My name is Ian Dobson, I make music on recycled materials and things that weren’t originally meant to be musical instruments.  I can’t wait to bring my Recycalypso! show to your school and create music with you and all of your schoolmates!  In fact, it is so much fun to make music that I think it would be awesome if you could get started right away.  Then you’ll have instruments to play during the Recycalypso! assembly.  Here is a fun activity you can do to get ready for our jammin’ music assembly.

By the way, please keep an eye on this page as I’ll be adding more videos and lessons soon!


A.   Recycalypso Challenge Activity

The main instrument that I play is called the “Steel Drum” or “Steel Pan”.  When you see it you won’t believe what it is made from… it is made from a recycled oil barrel.  In other words, it is basically a recycled garbage can!

Please click the link below to read a short history of how people in Trinidad and Tobago had to use their creativity and resourcefulness to make music with whatever they had available to them.  This article is written by my friend Jeannine Remy who is a world expert on steel drums and who teaches steel drums at a university in Trinidad:



Professor Remy mentions how African Trinidadians invented instruments from bamboo when they weren’t allowed to use traditional drums.  Please click the link below to see pictures of these “tamboo bamboo” instruments.



Professor Remy then talks about how the Tamboo Bamboo also were banned, so Trinidadians again used their creativity and resourcefulness create new musical instruments, this time from recycled metal.  Click below to see a picture of some of the early metal objects they used to make music.



As Professor Remy says, people in Trinidad experimented with these pieces of metal and found they could create specific pitches rather than just rhythmic drum sounds.  Click below to see a picture of these very early steel drums and hear their fascinating sound.



Now, click below to experience what steel drums look and sound like today.  What an amazing type of instrument people in Trinidad created out of recycled metal junk!






I know that you are just as creative and resourceful as the people in Trinidad who created the steel drum out of nothing.  Here is your chance to do the same make your own music out of recycled materials.  This is how the challenge works:


1. Look around you in your house and your school.  Find interesting-sounding recycled materials from the recycling bin or elsewhere.  The only rules are A. NO GLASS, B. NOTHING SHARP (so make sure and remove sharp edges from tin cans, etc.), C. MAKE SURE THE ITEM IS CLEAN.


2. If you want you can combine materials as well using tape or other methods.  How would that tea box sound taped to the top of the plastic yogurt container?  It is also okay to use noodles, beans, or other food items to turn your recycled item into a shaker.


3. Maybe you want to decorate your recycled instrument with paint or any other method.  Click the link below to see examples of original “Recycalypso” instruments created by people from age 3 through age 93.




4. When you finish your instrument, figure out all the ways you can make sounds with it.  What sounds are your favorite.  Can you hit it with your hand to make a nice sound?  Can you hit it with a stick and make a cool sound?  What happens if you hit it in different spots, does it make different sounds?  Is it louder when you play it one way then when you play it another way?  Can you shake it and make a sound?  How many different ways can you shake it?


5. Come up with a name for your instrument.  It could be a name that describes what the instrument does.  For example, one student who made a really fun looking shaker called it the supercalafradjashaker.  Or the name can have nothing to do with the sound of the instrument.  You can call your instrument “Frank” if it looks like “Frank” to you.  You can name your instrument anything you want because it is your instrument that you invented.


6. Practice your instrument so you learn how to play it.  Remember, you are the world’s expert on playing your instrument.


7. Bring your instrument to the assembly on the day that I come to your school and you’ll get to play it along with me!



B.   Learn and Practice the Cup Song

The “Cup Song” is very popular right now!  It is a great example of young people using their resourcefulness to make great music out of something that isn’t a musical instrument: a cup!  If you want an extra challenge for the assembly ask a teacher to help you organize a group of up to 15 students to perform the cup song with me.  On the day of the assembly that teacher will make sure there is a long table for your cup song group to perform.  Your teacher can let me know when I arrive for the assembly that your school has a group of students that wants to perform the cup song with me.  Then I will bring you and your cup-song group on stage and feature you during the show!

The Cup Song is a challenge, so you and your Cup Song group will have to practice a lot!  Below is a video to help you learn the Cup Song if you don’t know it and help you get better at it if you do know it.



I will see you soon at the Recycalypso Assembly!