Excerpt: All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Nerrisa and Katryna Nields

AllTogetherSingingBook.jpgI am a longtime fan of the music that Nerissa and Katryna Nields have made for families, I talked about their first family album All Together Singing in the Kitchen on NPR, and their follow-up, the 2-CD set Rock All Day, Rock All Night is also very good.

So when I heard that the sisters were writing a book on making music by families, I was very excited, not only because it was a book that I thought needed to be written but because I thought the two of them -- who, after all, created their own music-and-caregivers program called HooteNanny -- would be particularly well-suited to writing about the process.

I was right.

All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family (a book with an accompanying CD of many songs from the book) is released this week, but we've had a copy in our house for the past month and so I can say it's a great book -- funny in places while moving in others, both practical and philosophical, and appropriate both for music novices and those with musical backgrounds. My wife, a preschool teacher with no musical training (but who enjoys singing to our kids and her class), has found some things she can use, while I, an amateur to be sure but with musical training on several instruments, also found some helpful tips not to mention inspiration. Indeed, the sisters note that they -- touring musicians with several albums under their belt -- found themselves at a loss initially when they had kids, trying to figure out how to integrate music into their families' lives.

So I highly recommend the book, even for those families out there whose kids are of elementary age or older. (But I think it'd make an awesome baby gift, too.) And the Nields and their publisher, Shambhala, have graciously allowed me to excerpt a portion of the book here.

This selection is from Chapter 9, titled "Homemade Instruments." On the practical-philosophical scale, the chapter is one of the more practical chapters in the book, though even those chapters have some more philosophical asides. For example, the book includes numerous "sidebars" from each of the sisters, and relative to the homemade guitars discussed below, Katryna notes in a sidebar (not excerpted below) that her son had begun his mandatory gun fascination phase but that "when he became enraptured with guitars, his whole reality switched. Rather than every stick becoming a gun or a sword, everything became a guitar."

Anyway, I love this book, and I think you'll find something of value here, just as I know you'll find a lot of value to be found in the entire book. Enjoy. (And you can order All Together Singing in the Kitchen here.)

Chapter 9: Homemade Instruments

Part of our mission is to show you that your home is filled with musical instruments, many of which are already available. Don’t throw out that yogurt container. Turn it upside down, grab a pencil, and you have a drum. Fill glasses with different amounts of water, tap them with a chopstick, and you have a makeshift xylophone. Grab a tennis racket and you’ve got a guitar. Turn a hairbrush bristle side out and you’ve got a microphone. maybe you’re even more adventurous than this. perhaps you’re a little crafty. This chapter will show you how to make drums, percussion instruments, and even guitars out of ordinary items.

Homemade Percussion

There are drums all over your kitchen. Any pot, pan, Tupperware bowl, or oatmeal container is a drum. Give your child a wooden spoon, and you can actually make dinner while she bangs away on your flour container. most people we know have at least one cabinet they haven’t babyproofed. It’s filled with baby-safe kitchen items that inevitably turn into an orchestra. Our friend Val keeps an old hatbox and a set of drum brushes on her coffee table at all times, just in case a sing-along breaks out and someone wants to join in. Here are some easy ways to add more percussion instruments to your home.
Shakers can be made out of old film canisters and rice. If the term film canister means nothing to you in this digital age, you can fill any small plastic container—rubbermaid or Tupperware—a quarter full with rice; you have a shaker. For older kids who want a craft project, take old toilet paper rolls and fill them with rice or beans. Tape off the ends, and decorate your creations with anything from paint to tissue paper stuck on in layers with a little mod podge. Just be careful with children under age three; these shakers can be pried open, and the rice or beans can be a choking hazard.

Woodblocks are especially fun when covered in sandpaper. Then you have two sounds: one from bonking them together and a scratchier one from rubbing them together. Two pieces of scrap wood about 3" × 4" × 1" can make perfect woodblocks. Sand them down so they won’t splinter, then cover them with sandpaper, and you have some cool, scratchy woodblocks.

Portable Drum Kit
This small drum kit can be worn around your child’s neck—perfect for a family parade! Gather items from your recycle bin: a small, sturdy box; a yogurt container; a big tomato can; an old planter. Test the items out and see how they sound. Tape your drums together with duct tape. Start by taping the containers to each other, then wrap tape around the whole kit. You can also make a minicymbal by taping a pencil or chopstick to one edge of your drum kit and attaching an old pie tin to the end of it. The final touch is to get an old, thick ribbon or a piece of material and make a strap so your child can wear the drum kit while marching in a parade. pencils or chopsticks make great drumsticks for this kind of kit.

Hand Drum
If you want to take a little more time and make a slightly bigger mess, try making this drum. The finished product looks surprisingly realistic and sounds pretty good too. It’s fun to make a bunch of these at a time. If you start with different-sized cans, you’ll have an array of sounds when you’re done.

What You Need
An old tin can, the bigger the better (You could even go to the school cafeteria and ask for one of their industrial-sized tomato cans.)
A paper grocery bag
Glue, water, and a flat container for mixing them together
Colorful tape

Decorate your can with the colorful tape. making stripes around the can in alternating colors can look excellent.

To create the drum head, place your can on the paper bag and trace a circle that’s about 2" bigger than your can. Cut out your paper circle, then crinkle it up as much as possible, being careful not to rip it. The crinkling makes the paper resemble a drum skin, and also softens it so the glue can get into the creases. This creates a very cool effect! Mix the glue and water together, and place the circle in the glue mixture. make sure it’s coated all over, then squeeze it out. place the gluey, gooey paper over the top of the can, and tie a piece of string around the paper to hold it in place. Allow the drum to dry overnight. You’ll have a cool hand drum in the morning. The paper looks and feels like the skin of a real drum.

Homemade Guitars

There are lots of great ways to make your first axe. Our first homemade guitar was a Halloween- inspired creation. John Lennon just wouldn’t be John Lennon without a guitar, right? Once we got started, we couldn’t stop.

Cardboard Guitar
Cardboard guitars are our family favorite. Remember, even if you don’t know how to play a real guitar, you can certainly mimic eddie Van Halen on a cardboard one, your tennis racquet, or a big ladle. These are fabulous first instruments. William prefers cardboard guitar to air guitar. He has about seven guitars made from color photocopies of famous Beatles guitars and cardboard. His favorite birthday present this year was a nonworking microphone on a stand with a non-working cord coming out of it. When he asked where to plug it in, Katryna put it through the handle of a kitchen drawer, and he was happy as a teenage girl at a Beatles concert in 1964. If music weren’t a part of their lives, she couldn’t offer that form of entertainment to her kids. As we’ve said, the more music is a part of their lives, the more it interests them.

What You Need
A sheet of posterboard or an old box, cut to about 6" × 18"
Ribbon or string for a strap

First, gather your cardboard. The thicker the cardboard, the sturdier the instrument, but also the harder it is to cut. It’s great if you can cut the whole guitar from one piece of cardboard, but if you need to cut a separate piece for the neck, you can use tape and some kind of reinforcement to hold it on. Our guitar is about 6" at its widest point and about 18" long.

Here are drawings of an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar [ed: OK, you'll have to get the book to see these]. Use them as a guide to draw your child-sized guitar on the cardboard, then cut it out.

To finish your guitar, draw the strings, pickups, nuts, tuning pegs, fretboard, and so on, just as you see here. Let your child decorate his guitar however he likes.

To turn your cardboard guitar into a deluxe cardboard guitar, take a photo of your favorite guitar to your local copy store. (Myriad online sites have photographs of guitars.) Have the store make two color photocopies—one of the neck and tuning pegs, one of the body of the guitar—and blow them up to the appropriate size for your child’s guitar. Glue the photocopies onto your cardboard, and you’ll have a very authentic-looking instrument.

Finally, you’ll need to find a strap of some sort. Katryna always uses ribbon—thick ribbon from a holiday package works great—and attaches it to the guitar with duct tape, as shown in the drawing.

Shoebox Guitar
This guitar is great for a “pluckier” experience. The shoebox serves as the body of your guitar, and a piece of cardboard forms the neck. ultimately, your child will be happy to have something to strum, but if authenticity is important to you, then use four strings (rubber bands) for a ukulele and six for a guitar. The number of strings may also be determined by the size of your shoebox.

What You Need
A shoebox
3 pieces of cardboard, one cut to about 12" × 3" and two cut to 4" × 4" each
Duct tape
4 to 6 large rubber bands (Have a few extra on hand, as they sometimes break.)
A large marker, paint, construction paper, glue, and colorful tape for decoration ribbon or string for a strap

Cut a round hole in the middle of the top of the shoebox. This will serve as your sound hole. roll up the two small pieces of cardboard tightly, and affix them to the shoebox on either side of the sound hole as shown. This will raise the rubber bands slightly above the box top, which makes them easier to strum. Place the rubber bands on the top of the shoebox over the sound hole, and attach them with duct tape. Now place the top back on the shoebox and tape it shut.

Next, cut the tuning pegs out of the top of the cardboard. Draw frets on the neck with a large marker. Affix the cardboard neck to the shoebox with duct tape. You can decorate your guitar now with paint, construction paper, or colorful tape. Don’t forget to attach the string or ribbon to it to act as a strap. Voilà! A pluckable guitar. Nothing is more satisfying than playing your homemade axe standing up.

Twelve-String Guitar
William needed a twelve-string, so we made this version with a piece of scrap wood. He was completely convinced that he had a twelve-string Rickenbacker electric guitar.

What You Need
A rectangular piece of wood. Ours was about 8" × 24" × 1" (Any size will do; be creative with what you have in your garage.)
12 elastic bands
24 thumb tacks
2 small eye hooks
Twine or string for a strap

A single piece of wood can serve as both the guitar body and the neck. Simply cut the elastic bands and use the thumb tacks to attach the ends of each to the top and bottom of the front of the plank of wood. Attach the small eye hooks to each end of the back of your wood plank, then tie a piece of twine to the hooks and used the twine as a strap.

Excerpted from ALL TOGETHER SINGING IN THE KITCHEN by Nerissa Nields and Katryna Nields, (c) 2011. Published by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston. www.Shambhala.com.