Those Boom-Whacking Blues

Those Boom-Whacking Blues

Teaching a 12 Bar Blues Pattern Using Boomwhackers

By NAfME Member Joann Benson


Ah . . . It’s May. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and the kids are coloring in LOTS and LOTS of little bubbles . . . what to do to catch their attention in music class?

I have just the thing; teach them a 12 bar blues pattern using Boomwhackers!!!




There is something so, so satisfying about bonking a tube and creating music. My students will stand on their heads and spit nickels if they think a boomwhacker lesson might occur!

I’ve done this with fourth graders, but fifth and third could definitely benefit with a little tweaking.

We begin by reviewing the C major scale, often times playing the “Whacky Do-Re-Mi” from Plank Road publishing.  We continue by learning what a chord is, and I create a chord over each note of the C scale. (This is a fun time to teach Roman numerals as well, which most kids know from the numbering of the Super Bowls!) A great resource for teaching chords (and pretty much anything else you’d ever like to know) is the software Music Ace from Harmonic Vision. There is a lesson where the children identify chords using sight and sound.

Next, I have the children identify the pitch names of the notes involved in each chords, identifying those lucky boomers who play in more than one chord. Finally we spell out a simple chord progression such as:

I  I  I  I

IV  V , I I


The “Amen Cadence” of IV……………..I

Now, for the really fun part . . . We expand our progression to (each chord is one measure in 4/4 time)

I    I     I     I

IV    IV    I    I

V   IV    I    I

The kids practice it a few times and then – VOILA! – We play along with a prerecorded song such as “Hound Dog,” channeling our inner Elvis’. I use my clavinova for that, but you could easily search for something in the key of C and make adjustments.


May 4 - Joann Benson Elvis


For an extra challenge, I put an interlude between each verse. During that interlude on my cue, which is usually “SWITCH!”, they have to toss their boomwhacker to a friend, quickly figure out what chords they’re now responsible for, and PLAY! They eventually learn to improvise rhythms rather than simply quarter note time keeping.

If your kids are super sharp and ready for a challenge, transpose to the key of G and have them rewrite the pitches for each chord now. Another extension is to add the “F” to the V chord to create a 7 chord.

While I can’t guarantee you won’t be totally sick of “Hound Dog” after this activity, I can guarantee the kids will have had a great experience while learning a lot about chords! Don’t be surprised if you hear a “ONE MORE TIME!” yelled from the performers!!!


About the Author:

NAfME Member Joann Long Benson is the Vocal Music Teacher and Choral director at Sandymount Elementary School in Finksburg MD. She and her menagerie of puppets have taught for 21 years in Carroll County Public Schools. She is also the accompanist for the Children’s Chorus of Carroll County, MD and accompanies throughout the northern Maryland region. Mrs. Benson is a proud graduate of Mansfield University (PA) and Towson University. When not teaching, playing, or writing for NAfME she is by the pool with her nose in a book. Visit her website here:

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