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RhythmWheel Looper

Description of Instrument:

The focus of this instrument is to construct a music box made out of cheaper materials, in order to educate ULO students about rhythms, loops and melody.  The goal is to have a product which can be custom and/or adjustable.  This means that the objects that are creating the sounds (hanging or fastened) and the placements of the pegs striking the objects (what defines the timing and which notes are struck) can be easily manipulated or replaced in order to create unique rhythms and tones.


Rotating mouse exercise wheel (one that is metal with interweaving grid pattern, in order to be able to place the different pegs in variety of locations). Approx. price $3 – $10

If using PetSmart metal exercise wheel, the easiest peg to use is a ¼” hex bolt along with the appropriate nuts and washers for support on the wheel.  Cheap

For fastened objects, a strong tie FB26 (to hold the objects) which could use #10 screws in order to hold different metal objects in place. Approx. $5

Wood and wood screws to hold the fastener and wheel in one place.

Objects: Galv hanger strap, copper strips or other objects.

Drill: for wood screws and extra holes in the strong tie.

Contact microphone if wanted (piezo, jack, glue).


– The objects and pegs can be easily adjusted and manipulated creatively.

– This can be an avenue towards an explanation of rhythm and may get a large group to follow a rhythm.

– Pretty cheap, the most expensive material being the wheel.

– Allows for creativity and individuality in the construction of the instrument.

– Can be made in a session if materials are present.


– Wheel can break and needs to be more stable.

– Difficult to place a handle or crank on the wheel and to rotate the wheel.

– The metal straps for pegs can be dangerous.

– Need to enhance if to become a standard instrument in ULO and not just educational and exercise tool.

Curriculum Outline:

This instrument can be used for a section of a session which teaches the students about how repetition, loops, and rhythm work.  One can start by reminding or suggesting to the students the features of a circle.  Circles are continuous and have no corners or ends.  From this, a relation between the features of the circle and the features of the loop are nearly identical.  Perhaps maybe add that the loop has a circular activity in time, and this can be varied.

This will get them on the track towards learning about timing within a beat.  By adjusting he pegs of the instrument, you can change which notes are played and at what time they are played.  With the circular wheel, a pattern emerges and the students will hopefully better understand how a beat is established.  This can extend to explanations about specific types of rhythm (duple, triple, etc.) as well as how a melody may be constructed by using notes in the place of the rhythm.  Afterward the students can help build a rhythm.  Once they listen to their result, we can ask them about their rhythm and how it may be defined (musically or non-musically).

As a group, this instrument can be utilized as a conductor’s tool.  By establishing a set rhythm and tempo, the orchestra can then begin to work together in creating and practicing music within a structured time.

Other Future Possiblities:

–          Multiple wheels per strong tie and objects.

–          Horizontal wheel with many different fastened object around the wheel.

–          Use of hanging or suspended objects.

–          Make a sturdier wheel in order to incorporate into ULO rehearsals and performances.

–          Motor on the wheel to get a steady rhythm, without hand turning.

–          Colored string for visually dividing the wheel into rhythmic sections

–          Open moveable slits in which the fastened objects can be moved and removed.

Pegs and objects could be placed within the wheel in a circular layout, instead of outside.




  • A Round Metal Mixing Bowl – Or a metal cake pan
  • 3/4″ Diameter Metal Rods – Or thicker
  • Sheet Metal – Just big enough to fit the bowl on
  • A Metal Pipe – At least 1.5 inches in diameter
  • Waterproof Epoxy – Used as the primary binding agent


  • A Power Drill – Used to put holes in the bowl for the rods
  • Drill Bit – 3/4″ drill bit
  • Hacksaw – Used to cut the metal rods, the sheet metal, and the pipe
  • A Metal File – For smoothing some of the metal pieces
  • A Tape Measure – For measuring lengths

1) Tonal Rods:

The metal rods, cut to different lengths, will produce different notes on the waterphone. Shorter rods will make higher notes when struck and longer rods will produce lower tones. On this instrument, we want to have a nice variety and arrangement of longer and shorter rods.  So, first measure and cut the rods to different lengths. I suggest using even intervals between each rod. For example, on my waterphone, each rod is an inch different in length from the one next to it. The number of rods required is equal to the circumference of the cake pan in inches. Once your rods are cut, set them aside.

2) Prep Mixing Bowl:

The bowl will be used as the base of the waterphone. It will hold the tonal rods we made in the last step. It will also hold water.  First, measure the rim of the pan and make a small mark every inch and half or two inches. Next, drill holes at each mark around the rim of the cake pan, the holes should be the same diameter as the rods. After you drill the holes, the metal will probably be extremely sharp and jagged on the opposite side, use the metal file to eliminate those edges. Once this is finished, set this piece aside as well.

3) Making the top for the base:

From the sheet metal we will cut a piece to fit over the cake pan. First, lay the pan, upside-down on the sheet metal. Second, draw around the pan onto the sheet metal. Next, cut the sheet metal with the hacksaw. Be careful, the sheet metal will be sharp.  After you have cut the sheet metal, place the pan back on top of the sheet metal and draw a dot through the holes in the pan onto the sheet metal. Then, drill a hole on each dot. Again, file off the sharp points.

4) Making the handle:

A piece of pipe will serve as both a handle for the waterphone and a place for sound to escape. Just measure and cut a piece of pipe about the length of the tallest rod. Make sure to file smooth the ends of the handle.

5) Making the hole for the handle:

The first task to be accomplished is to find the center of the sheet metal square you just cut. Center the piece of pipe over the center of the sheet metal and draw a circle around the end of the pipe. Now, cut out that circle. The way I did it was drill small holes around the circumference of the circle so that I could break the little sections between the holes, freeing the small circle. Then file the circle smooth.

6) Attach Handle:

Now, place the pipe handle through the small hole you just cut, and epoxy the handle to the sheet metal square. Make sure the end of the pipe is as flush with the sheet metal as possible. Tip: roughen the surfaces to be epoxied, that way the epoxy will adhere better.

7) Attach Rods:

Shift your attention from the sheet metal and the pipe to the cake pan and the rods. The first thing to do is arrange the rods in a pattern. I choose to arrange some sections from shortest to longest. You can do whatever you think will sound good. The only important part is to have a short span short rods so that you can hold the handle without touching the rods.  Push your first rod through the hole so that only a tiny bit is above the surface. The rods should be snug enough in the holes that they won’t move too much. Now, epoxy the rod in place. Do this for all the rods in the order you choose.

8) Putting it all together:

Now, get both the cake pan section and the pipe section. Carefully, place the sheet metal square on top of the pan by inserting each rod through its respective hole, starting with the tallest rods and ending with the shortest. The two pieces should slide together nicely.  Once both halves of the waterphone are assembled, put a bead of epoxy around the edge where the sheet metal meets the pan. Squeeze as much epoxy into the crack as possible without breaking the contact between the pieces.  The epoxy will need a few hours to cure, so set the waterphone in a dry, warm place.

9) Reinforce rods:

The bottom of each rod needs to be connected to the sheet metal. So, apply a little solder to the bottom of each rod. Once this is done, your waterphone is finished! The first step to your first waterphone performance is to add the water. Pour a little into the handle, initally start with just enough to cover the bottom of the cake pan.  Differing amounts of water produce different reverberation effects, so experiment with it.  The waterphone can be played in a variety of ways: using a percussion mallet, as well as a bow.

ULO Sessions Week 5 & 6

Week 5

We began the session by dividing the kids into the same sections as previous weeks: percussion, metallophones, and strings.  Joe and I spent most of the time working with the strings section.  For a large portion of the session, we worked on symbol notation.  The kids took turns going around in a circle, playing their individual interpretations of the symbols.  Additionally, after this exercise, we had the kids try to mimic some of the sounds that other kids were making with their instruments.  This was a good way to get the kids listening to others, and thinking about the sounds in a more creative, abstract way.  As well, after one of the kids had played their interpretation of the symbols, the group was asked for feedback on how that individual might improve their solo.  Unfortunately, perhaps due to the excessive temperature in the room or the large number of kids in our section, we had a difficult time keeping the kids engaged with the material.  Often the flow of the instruction was staggered in order to address behavioral issues within the group.  Furthermore, there were mechanical issues with the Hrokkurs which may have led the kids attempting to play them to disengage the material.  At the end of the session, all of the sections were reunited for a mini-performance of sorts, to allow the kids to hear what the other sections had been working on.


Week 6

The behavioral difference between this session and the last was like night and day, perhaps due to the use of air conditioning.  As well, reminding the kids that this was our final session seemed to help encourage them to put forth their best effort.  In any case, we had little to no issues with the kids playing their instruments out of turn or horse playing around with their neighbors.  On a few occasions when a child would play when they weren’t supposed to, their peers would often intervene and correct the student.  Like the previous session, we spent most of the time divided into the three sections.  With the string section, we again worked with the symbol notations.  For the first time I asked a few of the kids to add dynamics by playing their symbol “sad” or “happy”.  This spurred creative abstractions of the sounds.  This session we had volunteers conducting the group by controlling which symbols were placed on the projector.  The conductor introduced an additional degree of dynamics, by controlling the volume of the ensemble with the height of their hands.  For the last 20-30 minutes of the session, all of the sections were reunited.  Again, volunteer conductors were chosen to lead the entire ensemble.

ULO on YouTube!



Instrument Building

Instrument Building

During the week long intensive, students design and build their own instruments at UCSD.




Metallophone Rhythms


Playing the Hrocker


String Vibration Demo


ULO Intensive Students Play Their Newly Built Instruments