Third Coast Percussion is composing a piece for approximately 350 fifth graders, using instruments designed and fabricated by Notre Dame undergraduates.  The overall design process is highly interactive, with musical composition and instrument design and engineering tightly intertwined--can we design instruments that over 300 fifth graders can play in tune?  We expect the design of both to continue to evolve to a comfortable form for the event.

Here's the basic framework, as explained by Third Coast's Sean Connors:
  • We settled on 4 pervasive pitches:  A, C sharp, E, G sharp
  • The piece is going to be basic rhythm or basic texture (loop based material) that we'll layer in during the larger construct during the piece.  Members of Third Coast will be playing professional versions that reflect the instrument that the students are playing and will lead the piece.  The total length of the piece will be about 3~5 minutes.  
  • Third Coast will teach the music to the students aurally (perhaps through some story-telling). 

Thought we'd check in with some specifics about the instruments:

Log Drums:

  • We've decided for everyone involved that it would be easier to not have specific pitches.  This won't affect the compositional side of what we're designing.
  • 2 pitches for each log drum.   Low pitch and high pitch of each log drum should be in a fixed range so, collectively, the log drums together have a low and high (no crossover between instruments).  In other words, no high pitch from a log drum, should be the same pitch or lower than any of the low log drum pitches.


  • Your idea about using the 3D printer fabricated mouthpieces sounds fantastic.  Could the notes be the following:  A, C-sharp, E, G-Sharp?  This would form the pitch collection that we're going for. 
  • We could affix the mouthpiece on four different lengths...we could also try to put holes in the tubes to make a simple whistle...this would lead to some fingering problems for the 5th graders, so it might be simpler to have various lengths 


  • How ever creative the ND students want to get with this, the better!  
  • Here are some of our ideas so far:
    1. spherical casing made of plastic, wood, or metal (perhaps all 3 for options)
    2. casing should be able to open, like an easter egg, to insert beads
    3. beads should be of varying sizes and materials.  Be creative.
    4. no implements needed, just shaken

Tube Chimes:

  • these should be made of metal tubing, 3/4" to 1" in diameter, galvanized steel, copper, aluminum or other material
  • should resonate for a long duration
  • can these be two pitches per resonating chamber?
  • if this works, can they be paired in the following way:
    1. A and E
    2. C sharp and G sharp
  • these can be in any register
  • Chimes need to be mounted horizontally onto a frame.   The mounting system should allow the chimes to resonate fully while holding them in place.   The students should be able to sit down with the chimes/frame in their laps.


Here are some thoughts about the striking implements (mallets):

  • shaft should be 8"- 12" and made out of wood, rattan, or plastic (more durable is better, but the kids shouldn't be able to hurt each other with metal please)
  • we'd like two options for mallets, soft and hard:
    • HARD MALLET: there should be a ball that could either screw on or glue on; should be made out of something hard, perhaps 3/4" to 1" diameter rubber or plastic balls...this could really be anything, even a light wood
    • SOFT MALLET: the exact same thing as the hard mallet, but it should be surrounded by latex (surgical tubing perhaps?) in order to make it have a soft attack
  • to make things easier for the students, it might make more sense to make double sided mallets - one end of the the shaft would have the hard mallet head, the other the soft.

Composition Tips:

Below is a video made by Peter Martin of Third Coast Percussion with some tips on composing a piece using a software based sequencing program (garage band, cubase, logic, ableton, acid, etc.).  This video will hopefully give you some suggestions on experimenting with sounds on your instruments, creating, recording, and editing some short musical motives, and layering them together to create a structured piece of music.   

Composition Tips

And the final product of this video, the piece of music, is here: