Building a collection of Boomwhackers can be daunting if you haven’t worked with them much before. I decided this blog would not be complete without my two cents on creating your Boomwhacker stockpile. Obviously my recommendation is “Buy all the boomwhackers!” but this post is dedicated to those who are working on a more realistic budget, such as teachers.
First, let’s look at the sets that are commonly available:
The pentatonic set has six boomwhackers in the octave ascending from middle C. It contains the notes middle C, D, E, G, A, and C. This set generally costs around $20.
The diatonic set contains eight boomwhackers in the octave ascending from middle C. It contains the notes middle C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. It contains all the notes of the pentatonic set plus the notes F and B. This set generally costs around $25
The chromatic set fills the gaps between the diatonic notes. This set contains five boomwhackers: C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab, and A#/Bb. To put things in a visual space, the diatonic set contains the white keys on a piano, and the chromatic set contains the black keys of a piano. This set generally costs around $17.
The diatonic bass set contains seven notes that lead to the diatonic set of boomwhackers. The highest note is the B directly below middle C. The lowest is the octave below middle C. This set costs around $45. (The cost is higher because the tubes are lower and therefore longer. More material used = more costly.)
The bass chromatic set contains the same notes as the regular chromatic set, but an octave down. This set costs around $33.
The treble extension pack contains 7 notes that ascend CHROMATICALLY (Not diatonically. ) from the highest note of the pentatonic or diatonic sets. It contains the notes C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G. This set costs around $16. (Shorter tubes = less money!)
So you may be asking yourself why they only go up to G, and why this is the only set sold chromatically. Both are excellent questions that I don’t have an official answer for, but I do have a very educated guess. Remember that the higher the pitch, the shorter the tube. To create an octave above a boomwhacker, you decrease the length by half. So if you look at your regular G boomwhacker, the high G is half that length. That is pretty short, and frankly, short is hard to whack, and even harder to whack with any sort of tone integrity. My guess is that G is about the highest manufacturers can create boomwhackers while still maintaining a consistency in tone. As to why they are sold chromatically, my guess is that they didn’t want to sell a set of four, so manufacturers just chose to offer the chromatic and diatonic pitches.
So now that you know about what sets are available, let’s talk about your needs and your wants. First, you need to determine the level of difficulty of music you want to create using boomwhackers. If you are looking at re-enacting symphonic works with boomwhacker, you probably need several sets of each, and a few hundred dollars of boomwhacker budget. (This is what I fantasize about at night, by the way.)
But most reading this blog are likely looking at this purchase for classroom or basic ensemble use. So let’s move on to the size of your ensemble or class. I currently teach grades 6-12, and I use boomwhackers most often in my World Drumming class and my 6th grade chorus. My drumming class has 21 students and the 6th grade chorus has around 18 (They are small and mighty.)
Now, whether or not every kid in the class gets a boomwhacker depends on your philosophical approach. Do you want to have kids take turns? Do you want everyone to have a boomwhacker? It all comes down to whether you want to apply your classroom management skills to kids who are on the verge of rioting because they are desperate for a turn, or want to apply those management skills to kids who want to use boomwhackers as swords. It is your call. At the end of the day, I have better luck when my whole class has boomwhackers in their hand. This also helps the kids work in small groups so they are more confident on entrances.
So I know I want at least 21 boomwhackers in hands at all times. But which 21? That all comes down to what notes get played most often.
Here is a list of sets I have ranked from the most important to the least important:
1) Diatonic – 2 to 3 sets (if every last penny makes a difference, you can probably save a bit by having 2 sets diatonic and one set pentatonic. The pentatonic set is nice to fill out the most often played notes. But really the cost difference between diatonic and pentatonic is quite negligible, (Pentatonic is around $20 and diatonic is around $25) so why not just go for another set of diatonic? What did F and B ever do you?)
2) One pack of 8 octavator caps. This is a must. Opening up your melody options to songs that may have a note or two outside of the main octave is huge. Plus kids think the octavator caps are the coolest thing. It is wizardry as far as they are concerned, and fun with sound is what music teaching is all about. You will octavate the pitches Sol, La, and Ti the most. Think of all the songs that have that Sol-Do entrance, or Sol-La-Ti-Do.
3) Chromatic – 1 to 2 sets. This is a great set to have a few of if you want to play in keys outside of C. Fun Fact: The pentatonic scale’s gaps of F and B are gapped exactly where the single sharp and single flat keys have their sharp and flat… F# and Bb for the win! This set isn’t as important as the diatonic set, but it makes life really easy, because you don’t constantly have to transpose into the key of C and juggle the melody to make it work within one octave.
4) Treble Extension – If you bought the octavator sets, it is pretty easy to get a melody to fit within two octaves if you finagle the music around a bit, but the treble extension is still a good addition to the collection for that extra sparkle to performance pieces. Remember that you can make pitches lower with the caps, but there is currently no way to make the diatonic boomwhackers higher. The treble extension isn’t super necessary, but it is cool.
You will notice that I don’t have the bass extensions listed among my recommendations. It isn’t that they aren’t cool, because to be honest, they are actually pretty awesome and all your kids will fight over them. But I don’t recommend them for three key reasons:
1) The octavator caps achieve the same tone that the bass tubes do, making them redundant.
2) They are twice the length of the diatonic tubes, which makes storage a serious consideration.
3) Kids will fight over them. Everyone wants the big boomwhacker (especially middle school boys, but we won’t go Freudian for now). But more importantly, they are difficult to handle for young kids.
In summary, below you will find two shopping carts with my recommendations. The first is the bare bones budget recommendations for a classroom, and the second is my realistic recommendations that will get you through the bulk of all boomwhacking. Prices, of course, vary by seller. These prices are taken from Boomwhacker.com (Click to view larger) Please note: Amazon.com‘s price are a bit lower. Shopping with Amazon will save you about 25% on your order. I use Boomwhacker.com as kind of a baseline price that is more consistent across sites.
On Amazon, the bare bones cart comes out to $54.44 before shipping. The basic cart comes out to be $98.04.