Episode 1: Found Sound


Students work in small groups to compose and record a “found percussion” piece using materials at hand in the classroom, their bodies, and rhythms they identify in their environment.

Grade Level

5-8, 9-12 (can be adapted to suit grade level)

National Music Standards

3 Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments, 4 Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines, 5 Reading and notating music


Joshua Jones

Watching Joshua Jones perform “Rhythm Song” on the marimba is a breath-taking experience. He has honed his skills through many hours of practice, and his focus is intense. During his interview, Josh talks about hearing rhythms in his surroundings, everywhere he goes. In this activity, students will use environmental sounds and readily available materials to make a “found percussion” piece.


Pencils, paper, staff paper, found instruments, tape recorders (optional)

Activity Instructions

  1. Watch the video segment that includes Joshua’s hometown footage and his performance. Ask the students for their comments, reactions, or thoughts.
  2. Brainstorm with students the ordinary kinds of sounds - especially rhythmic sounds - that they hear around them. List these on the whiteboard/blackboard and note their characteristics (soft, regular, irregular, loud, muffled, sharp, etc.). Ask students to demonstrate particular sounds and rhythms. What sounds or patterns particularly interest them?
  3. With students, review the formal elements that we associate with music. These include rhythm, meter, tempo, ostinato, accent, syncopation, texture, timbre, dynamics, and pitch. Also include examples of musical forms, such as binary (AB), ternary (ABA), through-composed, and theme and variations.
  4. Divide students into small groups of three or four to create a 2-3 minute composition using “found sound”. Each group chooses at least two of the formal elements of music that were identified in Step 3 to incorporate into their composition. They can use any of the brainstormed sounds and materials, or create new ones. Students should have at least 20 minutes to complete this step.
  5. If recording equipment is available, have students record their compositions. If not, they can create a system of notation that allows them to recreate the pieces for their classmates. Examples of percussion notation and graphic notation systems can be found in the resources described under “Find out more!”

Find out more!

Learn about percussion using non-standard materials as “instruments”

The British ensemble Stomp, founded in 1991, is “a unique combination of percussion, movement and visual comedy.” Some of their “instruments” include brooms, lids, trash bins, sand, and athletes’ chalk. You can view great audio and video examples of their work at: http://www.stomponline.com.

Learn about graphic notation

John Cage, prominent 20th century American composer, famously invented graphic methods of notating his unusual scores. For a good online example, go to: http://deodesign.wordpress.com/2007/09/01/john-cage-notes/

Cage is also featured in the PBS series “American Masters:” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/cage_j.html

This Wikipedia article on graphic notation contains several interesting examples, as well as references to other sources:

Learn about body percussion

Keith Terry

photo by Peter Petronio, downloadable from Crosspulse.com

Based in Oakland, California, Crosspulse is “a non-profit arts organization dedicated to the creation, performance and recording of rhythm-based, intercultural music and dance.” Visit Crosspulse’s web site for a how-to on body percussion for beginners. This downloadable magazine article from “Drum!” magazine shows Keith Terry - composer, percussionist, teacher, and Crosspulse founder - demonstrating how to make basic body sounds. An example of percussion notation is included. http://crosspulse.com/html/pdfs/Part1.pdf

Download a free Quicktime video (under 5 minutes) of Terry talking about and demonstrating his work.

Bobby McFerrin is a brilliant vocalist and sound artist. In addition to his solo work, he has recorded with pianist Chick Corea (“Play”) and Yo Yo Ma (“Hush”). Recordings of his work are readily available.

From the Top The Bernard Osher Foundation Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Carnegie Hall Don Mischer Productions WGBH From the Top