District News

Students learn more than music on steel drums

students play steel drums

In a corner of the Mountain View Elementary playground the sound of steel drums echoes among the ball walls and portables. 

“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Baby Shark,” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” are just a few of the familiar tunes coming from the portable drums. Music instructor Christy Jacobs taps a beat to keep a team together as they practice the sequence of notes.

Jacobs said the steel drum kits came at a time when she was looking for a way to add a fun, new instrument to musical learning for the students in fifth and sixth grade. She said steel drums were at the top of her list, not just because of their unique sound, but also because they have a rich cultural history. Through research she found a set that was portable, easy to store and most of all, affordable.

“Because steel drums are pitched instruments, students can strengthen their knowledge of melody and harmony while still enjoying the fun of playing percussion instruments,” Jacobs said.

The school’s PTA donates some funding to purchase prep class supplies. Jacobs said she was able to supplement that funding with a grant from the Davis Education Foundation. 

“I realized that by combining the two grants we could get something that would make a big impact in our classroom and last for many years,” she said.

The experience has been invigorating for students as they learned the new instrument together. Not only do they learn to play the instrument, but they also learn about the culture and history of the people of Trinidad who took empty shipping drums and turned them into musical instruments. Those who learn the basics early on are given opportunities to work independently and develop their skills even further. 

Principal Chris Mudrow said the drums are a simple, but unique way to get students interested in music.

"Anything that gets the students engaged and excited about music is a win," he said. "This is another form of high engagement.  How many times have you seen steel drums at the elementary? Or even the secondary level?"

Jacobs purchased eight steel drums for the class to use. To practice, students also use an ipad app and posterboard replicas. Unable to find an app that matched the sound of the classroom drums, she created a simple, playable virtual steel drum. 

Students have learned more than just the skills to play a new instrument. Jacobs said they’ve learned they can do hard things. The steel drum set up is a little more difficult than a piano or xylophone because of the note positioning. She said the students have also learned to work together and be patient with one another as they work through playing a song together.

“Music teaches so much more than just notes,” Jacobs said. “We’ve had a fantastically fun time while practicing and developing all these skills.”