How to Make an Ocean Drum | Elementary Music

Making an ocean drum is a simple and fun project that can be accomplished in one class session. Ocean drums are very easy to make and play. They create a perfect accompaniment for any song about the sea.

This activity makes a fun group or individual project. Students may experiment with various materials to create their own unique instrument with its own unique sound. Be creative and involve students in the planning process. Announce the project at least one class session ahead of time and encourage students to bring in their own materials. My students have always surprised me with their creativity.

Do you want to offer your students more options for creating different types of instruments? Check out this blog post with 9 Activities for Recycled Rhythm Instruments.

How to Make an Ocean Drum | Elementary Music Class Project

Making an Ocean Drum

Step 1: Choose Your Container

The sound will vary considerably depending on the materials you use. Various items may be used as containers. Containers that have at least one long, flattish side will allow for a longer “wave” sound. Try out some of the items below for containers.

  • Shoe box
  • Pringle’s tube
  • Cereal box
  • Various plastic food containers
  • Oatmeal box
Cereal, oatmeal, and shoe boxes, & plastic container

Step 2: Choose Your “Fill”

Making an ocean drum is more of an art than a science. Allow students to experiment with different combinations of containers and fill. Once again, be creative with materials. Below are a few ideas for fill.

  • Rice/Quinoa
  • Popcorn seeds
  • Dry beans
  • BBs or pellets
  • Course sand
  • Macaroni
  • Pearl couscous
  • Salt, fine or coarse

Many of these items may already be in your pantry.

How to Make an Ocean Drum | Project for Elementary Music Classroom

Step 3: Secure All Openings of the Container

If all the openings of your ocean drum are not securely fastened closed, the fill material could spill out. This could spell disaster during your rehearsal or performance. The last thing you want is fill materials all over the floor.

The easiest containers to secure are plastic food storage containers. Simply snap them closed. For other types of containers such as cereal boxes, shoe boxes, etc., provide wide tape to securely fasten all seams.

Step 4: Decorate if Desired

If desired, ocean drums may be painted, decorated with colored tape, or colored with permanent markers. Students should be aware that some forms of decoration may change the sound.

Practice Playing Your Ocean Drum

Ocean drums are very easy to play but students do need to practice. The instrument may be used to create three basic types of sounds.

  • Flowing undercurrent of gentle waves
  • Crashing waves
  • Rhythmic, repetitive ostinato patterns

Ocean Drums work especially well with songs about the sea such as Sea Shell, a Kodaly Song with Orff Accompaniment.

How to Play Your Ocean Drum

  • Using both hands, hold the instrument level as you would hold your lunch tray.
  • To create the sound of flowing gentle waves, tilt the instrument slightly from left to right, forward & backward in a circular motion so the fill rolls or slides around inside the drum.
  • To create the sound of crashing waves, tilt the instrument to make the fill slide and then jerk the instrument back quickly to create the crashing sound.
  • To create rhythmic sounds, consider tapping your fingers on one side of your instrument.

Have fun with ocean drums. Experiment and practice different ways to play the instrument. Varying the angle of the tilt and the speed will vary the sound.

Use this FREE How to Make an Ocean Drum presentation to guide your students through creating their own ocean drums.


Making an ocean drum can be a stand-alone project or you can integrate the project into the study of Caribbean, Hawaiian, or other island music. However you choose to use ocean drums in your classroom, they are sure to become a favorite.

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