The Sweet Sounds of Recycled Musical Instruments

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Reduce Reuse Rhythm: Instruments Made from Trash

Recycled musical intruments
Creative Commons License photo credit: joncallas

Get ready to make some music! You’ve likely heard the sound of a repurposed washboard or buckets used as drums, but there are other exciting ways to make recycled musical instruments. Imagine strumming a tune from a guitar with a cookie tin for a body. Learn to keep the beat and be inspired by great ideas from bands and artists around the country.

No matter what genre of music you enjoy, recycled musical instruments have something in store for you. Make a melody from stuff lying around your house, or from materials costing only pennies or less at garage sales or eBay. Kids also love to make their own homemade instruments, like “singing straws” and kazoos, out of recyclable materials. The type of trash you choose and the sound it will make guides every project. Examples include a gas-can guitar, a milk-urn bass, trash cans, empty water jugs, barrels, brooms; all of which are saved from landfills.

The Deep Fried Pickle Project out of Michigan teaches instrument-building to kids, who tend to get a kick out of learning something about music and using materials wisely. Check out the way they transformed a cookie tin into a “canjo,” which is played like a banjo, and a guitar out of a box that replaces a store-bought guitar.

Artistic Recycling

Joshua and his brother Zach Shoe of Rockin’ Recycling in Tennessee use recycled materials to craft and sell musical instruments. Proceeds are donated to the Center for Southern Folklore, a nonprofit organization that preserves and documents music, art and culture born in the South, which is where they also find a lot of their materials. The one-of-a-kind instruments crafted by the brothers resemble old-fashioned instruments on display in the center’s Folklore Hall and Gallery. Their novel instruments are works of folk art.

Don’t plan on throwing away odd items like old gasoline cans or a hinge from an old piano- those could appear on the front of a guitar, made with two broomsticks, strings from other instruments or a tangerine cigar box as the body. All of their instruments are playable, and other handcrafted instruments for sale include a guitar made from old nails and the tops of salt shakers, and a glass slide Shoe recycled from the neck of a wine bottle.

All of the instruments take an hour or so to make. Back in the day, people that didn’t have or couldn’t afford guitars just used broom handles and a piece of wire they found, so Rockin’ Recycling’s work continues with this tradition.

Promoting a Positive Message All Around the World

Texas-based Vocal Trash is a band whose overall goal is to use its music, lyrics and message not only to inspire its audiences to recycle, but to find a way to better their lives in general. Visit Vocal Trash for tour dates and video clips.

Recycled muscial instruments

Further north up in Canada, Junkyard Symphony also promotes environmental health and awareness through educational and antic-filled entertainment. By reusing ordinary old objects that would otherwise be destined for the junkyard, they’ve continued to spread their message at events for all ages since 1992.

Also see the recycled musical harmonies of the Recycled String Band lead by Luke R. Davies. Based out of Australia, they fashion instruments from all sorts of items including old hub caps, cigar boxes,old suit cases, tea tins and other items found at garage sales, opportunity shops, trash and treasure markets, and junk yards.

Check out this video as well. It’s 11 minutes long about an amazing project about the power of music as an element of social transformation. Young people in Paraguay have successfully made musical instruments out of landfill trash, and train children and teenagers how to build instruments themselves. And they sound superb, too! One message to take away is, “If a person has initiative and is creative, even trash can become an educational tool that could change someone’s life and the lives of others.” Their goal is to create a full symphonic orchestra. Follow the progress of the film Landfill Harmonic on their Facebook page.

No matter what you create, spread recycling awareness and positive thinking along with your sound. The best part with recycled music instruments is that you’ll never run out of things to find!

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