Classroom Ideas for Just One Drum

A drum can be powerful.  I love drums!  Although not a drummer (well, in my heart I think I am), I sure can beat on one. 😉  How much fun would it be to bring the intensity and enjoyment that so many people have with drums into the classroom?  Here are some great ideas you can use in your classroom with just one drum.

First Things First

What kind of drum?  I guess we should first discuss this.  A hand drum is probably best and they come in all shapes and sizes.  You may have a small toy drum kicking around somewhere or you might invest in (or own) a big, beautiful drum.  Either way, a hand drum takes up relatively little space in your room.  Also consider borrowing an old drum from the music teacher in your school.  He or she may have one you can use for the year or until  you get your own.

Where do I keep my drum?   Be careful NOT to use your drum as a side table.  It is not for holding papers to correct.  Instead keep it in a place where it is waiting to be played.  If you have a rug area, keep it there.  If not, keep it by your desk or in a corner of the room where it will not be ignored.  Many drums are beautifully crafted, so consider placing it in a spot where it can be admired as a piece of living art as well as something that will be used.

What if kids want to play the drum?  Hmmm… I bet you can hear me exclaiming, “Great!  Let them!”  But remember, I’m a practical teacher too.  I know that drumming isn’t something that can happen at all hours of your day.  So, when you are discussing classroom expectations or introducing the drum to your students, be sure you discuss appropriate use and appropriate times to use it.  However, you do need to remember that a drum has energy and many of your students will feel the pull to play the drum, so allow for that.

What if I don’t know how to play?   Go with it.  You can certainly do this.  Use your own innate sense of rhythm that we all have and/or take a couple of lessons from a drum teacher, friend or your music teacher.  A quick impromptu lesson may be all you need.  Here’s a quick video lesson on hand drums and very basic drumming technique.

Classroom Ideas

A drum can be best used in the classroom for classroom management, movement breaks and community building.

Music is the great community builder and whenever you use music in your room, you are making connections with your students and they are making them with one another.  Consider having weekly or monthly drum or percussion circles where the leader or teacher plays an ostinato (a rhythmic pattern that is repeated from the beginning to the end of the piece) and the other students add in their own sounds using small percussion instruments, clapping or other body percussion (slaps, taps, etc.)

A drum can be a great tool for classroom management as well.  You can use the technique of call and response to get students’ attention and help get them focused and ready to work.  Simply drum out four beats of rhythm and wait for the students to repeat it back to you.  Continue to drum out and listen for a response until all students are participating and where they need to be.  I once used this technique with 100+ fourth graders.  It was amazing how it got them energized and focused all at once.

Finally, all students need movement breaks throughout the day.  Use your drum to lead this as well.  Take two to ten minutes to have students get up and move their bodies to what you drum.  You can drum something with rhythm and have students move freely through their personal or general space, or you can play a variety of sounds on your drum and have students mimic the sound with their bodies.  Experiment with different dynamics and techniques by tapping, rubbing, striking and scratching the head of the drum to keep things interesting.

For more explanation and demonstration of these ideas watch this video of classroom ideas with a drum.

It is my sincerest hope that you keep a drum in your classroom and try some of these ideas with your students.  Be sure to let us know how it goes or if you have other ideas to share!


Post Script:

As requested by some teachers, I have uploaded a drumming track created by a group of teachers who took my music int course.  Please use this track in your classroom to keep an ostinato for students to play/tap along with: creating community, focus, relaxation, transitions, anxiety/stress release.  This is meant to be used by a group of students or for one student who needs it.  Please comment with ideas and ways you plan to use this track!


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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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  1. Johanna Kimball says:

    Loved the suggestions on your UTube video, Elizabeth- especially about how the drums can be used for different transitions/motor breaks in the classroom. The advice about leading drum circles is just super, and I couldn’t wait to try one with my two second grade classes this past Friday! I think we had a much more creative, exciting time together- largely due to the differences in the way I presented things to each group.

  2. Marianne Nicol-Curry says:

    There are so many opportunities throughout our teaching day to integrate music! Reading your article brings to mind the use of “Tickets to Leave” from Louise Thompson as a way to transition students between activities. These are short 5 minute activities that allow teachers to assess/check-in on student knowledge/understanding as students transition from on activity to another. It also avoids a bottleneck of students moving all at once. While releasing students one by one, the teacher asks a quick question related to recent learning and the student provides a quick answer. The drum will certainly become part of our “Ticket to Leave” transitions at least a few times a week. When learning about math, let’s count the beats or listen and copy the pattern. When learning about segmenting/blending CVC words, beat the drum while saying each sound. So many possibilities and such a great integration of music throughout our day. Elizabeth, I also love your idea of using drumming with stretching/movement breaks. In a world where we can barely fit in a 20 minute recess and ask so much of our students, stretching and movement has to be sprinkled throughout our day. The kids love it and need it!

  3. Sue Kern says:

    I envision using a drum with my small language groups. “Call and Response’ is an imitative technique which could be beneficial for language acuisition, comprehension, interaction/conversational reciprocity, syllabication, to name a few! Some of my students have reduced vocal volume or increased rate of speech. They may benefit from drumming for recognition/discrimination/awareness of loud vs. soft and rapid vs. slow rate.
    Another inspiring idea! Thanks, Elizabeth!!

  4. I love the idea of the drum and having one in my classroom. I can see it as being very motivating for my student as an earned break time that many of them have in their day. I also see it as a tool for theraputic intervention for times when kids come to me because they cannot be in class for various reasons, not unusual is anxiety. Of course this use would have to have parameters and include instruction in proper use. I can see it as being relaxing and motivating. I am very interested in exploring use of drums more.

    • If I remember correctly, you are reading The Art and Heart of Drumming Circles. Did you get the CD? You may consider having a drumming recording going on for students to play with as a form or relaxation or therapy. If you don’t have the CD, maybe we can create a track to use at our next class!

  5. As requested, I have uploaded a drumming track created by a group of teachers who took my music int course. YAY!!! 🙂

    Please use this track in your classroom to keep an ostinato for students to play/tap along with: creating community, focus, relaxation, transitions, anxiety/stress release. This is meant to be used by a group of students or for one student who needs it. Please comment with ideas and ways you plan to use this track!

  6. Carol Greene says:

    My nurse’s office is frequently used by students who need a break from the classroom for various reasons. I can see how beneficial it would be to have a set of drums in my office for students to use as a therapeutic intervention combined with just having good time. After drumming, my hope is that the student would be able to return to the classroom.

    • I think this is a great way to utilize music in your nurse’s office. I bet a small drum and maybe a drumming track to play to would be great. Let’s looks up what kinds of rhythms would be more therapeutic for your needs. Maybe we could record a track at the retreat!

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