This activity doesn’t require any equipment at all and it’s not restricted to Music lessons, either – it will add to the success of relevant English, Drama and Geography lessons too. It’s easy, it’s fun and it’s memorable. This has nothing to do with rhythm or tempo; it’s a sound effect which features texture, performance and listening – and of course listening is the most important thing in Music!
Arrange chairs in a big circle, including one chair for you. Get everyone sitting quietly before you tell them what’s going to happen. The idea is to create the sound of a thunderstorm gradually approaching, doing its worst and gradually subsiding.
It will only work if the children do exactly what they are told to do, without any deviation from the rules whatsoever – in fact I would suggest that if anyone talks at any stage you should stop, express disappointment and restart.
Explain that you will do something which the pupil sitting next to you (let’s say on your left) must watch and imitate. Let’s call that pupil A. The next pupil, called B, doesn’t start the action until he/she sees pupil A doing it. Pupil C doesn’t start until he/she sees pupil B doing it. And so on.
In other words, they don’t all immediately copy what you do – they wait until their neighbour (on their right) starts the action before they do it. There’s no hurry; if it takes some time for a pupil to realise that everyone’s waiting for them to change, so be it. (It’s a bit hard to explain but simple enough once you get going!) The important thing is that changes should sound gradual.
Tell the children that you are not trying to set up a rhythm, and also that if they feel they can’t do one of the actions (like clicking fingers) it is important that they should just do their best or pretend! Here’s what you do (without any talking):
The (slightly muggy) calm before the storm – very distant thunder.
You rub the palms of your hands together, making hardly any sound at all. This action (and the resultant quiet storm-anticipation sound) is passed around the circle until everyone is doing the same thing. It’s not a rhythmical sound, by the way, but a sound effect, which will gradually develop.
The first few tiny drops of rain.
Don’t say anything, but change your activity from rubbing palms to gentle, non-rhythmic clicking. This action is passed around the circle, so that at first most people are rubbing their hands, and gradually they all join in with the clicking.
When everyone is clicking, begin non-rhythmical clapping (like applause in a concert) and let it go gradually around the circle.
Change to slapping your thighs with both hands (again, not in rhythm).
Thunderous tropical rainfall.
Continue with the thigh slapping and get your feet moving up and down at the same time, so that they are banging on the floor.
Just tropical rainfall again
Stop doing the floor banging thing, but continue with the thigh slapping – make this change as obvious as you can as some pupils might have got a bit carried away with their thunder.
Back to heavy rain.
Change to non-rhythmical clapping again.
Last few drops.
Change to non-rhythmical clicking again.
The storm has moved away.
Change back to palm-rubbing
When everyone has changed back to palm rubbing, all round the circle, place your hands very deliberately on your thighs (or knees) and wait for each pupil, one at a time, to do the same, until everyone has stopped. Allow a long moment of silence before you speak.
Give the children lavish praise and talk about what they’ve achieved and what they’re learning by doing it. If you’re not sure what it is, ask the pupils. Everyone will agree that it has been worth doing even if they can’t put their finger on what has been achieved. Something powerful – like the summoning of a spirit – has been going on. That’s why we sometimes call this the rain dance.