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Percussion Play – accessible outdoor music-making

Written by Tom Wild10/05/24

As a leading creative outdoor musical instrument manufacturer, Percussion Play are determined to add harmony, soul, and energy to inclusive and accessible play environments around the world. With over 20 years of experience in the play industry, they have set out to lead the market in innovative outdoor music solutions that are accessible for all.

As part of their mission, Percussion Play have produced a series of white papers to help explain the motivations and decisions behind their designs. We’ve summarised a select few of those papers here, highlighting some of our favourite Percussion Play instruments along the way.


Come One, Come All: The benefits of music-making within the community (2018)

The paper starts by pointing that music's prevalence in communities has endured since prehistoric times! Percussion Play argue that it’s vital it to continue doing so in the modern day.

Key points include:

  • Music creates a sense of group identity – it brings about ‘social integration because it directly impacts on the neuro-chemicals in the brain which facilitate feelings of closeness and connection’ (referencing Jill Sutie’s 2016 article, How Music Bonds Us Together).
  • Music allows for non-verbal communication, and is therefore able to bring especially diverse groups of people together by ‘transcend[ing] language limitations’, especially music with a significant physical component such as percussion.
  • Public parks are ideal spaces for organic community musical activity, as they are often shared by people of all ages. Relatively low-cost transformations such as those done by Percussion Play can turn these standard communal areas into something really special, where people can feel safe and connected via music.

These points are exemplified by a case study of a musical garden which Percussion Play installed in a care home in Denmark, involving outdoor xylophones. The paper describes how the installation was conceived, the importance of placement, and the positive outcomes of the garden for people of different age groups, from children in a nearby nursery to elderly people in the care home itself.

“We hope that by sharing the musical instruments with family, friends and visitors, a sense of community pride and ownership will occur amongst the residents. Playing music is a multi-generational and fun experience, and playing music together with family members, other residents or helpers, creates social interactions that can only have a positive impact on mental function, mood and overall well-being.”

- Lars Hansen, Percussion Play Denmark

Percussion Play produce a number of instruments and sets which encourage collaboration, including ensembles like the soprano and alto quartets, or the rainbow trio.

Read the full paper


Five Notes to Rule Them All: The Power of the Pentatonic Scale (2018)

Pentatonic scale a scale made up of five notes. In this paper, and in Percussion Play’s instruments, the pentatonic scale referred to is the standard major pentatonic.

The C major pentatonic scale goes as follows:

C major pentatonic scale

This paper explains the seemingly universal importance of pentatonic scales throughout all musical cultures and demonstrates how Percussion Play have made use of this concept with their instruments.

Simplicity

As a scale with relatively few notes and no semitone intervals, the major pentatonic presents an inherent lack of dissonance. This means that it’s impossible to play anything that sounds especially bad, making it a very accessible musical tool.

Innate human connection

To assert that any musical structure is somehow ‘innately human’ is certainly bold, but the paper elucidates the argument by pointing to recent archaeological discoveries. For example, in 2008 an Ice Age bone flute was found to be tuned to the pentatonic scale, suggesting prehistoric origins.

Pentatonic ‘brain hacking’

The study also points to the performances of Bobby McFerrin, ‘an American jazz vocalist and conductor [who] uses the pentatonic scale and audience participation to show to dramatic effect the universal nature of our neural programming’, as demonstrated in this video:

Use in music education

Educational approaches, like those of Kodaly, Orff and Steiner, leverage the pentatonic scale to awaken children's innate musical abilities from a young age.

A quick and easy tip for getting students started with the pentatonic scale (and one of my earliest memories of music lessons!) is simply to have them play the black keys only only the piano. Use F# as your ‘do’ (1st note) and you have an easy major pentatonic scale!

Many of Percussion Play’s instruments utilise this concept, including the penta post, emperor chimes and soprano freechimes.

Read the full paper


Music for Mood & Memory: The Benefits of Music for People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia (2021)

Music therapy has been extensively studied for its positive impacts on Alzheimer's disease (AD) and dementia, including stimulating memory, regulating emotions, and managing anxiety. Percussion Play explain some of the benefits of music therapy in more detail, and share why their designs are ideal for certain aspects of it. This paper touches on:

Benefits of music for seniors

Studies indicate that musical participation can lead to lowered blood pressure, reduced stress, and enhanced immunological responses in older adults, as well as improving mood and cognitive function, potentially delaying cognitive decline.

Benefits of music for Alzheimer's and dementia patients

Music engages areas of the brain typically affected by Alzheimer's, potentially lowering the risk of developing dementia and improving cognitive function in seniors. ‘There is a growing body of evidence that playing an instrument can significantly lower the risk of contracting the disease in the first place’. (page 5)

This particular area has recently received prominent coverage in the UK’s mainstream press, such as this recent BBC article covering an Exeter University study suggesting that ‘playing a musical instrument or singing could help keep the brain healthy in older age’.

The paper covers the subject of music and memory. Music is able to access and enliven parts of the brain damaged by Alzheimer's and dementia, which has also received extensive scholarly and journalistic attention in recent years. 

Benefits of drumming

Naturally, Percussion Play use this paper to explain how drumming is especially useful in music therapy. In addition to aforementioned benefits, they point to the physicality of drumming helping to maintain elderly persons’ muscle mass, in synergy with boosting cognitive function. The non-verbal nature of drumming is also a positive in this respect.

These proven benefits provide Percussion Play with some of their guiding principles for their designs, which promote collaborative music-making with physical activity, social engagement emotional expression at their heart. A fantastic example of this is the congas trio with its simple and robust construction, or the innovative and funky-sounding handpipes.

Read the full paper


Play, Percussion and 'Post-Age' Pedagogy: The Positive Effects of Intergenerational Music-Making (2020)

Examining the effects of music-making involving multiple distinct generations, this paper discusses several musical projects and studies involving participants from at least two totally distinct generations, pointing to various benefits for:

Senior citizens

Intergenerational music-making acts as a partial remedy for depressive symptoms, loneliness and diminished self-esteem, as well as improving physical health among senior citizens.

  • A 2019 study in Louisville on intergenerational music therapy found that it significantly reduced depressive and anxious symptoms in elderly and dementia patients, especially those in residential facilities.
  • An intergenerational musical play programme in Hamilton focused on general music participation for long-term care residents and elementary school students, emphasising playing percussion. Evidence pointed towards music-making improving the psychosocial status and cognitive function of older adults. The programme had some remarkable effects, including one elderly participant transitioning from non-verbal to conversational over the course of the study.
  • A 2017 randomized study involving 3-4 year old children and older adults aged 72-98 also demonstrated positive outcomes, indicating the benefits of child-adult interaction in music therapy for both parties.

Children and youth

Many articles and reports over decades have highlighted the benefits of learning music from a young age (you can find some of those here), but this paper highlights the specific positives of intergenerational play for the young.

  • A study conducted by Stanford in 2016 concluded that “older adults possess the key attributes that uniquely position them to benefit the young”.
  • The aforementioned Hamilton study noted reduced be behavioural issues in one specific child with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
  • It also saw a marked ‘reduction in age related stereotypes, enhanced psychosocial status (improved morale and mood) and a general enthusiasm expressed towards the programme activities and the children’s new elderly friends.’

Intergenerational musical activities, beyond just therapy or education settings, are proving to foster community cohesion and well-being across age groups. The paper engagingly outlines numerous case studies which demonstrate how creating spaces for musical engagement, such as those offered by Percussion Play themselves, can attract and unite people of all ages, fostering social inclusion and mutual support.

Read the full paper

To see the full set of white papers by Percussion Play, click here.