Music in Our Schools Month in March with these bucket drumming tips! Bucket drumming is a great activity for students of all ages and skill levels. You can learn more about Music in Our Schools Month here.


As a trained percussionist, this gig teaching bucket drumming should have been going way better... 

Sure, it was my first teaching job and it was at a summer camp but currently several dozen 1st and 2nd graders were running around the room wielding drum sticks. Apparently all those hours in the practice room, music library, and ensemble rehearsals didn’t guarantee that I could successfully teach bucket drumming. 

Looking back on that first experience teaching bucket drumming, I wish I had a time machine to go back and deliver these survival tips to myself. If you are just starting out teaching bucket drumming or feel unsure or inexperienced about teaching percussion, hopefully these tips can benefit you. 

Start with One Thing

Pick one thing that you know you can do and build your bucket drumming curriculum around that. Even converting some standard vocal or rhythm activities works great.

Take for instance “Air, Body, Floor, Bucket.” This is a simple echo activity with a few variations that students love and is a breeze to teach.

Click here to access chapter 2 of "The Bucket Book." The "Air, Body, Floor, Bucket" activity can be found on page 25.

Use “Air, Body, Floor, Bucket” with a few different rhythms and at a few different tempi to  build your confidence teaching bucket drumming. Make it a little more engaging by playing along with music, like these backing tracks at different tempi. And always have students chant rhythm syllables out loud while drumming.

Teach “Sticks Low” from Day One

The number one teacher complaint about bucket drumming is that it’s “too loud,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Along with other techniques, reduce volume by teaching students to keep their sticks low from the very first time they play. Maybe four to six inches above the bucket.

Believe me, I completely get it: students are excited to drum and may naturally play loud. Pump the brakes in the first few classes and take the time to get every student playing with sticks low.

Try this:

  1. Have students position one hand or stick four to six inches above their drum as a “ceiling.” 
  2. Run an echo activity with the other stick. It should stay under the “ceiling” stick. 

Also use an expression that explains why “sticks low” is so important. For example: “Real drummers can play with sticks low.” It feels a little manipulative, but it’s true: great percussionists can play musically at all stick heights and dynamics.

Prioritize Your Do’s and Don’ts: 

Do:

  • Teach a resting position to keep sticks quiet and still 
  • Figure out how you’ll distribute and collect sticks
  • Teach procedures for setting up the room
  • Start with body percussion and progress to sticks

Don't:

  • Fret if a student is using right hand instead of left hand (or vice versa)
  • Try to talk over the drumming 
  • Compare your group drumming to solo bucket performers you might see on the street or YouTube

Familiar to Unfamiliar

Keep in mind that bucket drumming might be new to you AND your students. Temper the unfamiliarity with something they already know. Could you add bucket drumming to a familiar folk song or movement piece? After teaching a basic groove, could students play along with a well known pop/hip hop/country/whatever song? Is there a favorite music game that buckets could be substituted for? 

Put the Students in Control

If you’ve followed these tips, by now you’re keeping it simple, the students are keeping their sticks low and your classroom is in order. Or at least not in the total disarray that I found myself in back in the day. Now’s the time to let the students steer the rehearsing and performing by asking for student input and suggestions. Not only will this breathe life into your classroom, it can also send the creativity through the roof.


Hopefully these tips will save you from the headaches that I experienced during my first teaching gig. Remember that the students enthusiasm for drumming will far exceed any nerves or insecurities you might be feeling as you start out as a rookie bucket drummer. Feel free to contact me with any questions at David@TheBucketBook.com.


David Birrow

An award winning teacher, David Birrow teaches general music to grades 5-12 in Minneapolis. He’s been teaching bucket drumming since 2004 and is the author of The Bucket Book: A Junkyard Percussion Manual. David freelances as a percussionist and creates resources for teachers. Find more bucket drumming content at www.TheBucketBook.com/blog

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