The Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation Beanie illustration

HomeAbout SparkLabActivities and experimentsInventor profilesResources

SparkLab logo

  Activities & Experiments

Music is universal. People from all over the world invent unique musical instruments as well as unique styles of music. What musical instruments are made from, how they are played, and the sounds they make are all influenced by place--where they were invented. In this activity, we focus on the role of place in determining how inventors just like you design and create a drum. How will your place--where you live or go to school--influence the drum you create?

Look at pictures of different kinds of drums. Does the design of the drum or the materials the drums are made from give any hints about where the drums were made? How do you think each of these drums is played?

Let’s make a drum! What materials are available at home or school? Look in your recycling bin for inspiration. Things like coffee cans and oatmeal boxes work great! What other materials do you have around you?

You’ll Also Need:

  • One pair of scissors
  • Rubber bands
  • Colored construction paper
  • Glue stick or white glue
  • Colored yarn, ribbon, or string

Optional Materials:

  • Markers
  • Aluminum foil
  • Colored felt
  • Feathers
  • Finger paint
  • Stickers
  • Tape (colored or clear)

Most drums consist of two main parts; the shell and the drum head. In this case, the coffee can, oatmeal box or other container you have, will be the drum’s shell, and the container’s lid will be the drum’s head.

Cut a piece of construction paper to fit around the can (shell). Glue or tape the construction paper onto the can. Once the glue has dried, you can paint or draw designs and creatures on your drum. Decorate your drum with things from your ‘place’. Try adding animals, trees, or flowers that live near you, or even important buildings or people from your community!

Once you have finished building and decorating your drum, try playing it. Use your hands to beat on the drum head. You can also make drum sticks out of wooden dowel or unsharpened pencils!

Do you know that a drum can make different sounds depending on the position of your hands or the spot on the drum that you strike when playing?

Experiment with your drum by using different parts of your hand (fingertips, knuckles, a whole hand cupped, a whole hand flattened, or the heel of the hand) when striking the drum. Listen for any changes in tone.

Then, try striking the drum in different places, listening for differences between sounds produced by hitting the center of the drum and those sounds produced by striking closer to the edge of the drum. Another way to create variations in sound is by changing the pressure of the drum head (which changes the tone of the drum). Try applying different amounts of pressure near the edge of the drum head with one hand, and playing the drum with the other to see how the tone is affected.

Take a picture of your drum invention and e-mail it to Sparky at (Make sure you have a parent’s permission to send the photo and include your first name, hometown, and age.

Download this activity »