Home Articles Upcycled Science: Create your own musical instrument

Upcycled Science: Create your own musical instrument

Make your own musical instrument rainsticks from a cardboard tube!

Traditionally made from the skeletons and spines of cacti, rainsticks recreate the sound of falling rain and were believed to be used by ancient cultures to summon rainstorms. With just a few household items, children can create their own version of this great percussion instrument.

Items Needed:

  • 1¾-inch diameter cardboard tube
    (paper towel roll, aluminum foil or plastic wrap tube, wrapping paper tube, etc.)
  • 50 one-inch finishing nails for every 10 inches of tube
  • Paperboard (old cereal box, cardstock, etc.)
  • Scissors
  • Marker
  • Tape
  • Handful of uncooked rice
    (dried corn, beans, or seeds will work, too)
  • Optional: paint, decorative tape, stickers, stick-on jewels

Directions:

  • Grab your cardboard tube. If you only have short toilet-paper rolls, tape two or three together. The longer the better!
  • Make two end caps by tracing the end of the tube onto paperboard and cutting out the circles.
  • Seal off one end of your tube by taping on one circle cap. Make sure there are no gaps.
  • Carefully push all the nails into the tube randomly, about an inch apart all the way up, down, and around the tube. Note: If you’re using a thicker cardboard tube, like from a foil roll, you may need a hammer.
  • Pour all the rice into the tube.
  • Close off the open end of the tube by taping on a second circle cap. Make sure there are no gaps.
  • Wrap the entire tube in tape to secure all the nails.
  • Optional: personalize your tube with gems, paint, stickers or tape. Then, enjoy your new musical instrument by turning your stick over to hear the “rain”!

What’s happening? When the rainstick is tipped, the grains of rice hit the nails, creating vibrations we hear as sound. Different-sized grains create different vibrations or different sounds. Since the many grains of rice in your tube hit the nails at random intervals, these sounds simulate the sound of rain.

Challenge: Try creating patterns with your nails, or mixing different-size grains or pebbles together in one stick to see how the sound changes.

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