Last-Minute Holiday Gift Idea: The joy of cheap percussive instruments

I bought a slide-whistle for $2 on Cyber Monday. That was my big find.

And it made all the not standing in lines for hours worth it when my cats reacted to the very first slide: the princess hated the thing and ran, old mama continued to sleep and my son leapt atop the table, purring as if he was falling in love with it (that’s my boy).

This is just the latest addition to my collection of tambourines, wood blocks, cowbells, chimes, shaker eggs, a rain stick, thunder tube (aka spring drum), cabasa and my absolute favorite – the vibra-slap (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2D4c-SXeNM&feature=channel_video_title).

These instruments all range in price from $5 to $25 (for the LP chimes), and are a thoughtful addition to any musician’s collection – from amateur to thinks-he’s-better-than-he-is (there’s very little in-between).

What got me started was the first time I saw my college roommate’s brother’s garage (we’ll call him Nick). Nick has five of everything I listed – plus a drum kit, handmade hand-drum table, steel drums, etc. Instruments that make wacky sounds are so easy to come by that, for our first few Annual Jams (we just had our eighth), it was difficult for me to actually bring any guitar expertise to the situation… I was fine with just making random noises every now and then (though many of our jams still sound like random noises to a steady drum beat).

But starting out by just making noise is fine. Being fancy is less important than learning basic rhythm. One of my favorite instruments is still the egg shaker – sand in a plastic shell has to be one of the first instruments humankind came up with. It’s about three dollars and you can play it to anything. You can play it by itself. You can play it while you beatbox even if you're terrible at beatboxing. The shaker never fails.

There is always a shortage of drummers. It’s understandable – drum kits are expensive and every time you find one there is already a line out the door to play it (and another line behind that to grab anyone who can actually play in 4/4 for their band).

But I started my vast collection of percussives with just one cowbell.

Starting with just one cheap thing seems meager, but it doesn’t take very much to jam – just look at the White Stripes!

Eventually I added a solid set of congas to my collection (also LP brand) and I can now back myself on any track (don’t confuse congas with the poetry-slam regular bongos. Also – don’t buy cheap bongos. Somebody will literally drum them to pieces).

I’d still like to add a triangle, vibra-flex and vibra-tone to my collection. (It’s like drinking microbrews – you’ll never run out of stuff to try.)

If you give the gift of one, you just might send the music enthusiast in your life on a never-ending journey towards the perfect percussive.

Trust me – they’ll be enthused to take the trip.

TIP: From personal experience, MusiciansFriend.com and Zzounds.com are excellent sites to give some last-minute (or early for next year) business to.

Rock on, friends.

And happy holidays.

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    Dan Bradley

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