School Projects: How to Make a Steel Drum

drum image by Byron Moore from

If you've ever heard "island music," it probably featured the melodic rhythm of steel drums. These percussion instruments hail from African influences on the island of Trinidad and are commonly used in Caribbean music. You can make a simple steel drum for a school project by using items you may already have at home.

You can use this project to illustrate the basic mechanics behind steel drum music.

Open and empty a large aluminium can. Economy-sized cans for vegetables or coffee work well. Rinse the can thoroughly and allow it to dry.

Flip the can upside down so that the opening rests on a hard, flat surface.

Using a small hammer, lightly tap a small dent into the bottom of the can.

Use a wooden stick (such as a dowel, chopstick, or spoon handle) to tap the dent. Tap the flat surface of the can's bottom, as well. You should hear a different tone when you hit the dented area to contrast with the tone that you hear when tapping the flat surface.

Tap two or three more dents into the can's bottom. Space the dents out so that you have one in each third or fourth of the bottom of the can. Get different tones from each dent by slightly varying their depths and sizes.

Play the can by striking the dents with the sticks.