The endless possibilities of the ocean drum…

ocean-drumAh, the ocean drum. Rippling tides to crashing waves at your finger tips…

Here’s why I love and hate ocean drums and some ocean drum activity ideas!

Why I love ocean drums

1. Ocean drums are easy to play and require only very subtle movement, this makes them both accessible and unintimidating.
2. With visual, tactile and auditory aspects they provide a multi-sensory experience.
3. The ocean drum is a satisfying round shape, and feel good to hold with just a little bit of weight on your lap.
4. The ocean drum has a hypnotic quality that can be totally absorbing- staff often comment that they want one to relax with at home!

Why I hate ocean drums

1. The top skin damages quite easily so you need to make sure no-one uses a hard beater on it or stands on it.
2. They are really loud when driving round corners!
3. They can be so absorbing that the person I’m working with becomes more interested in watching the beads than anything else in the room.

What to do with the ocean drum

When someone is fascinated by the ocean drum- great! This person has found something they like and that engages them. As a music therapists I might play an improvisation to match and mirror the person’s playing on the ocean drum, aiming to create the feeling of being safe and contained.

However, the ocean drum can become a barrier if the person become so entranced by the ocean drum they forget about you, or if they use it as a way to block you out. These activities are intended to be playful ideas to try and bring the person back to the room. They are  also suitable for parents and carers, music activity group leaders and anyone else who wants ideas for using the ocean drum!

1. Up and Down

To the tune of the Skye Boat Song sing

‘Here we go up and up today
Then we go down again’

whilst moving the ocean drum up and down with the song.

This idea is from Amelia Oldfield and John Bean’s ‘Pied Piper’ book which has a whole range of music activities for group leaders.

You can extend it a bit by thinking of different sounds to make at the top and the bottom (e.g. tapping, scratching etc.) or by making a face at each other when you are underneath the drum.

2. Round and round

Using co-operation skills get the bearings to move around the outside edge of the drum. As you get more skilled, get faster; change direction; or come up with a whole sequence of ball-bearing movement (e.g. 1. round the edge clockwise, 2. from you to me across the middle, 3. round the edge anticlockwise…)

If you want a song to go with it, how about these words to the tune of ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush’:

Here we go round the ocean drum
From you to me, from me to you
Here we go round the ocean drum
Round and round and round

3. Flip it

Tap slowly on the drum at first, gradually moving your hands over to the other side of the drum whilst getting faster and louder. At the end of the crescendo flip the drum over on to the plain side. You could encourage the person you are working with to take it in turns to flip it back to the other side, or simply repeat the activity. You can create a sense of anticipation by playing mini crescendos before the main flip.

4. Crab catching bait

Keeping with the theme of the sea, choose one person to be the ‘crab’ and the other to be the ‘bait’. The ‘crab’ walks two fingers around the drum slowly, getting ready to pince when the ‘bait’ comes near.  The ‘bait’ has to try and tap the drum without being caught by the crab. Sudden movements of the ocean drum make a crashing sound which can add to the suspense, or be used to celebrate a catch.

5. Storm maker

Create a storm by moving the beads slowly at first like trickling rain drops and gradually building it up until you’ve got crashing thunder. You could add in some howling wind vocal effects at the height of the storm! Then let the storm subside again.

If you’re working with a group, the person who has the ocean drum could be the leader of the storm, using their playing to show the rest of the group when to get louder and quieter.

I’m sure there are many more possibilities involving the ocean drum and I would be interested to hear your ideas! Most of the games I’ve suggested are better suited to younger people, but the ocean drum could be used with older people too. Perhaps using it as a tool for relaxation; creating stories about the sea; or as a starting point for reminiscence?…


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