The rain stick
is a percussion instrument made from dried cactus
and seeds or beans in the desert, or long tubular gourds and
seeds in Africa. 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.
The first step
in making the instrument is finding just the right cactus 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 or gourds, 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 Kwanzaa approaching, making and playing rain sticks are
great ways to celebrate.
Decorating the Tube
You Will Need:
Dowel rod pieces,
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
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
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.
Assembling the Rain
You Will Need:
Dried beans, rice,
Tissue or bubble
Hot glue gun and
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
Tips and Tricks:
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
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.