STEM + STEAM = WOOD Makes Music!™ . . . and More


WOOD Makes Music!™ is a marimba-making experiential craft activity designed to introduce participants to the sonorous properties of wood and the application of specialized information (knowledge) to construct a musical instrument. It is also an “Installation Art” community project when engaged outside of the classroom for art museums, public libraries and public spaces and places. The activity of construction is intentionally designed to show process and how art is easily integrated into science and how science is naturally integrated into the arts. With enough activity to address STEAM and STEAM curriculum standards, WOOD Makes Music!™ is Arts Integration that infuses the sociology of music with performance storytelling and world cultures. WOOD Makes Music!™ is a fun and engaging way to introduce and/or review various content and subject matter e.g., math concepts; the science of sound; wood types; ecology; conservation; world musical cultures (ethnomusicology) and musical explorations in rhythm and ensemble music-making. (There are many research possibilities for Report and Essay-writing for upper grades, middle and high school included, during and after the project that explores the similarities of marimbas/xylophones and their types from around the world.)

An Artist-Teacher-Student collaboration negotiate on goals and what we’d like to achieve and experience while addressing the academic standards set forth makes for authentic engagement. WOOD Makes Music!™ promotes and supports GREEN initiatives by using recycled materials along with the store-bought items. Students/participants are not subject to being harmed by hammering and nails as they are not needed or used for this style of marimba-making.

Give a listen to one of the soundbites below and hear the joyous sounds of a WOOD Makes Music!™ marimba. J’miah was invited to participate in the musical ensemble used to accompany Ms. Linda Goss for her audio book/cassette by Bantam Doubleday books, The Baby Leopard (1989) and brought one of his marimbas along for the studio recording.

Residencies of at least 3 days are suggested for schools and public facilities interested in developing a teaching unit with a WOOD Makes Music!™ component in mind. The artist residency includes creating core-groups of students to play the marimbas they designed and constructed who will accompany a percussion ensemble (drummers, axatse players, claves, etc.) and a choral ensemble who will also learn to recite a traditional “drum poem” in Twi along with some songs and dancers throughout the life of the residency. The residency culminates with an Afahye-like (pronounced ah-FAH-shay) whole-school performance for the school community. (The traditional Afahye in these modern times for some have been shaped around a calendar for the farming seasons and is also referred to as Afehyia, meaning “a loop of seasons.” The history and explanations are given more in-depth during the artist-residency.)


A short story about

“How WOOD Makes Music!™ Came to Be”

(J’miah Nabawi)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is WOOD-Makes-Music-pile-of-plain-wood-for-From-this-toTHAT-scaled.jpgWOOD Makes Music!™ began (and developed) in Philadelphia (PA) as a playful response to the Franklin Institute Science Museum’s open call to area performing artists to audition to be part of a national exhibit that was on tour and coming to the Franklin Institute.  “What Makes Music?” was the exhibit and the auditioning artists were challenged to present their proposal and show how what they were offering as their public, interactive programming during the exhibit.

From a small pile of unfinished (bare) wood (pine and popular wood similar to the one shown above), four pieces of wood slats were laid out forming a frame-like base to lay several pieces of wood across it as the keys to a wooden xylophone (marimba). I started my proposal with this demonstration. I then struck the wooden pieces with two bare sticks as mallets.

Free xylophone musical instrument mallets vector

All you could hear was, “click-a-dee, click-a-dee, click-click-click,” as I played up and down the wooden keys and got only the sound of wood hitting wood. There was nothing musical about it. I then took the frame of wood underneath that was supporting the wooden slats that were laid across it as wooden keys to a marimba, added some rubber strips (rubber weather stripping) across the frame and replaced the wooden slats onto the pieces of rubber and struck them one again, the previously flat, unmusical “click-a-dee, click-a-dee, click-click-click” of just two sticks striking onto wood turned into melodic,  richly harmonizing, musical sounds of a store-bought marimba or xylophone: “Bing ding-ding bong-bong bong-a-ding-ding!”  You could hear the judges and audience gasp with surprise, a few jumped out of their seats and ran to the stage to see what I had done.  With that, I said, What Makes Music? WOOD makes music! And that’s how it all began for the program I call, WOOD Makes Music! That was quite a funny moment I’ll never forget! Some of the judges even jerked back in their seats smiling and looking surprised when those harmonic tones came ringing out of those oddly cut, unadorned mix-matched pieces of wood that included some of those old-fashioned reddish-brown “bed slats.” (I still crack a smile every time I think back on that day.) Along with some of the other artists, WOOD Makes Music!™ got the call back and a residency contract to present at the museum for a six-week long museum exhibit. It was such an awesome Arts-in-Education residency.  

Having premiered at The Franklin Institute (Science Museum), one of America’s most celebrated museums and renowned leader in science and technology, WOOD Makes Music!™ was now on the map, so to speak. It would eventually receive more inquiries and requests to do residencies with music, art and math/science instructors and teachers. WOOD Makes Music!™ was later recognized and cited with a Proclamation by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives at the close of a 90-day artist residency for the Blue Mountain School District’s cluster of schools (Orwigsburg, PA) during an evening community program where a core-group of students and I had finished performing as an ensemble of storytellers and rhythm makers where the marimbas were used and on display. It was quite an authentically engaging, 90-day artist residency! 


Fast forward from 1990. In 2001, WOOD Makes Music!™ became part of the Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning™ methodology of “Experience, Inquire, Create, Reflect” initiative through a U.S. Department of Education grant in partnership with Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA) and the Grammy® Foundation. (Note: “Artful Learning™ allows teachers and teaching artists to skillfully blend core academic subjects like science and math with character education and the arts [art integration] in a seamless transition.”)

See how WOOD Makes Music! serves as a prompt for creative writing. Follow this link.

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A segment of WOOD Makes Music!™ is now part of the national “Geek the Library” campaign in support of our local libraries across the nation and can be seen in the “Get Your Geek On” series of videos. WOOD Makes Music!™ is currently available for touring schools, community festivals and children’s museums.

I geek Marimbas
“I got my Geek On doing more research on the sonorous properties of wood and how marimbas are used for different festivities in different parts of the world. Go ahead, “Get Your Geek On” making visits to the public library and support your local libraries!” ~ J’miah Nabawi


Here’s an example of WOOD Makes Music!™ marimba keys going from plain wood (store-bought or recycled lumber, we encourage recycling) to colorful, thematic designs done with markers and crayons by summer camp participants at the Lutheran Church of the Ascension’s (Savannah, GA) for their 2014 Music Week.

(All bare feet and wood on deck!)

This plain pile of wood went from this . . .

WOOD Makes FEET and Wood pile_Music Week 2014

 to this!WOOD Makes Music_All finished_Lutheran Church Music Week Marimba 2014

And we’re done! The bare pile of wood is now transformed into a colorful, musical marimba! These colorfully designed pieces of musical marimba keys were first drawn on paper and then onto the wood and painted or colored in with water markers and crayons by the children and camp directors.

Extended into an artist residency, WOOD Makes Music!™ becomes an engaging, fun INSTILLATION ART PROJECT where participants design and construct an oversized marimba that is left with the school and out on display. The marimba will also be tuned and usable for any future school musical activities as well.


Wood Makes Music_2

WOOD Makes Music!™ at the Coastal Georgia YMCA’s Pryme Tyme

after-school program, Gould Elementary, Garden City, GA



WOOD Makes Music!™  had its first public schools introduction as an arts-in-education/arts integration artist residency at Blue Mountain Elementary Schools East and West in  Orwigsburg, PA following its premier at the Franklin Institute (Science Museum) in 1990.

Wood Makes Music_5th grade student ties down the keys

A 5th grade student nears completion of the marimba as he ties down the keys. Photo courtesy of Debbie Marteslo, Art Instructor, Blue Mountain Schools District.



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