The rain stick is a percussion instrument made from a dried cactus branch. It originated in Chile, South America where tribesmen have used the sticks for centuries to serenade the gods in hopes of bringing rain. Only wooden skeletons are used in creating rain sticks, and removing the old, dead growth provides room for new vegetation in dense cactus forests.
The first step in making the instrument is finding just the right branch and cutting it to size. Then it's hollowed out with a steel rod, and thorns from live cacti are pounded into the shaft in a spiral fashion. The stick is filled with small pebbles, and the ends are capped and sealed. To play the instrument, it's held by either end and tilted slightly. The pebbles trickle over the thorns, making the sound of gentle rain.
While you may not have access to dried cactus, you can still make a rain stick by recycling some common materials. We won't guarantee that creating and playing the instrument will make it rain, but you'll help save natural resources and divert solid waste from your landfill, helping to extend its life. With Earth Day approaching, making and playing rain sticks are great ways to celebrate.
There are several different kinds of tubes which you can use to make a rain stick. Some of them include poster, paper towel, and mailing tubes. After you've chosen one, you're ready to plan the design. Select a variety of thicknesses of rubber bands, and place them in a few places along the length of the tube to divide it into sections.
Look to Mother Nature to inspire you in creating your designs. Animal shapes or silhouettes are easy to draw and paint. Some common animals which live in many parts of the world include turtles, snakes, fish, and frogs. What creatures live in your area? On scrap paper draw some of the animals from a bird's-eye view, that is, as seen from above. Now draw others from the side.
While there are many ways to decorate the rain stick, one method is to make a repeat design such as that on the example pictured above. Using a pencil and carbon paper, transfer the rough drawings to the various sections of the tube. Repeat the shapes, outlining each one and leaving a margin of at least 1/8" all around. Continue outlining the shapes until the tube is filled with designs. Using acrylics, paint the animal shapes black.
Colors can be divided into two types or families: warm and cool. The warm colors are reds, oranges, and yellows, while the cool ones are blues, purples, and greens. Choose at least two or three from one color family and one or two from the other to complete the rain stick. Using just a few colors will make it necessary for you to repeat some of them, but the repetition of lines, colors, and shapes will help to make your design look better.
It'll be easy to paint stripes or a chevron on your rain stick, because the rubber bands will serve as guides. Paint areas between them, or "feather" strokes out from the bands on each side, leaving some of the tube its natural color. Besides using brushes, try painting parts of the tube using small sections of dowel rods, cotton swabs, or just the tips of sharpened pencils. Dipping any of these into paint and applying it will result in a dot. Use just the thickness of small pieces of cardboard in the same way to make short lines. If you wish to protect the rain stick further, brush on a coat of mat or gloss acrylic varnish.
After painting, you're ready to assemble the rain stick. If the tube doesn't have caps, you'll need to make some from lightweight poster board. Place the end of the tube down on the cardboard, and lightly trace the circumference of the circle. Add at least a 1/4" margin and draw another circle around the first one. Repeat for the other end. Cut out the shapes. Snip the margin just up to the first circle, making tabs all around. Bend up the tabs, and have an adult use a hot glue gun to fasten one cap to the end of the tube. Set the other cap aside.
For safety reasons, have an adult do the next step for you, too. Measure and cut a piece of chicken wire equal to the diameter of the opening and the length of the tube. Bend the cut wires out at a right angle, and form the wire into a spiral small enough to fit inside. Insert the wire into the tube, and feed it through to the other side. If possible, stretch the wire out, so that it extends the length of the tube.
Finally, fill the tube with at least 1/2 cup of dried beans, rice, or popcorn. Again, use the hot glue gun to attach the cap to the other end of the tube. If you wish, paint the end caps. Now enjoy your rain stick, and have a Happy Earth Day!
In decorating the rain stick, substitute permanent markers for the acrylic paints.
Try making rain sticks using tubes of different sizes. The sounds produced by the sticks will vary accordingly.
Instead of using carbon paper to transfer your drawing, make a tracing of your design at the window. Turn the drawing right side out, and trace the lines with a soft pencil. To transfer your work, position it right side up over the tube and trace.
If the tube you select has metal or plastic ends, you can improve the sound of the finished rain stick by using white glue to fasten tissue paper or bubble wrap to the inside of the lid. This will cushion the beans when they fall against the ends of the tube.
There are other ways to design the inside of the rain stick. If the cardboard is sturdy, you can pound nails in a spiral fashion into the sides of the tube. Another suggestion is to stuff it with plastic, "gridded" berry baskets. Can you think of other ways to construct the instrument? Whatever you use, remember that the dried material must be able to pass freely from one end of the stick to the other.
To learn more about Earth Day, visit The Wilderness Society. In addition, there are many more environmental links in The Research Department at The Imagination Factory.
© 1998 Marilyn J. Brackney
Volume 12 No. 1
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