Based in San Francisco, is an early childhood education blog by Tiva Lee Samaru & Randa Atkins. Their posts explore; through videos and other resources - original early childhood education curricula and ideas for enrichment classes, as well as, tips and tricks for classroom management and general childcare.

Steelpan jam

Steelpan jam

Jam by definition is an informal gathering of musicians improvising together, especially in jazz or blues.

In this case, jam by our definition is the fusion of several different but relatable components to create one fun musical activity. With this activity being the first in our carnival theme, we wanted to put something together using the cardboard steel pan we made a while ago.  

Since the steel pan is an instrument that is rarely found in early childhood music programming, especially here in San Francisco, we wanted to find a way to expose our students to this instrument. Realistically, it isn't practical for most enrichment teachers to be walking around with steel pans and using them in classes. If it were, we would have just used a real pan. So an alternative was creating a simple steel pan prop as it would still help us expose our students to this wonderful instrument and make it more practical for teaching.

That said, this activity combines a musical instrument (our cardboard steel pan) with language (an onomatopoeia song) and music theory (rhythm and phrasing). The focus of this activity is to expose students to the steel pan and how it is played. Using two pan sticks, students will "beat" the pan while singing the relevant onomatopoeia for each note they hit. This language building song exposes students to the sound the steel pan notes make when they are played and helps them strengthen their understanding of rhythm and phrasing.

When the steel pan is involved, it usually means fun and pairing that with an exciting onomatopoeia filled song helped add a lot more excitement to this activity. The onomatopoeias we used are meant to be the sounds that we hear when a steel pan, particularly a tenor pan, is played. Though subjective, we still think the onomatopoeias we came up with give a clear idea of how the steel pan sounds when it is played.

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How did it go?

Oh boy! Perfect. It was a treat for us all. From learning the song and laughing at the silly words to beating the life out of our little steel pan props, our students really enjoyed every minute of this activity. It was also a really exciting and action-packed activity to teach and quickly shot up to the top of the favorite list. Granted our younger students who are now starting to talk couldn't really sing the onomatopoeias that didn't prevent them from completely immersing themselves in the activity. Of course, our older students excelled at all aspects of this activity because children love to bang the heck out of musical instruments and the steel pan actually requires the use of this action to make a sound. Additionally, the words of the song were silly and we adults should know that sometimes the silliest of words are the most memorable ones for children.

One suggestion we have to make this activity flow smoothly would be to practice the song with your students first, then practice how to play the steel pan separately. Once you have done this and you feel like your students have a good grasp of both elements, then combine them and see how it goes. Another suggestion to make this activity a bit more challenging would be to play around with faster tempos. Trust when we say the faster the tempo, the more fun the activity can be!

Take a look!

If you are looking for a music activity that exposes children to a new instrument then definitely watch our video. You will be able to see the cardboard steel pan and how it is played. You will also hear the song and will most likely be able to learn it with ease.

Jam, Jam, Jam,

Tiva & Randa