Learn to play (and make) an instrument

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One of the most fulfilling things you can do is learn to play an instrument. It is a great gift to be able to share with others, and there is nothing like an evening of jamming to bring friends closer together. If you’re musically challenged like me, take inspiration from the Happy Mondays’ Bez and just be the guy or gal who dances in front of them playing the maraca.

It is even more fulfilling if you’ve managed to make the instrument yourself. One instrument that it easy to make from locally available materials is a log and buckskin drum.

• Go to the woods and find a dry log roughly the size you’d like your drum to be – both diameter and length are important considerations here. A drum can be any size but I’d recommend going for one at least a foot in diameter. Bear in mind that the bigger it is the more work you are going to have to do to hollow it out.

• Get yourself some buckskin. Given the amount of animals that die on our roads every year, the best of option here is to use roadkill. Learn how to create the buckskin you need if you already don’t – asking your local Freeconomy group for help with it would be an excellent place to start.

• Decide how thick you want the structure of the drum to be, and mark it out. This needs to be strong enough to support the buckskin and not break from the pressure of the sinew thongs (see step 6).

• Hollow out the insides using a chisel and a hammer, and keep going until you’ve reached your ideal depth and width, emptying out the shavings and excess as you go.

• Take your buckskin and immerse fully in water, ensuring that it is completely soaked. As it dries it will reduce in size again and become tight.

• Stretch the buckskin across the log you’ve just hollowed out, and secure the buckskin with thongs of sinew (or thin leather). As with the main skin, soak these in water so that they secure the main skin tightly as they dry. Be careful not to tie these too tight.

Jess Pasteiner

It is no coincidence that as the towers of civilisation have gone up, the sounds of the drum have faded. Ancient, primal, raw – earthy rhythms are nothing less than battlecries, pulling us in to the very depths of our experience. They are an awakening, to the universal rhythms in whose breast we nestle: the tides ebb and flow, the seasons pass, the moon fades once more.

If we allow it to rise up out of its own time and place, music connects us, to the souls that created it and to the land that birthed it. If we do not seek to impose our will on it, it will immerse us, in our own temporary tempo, in the chorus of possibility. As the jungles screech and the prairie howls, the rivers thrash and the oceans moan,
we dance in the call of the wild.

But civilisation is not one to sit back and let the wild be heard; civilisation cannot bear to relinquish control. Wildness scratches and bites and loves in the daylight; it catcalls at our conferences, and giggles at our governance. It entices us down darkened alleys into a consciousness where superficiality gleams like sickened neon. And so, of course, it is silenced. In an orgiastic worship of professionalism and production we take music from our campfires and place it on a stage, up there in front of us, showing off under the spotlight. In bright, air conditioned studios voices are botoxed and pedicured and coated in makeup. We are fed entertainment on a gilded plate; we are separated from our own song.

Reclaiming music is vital to us reclaiming our wildness. Humans on our cultural peripheries inhabit music: song as medicine, song as map, song as sacredness. Song as a place to live, a place to breathe, a place to join joyously with your brothers and sisters and writhe around in the first Om of the world. Song as a space to participate, in the melody of life.

But not us. Harmony is no longer something we seek, connection is no longer something we value. Participation is an adventure we have forgotten is available to us. But it exists, always, rhythm as wild time dancing always beneath the surface. All it needs is an awakening.

Go play.

Tom Hodgkinson, author of How to be Free and general advocate of idleness (an art I fully agree with but have somehow seemed unable to master yet), suggests learning the Ukulele. I’ve no idea how you would make one using local materials that make anything close to the sound we are used to, but with a bit of patience you will be able to find one on Freecycle or Freegle. I’ve been told that it is much easier to learn than the guitar, and due to its diminutive size it is easy to take on your moneyless adventures. I’ve regularly noticed pianos and other instruments being offered for free on many of the gift economy websites mentioned in this book.