How to Create a Musical Cup Concert With Your Kids
Do your kids love making noise and banging things around?
Got budding musicians at home?
Turn chaos and noise into music and rhythm with nothing more than a few cups and your imagination.
In this article I’ll show you how to use plastic cups as percussion instruments and create a unique family concert to perform for friends or just for fun around the dinner table.
Why a Plastic Cup Concert?
Imagine your kids’ reactions when instead of telling them to quiet down, you encourage them to make lots of noise, to bang on the dishes, to tell the grownups how to do something… This is the beauty and appeal of a cup concert.
It breaks the rules.
It puts kids in control.
It uses something common in an uncommon way.
And it’s a spine-tingling sensory experience.
Kids love it when you turn something ordinary like plastic cups into something special like a cup concert. It tells them that you’re ready to tweak the rules once in a while and kids switch on immediately to these kinds of games.
It also shows them that you don’t need expensive gear to have fun: you can play music using virtually any object you have in the room. Check out what some people manage to do with nothing more than brooms, sticks and trashcans or wine glasses.
Just watch this video and imagine your kids doing something like this.
A cup concert is a pretty noisy activity. To be honest, that’s one of the main reasons why your kids will love it. Go ahead and encourage them to make noise! A cup concert is a great sensory experience that will help develop their listening and coordination skills, as well as their creativity.
Just try to watch this without getting inspired to bang on a cup!
Right now, cup concerts are an Internet sensation. The most famous cup concert is Anna Kendrick’s Cup Song “When I’m Gone” from the movie Pitch Perfect. It has spurred all sorts of covers on YouTube. Some good versions of it include the Harvard Undergraduate Drummers and the one by Kurt Hugo Schneider shown above.
It may look difficult, but if you follow the simple instructions below, with a little practice you and your family will be having your own concerts in no time!
Ready to get started?
#1: Warm Up
Seat each musician comfortably in front of an upside-down cup. Ask them how many different noises they can make with their cups.
Set the rules before they start banging everywhere like mad: they can use their hands or the table to hit the cups, not their sister’s or brother’s head; they can use the cup in any position they want, upside-down or on the side.
It’s a good idea to show kids how to hit the table gently with the cup or with their hands. Kids tend to hit harder than necessary to produce a good sound. You don’t want them to end up hurting themselves by slapping the table too hard.
Your musicians should demonstrate each new sound they discover to the others. Suggest that they give a name to each sound (scraping, hitting, clapping, stroking…).
It should only take about 2 minutes to discover the many different sounds they can create with just one cup, one table and two hands!
#2: Create a Rhythm
Next, ask each musician to create a simple rhythm, 5 to 8 moves maximum. Their patterns can include a combination of banging the cup and clapping their hands. It’s ok to repeat the same moves within a simple rhythm.
Give them 10 minutes maximum and explain that they will have to memorize their beat so everybody can learn it.
This is what my 8-year-old daughter came up with: a simple, slow beat that’s easy to remember.
Some kids are quicker than others to come up with a beat. It might be useful to help younger ones or those who are not satisfied with what they came up with so they don’t get discouraged.
My son’s beat was quicker and slightly more elaborate.
When they produce a beat they like, ask them to practice it a few times to learn it by heart. If your kids are not feeling very creative, show them one or two ideas yourself to help get them started.
#3: Practice the Beat
When they’re ready, ask the youngest child to show his/her beat to the others and teach everybody how to do it move-by-move. Kids feel great when they’re asked to show their creation to older folk.
Film each musician with your camera or phone so you can refer to it later. At the beginning, it’s easy to get confused and forget the patterns. A video will help everyone remember what his/her part was.
Once everyone masters the first pattern individually, practice it together until it seems natural. Then ask the second child to teach everyone his/her beat. Practice that one until everyone’s comfortable with it and then add the second beat to the first one. Continue until the last pattern has been practiced and added to the others.
Adding Lili’s beat and Paul’s beat together.
At this point, depending on your kids’ ages, you may ask if they’d like to sing along to the rhythm. Chanting helps with remembering rhythms and may be a good addition to your composition. Your words may be as simple as just chanting la-la-laaaa-la but this could also be the opportunity to imagine lyrics for a new family song!
Chanting with the beat.
#4: Have Fun
Ready for an extra challenge? If everyone’s in a good mood and your song is going well, it can be fun (and funny) to add some extra difficulty such as exchanging cups during the moves.
Exchange cups between percussionists to add an extra challenge.
To exchange cups easily, you need to sit close to each other (about arm’s length) and perform the rhythm with perfect coordination. It’s hard! Your musicians will often miss a cup or take the wrong one. Don’t expect perfection, just enjoy a good laugh together.
Other variations include starting alone and adding one player after each beat; increasing and decreasing the pace; getting louder and quieter, etc. You can get some ideas from the videos linked earlier in this article.
#5: Advertise Your Concert
Learning a beat requires a lot of focus and coordination, so it’s a good idea to take a break after 20 minutes or so. Ask your kids to create a poster to advertise their concert.
Suggest a structure for the poster: concert title and one-line description (or 3 words) using an adjective, an image and a price per seat (this usually gets the imagination of older kids flowing, as they can see money pouring in). Once it’s done, put the poster up somewhere that the audience will see it.
#6: Perform Before Your Audience
There’s no real concert without an audience, so be sure to invite people to watch your cup concert. Whether it’s grandma, the neighbors or just your dog, an audience adds excitement to any performance and motivates the musicians to do their best. Your kids will love the applause at the end.
Ask your kids to arrange the seats so that everyone will have a good view.
Use cups of different colors—it looks better.
Check the last beats from our own family concert. Be sure to film your family’s performance.
Film the concert. Your musicians will love seeing it afterwards, especially the part where Dad missed a beat! You can even post your video on YouTube for others to enjoy.
Some Final Thoughts…
For those who would also like to learn how to do the Cup Song from Pitch Perfect, there are plenty of explanations on the Internet, like this step-by-step explanation How to Do the Cup Song.
Kids under 7 may struggle with the beat. We had a go at it ourselves and my 11-year-old son loved it.
We had a great time inventing and practicing our own cup concert. In a 45-minute session, we were able to create a complete beat, but we did not get to add any chanting, mostly due to the fact that we also had a 3-year-old who was starting to lose his patience!
The other kids were very happy with what they created and had new ideas flowing in as we came to the end. They wanted to add new rhythms for the next time and teach their grandparents how to do their cup song.
Try a cup concert with your family. It will be a hit at your next family gathering or just a fun way to spend time while waiting for dinner to start.
What do you think? Have you tried a cup concert in your family? Do your kids like to perform the Anna Kendrick Cup Song? I’d love to hear about the rhythms you’ve invented with your family! Post a comment or picture below.