West Ham United stadium with bubbles on the pitch

Lockdown Challenge: Father’s Day and the sound of drums and trumpets

Image credit: Getty Images

This week’s Lockdown Challenges are to make something for Dad and to create (loud) music with a ‘Drumpet’.

Its Father’s Day on Sunday (21 June) and with shops still not officially open until Monday, why not get the kids to make something for Dad this year? Using recycling as its core theme, Crispin Andrews’ Lockdown Challenge is all about encouraging children to be creative in solving the problem of what to get Dad for Father’s Day.

After that, we have Neil Downie’s latest experiment, this one involving making a lot of creative noise. Or maybe it's being creative in making a lot of noise. Either way, it’s lots of fun.

The IET also has a host of resources, which adults can use to engage children with the world of STEM. 

We would love it if you sent in your photos and videos of your ‘Lockdown Challenge’ efforts, as well as suggestions about how to make these challenges better and ideas for new ones. Email your contributions to tfryer@theiet.org.

Lockdown Challenge #18 – Something for Father’s Day

At the start of June, business leaders urged the government to make our post-Covid-19 recovery green. The same week, both Boris Johnson and business secretary Alok Sharma suggested that investing in the green economy was a priority for the UK moving forward.

Even if you can’t go out and buy an electric car this week or fit solar panels to the garage roof, what you can do is keep your plastic, cardboard and tin cans, clean them up and make them into something fun, useful or maybe even downright ridiculous.

Everyone likes a surprise, so if it's Dad who’s the engineer, maybe give the kids a few pointers to help them organise themselves and then set them to work in the shed, garage or their bedroom, with a big ‘Dad Keep Out’ sign on the door.

Some pointers

  • What recyclable materials do you have? E.g. cardboard, plastic, paper, tin cans.
  • What is recyclable and what is not?
  • How will you fix them together – sticking, cutting, something else? Do you have the necessary materials to do this?
  • Will you need any additional materials, which you'll have to buy?
  • What does Dad really want or need, other than refills for his empty beer bottles?

If someone else is the engineer – mum, gran, grandad or even one of the older kids in the house, then you can play a more hands-on role, coming up with ideas between you.

Why not turn a couple of plastic bottles into a piggy bank or a swear box?

If Dad is a football fan he might need a swear box with the football season starting up again this weekend, particularly if he’s a West Ham fan. It could be a very stressful time soon, with the Hammers facing relegation.

All you need is bottles, a pair of scissors to make the money slot; a couple of felt eyes; maybe a couple of plastic cubes for feet, to stop the thing from rolling away; some claret and blue paint or material, and maybe a photo of Karren Brady to stick at the front.

The second bottle is a bit more ingenious. For this, you’ll need washing-up liquid, string netting and some duct tape. You cut the end off the bottle, then stretch the string netting over the open end and use the tape to hold the string in place. Dip the string end in some bubble solution; stick it to the top of the first bottle; put “I’m forever blowing bubbles” on the iPlayer, and you’re away.

If Dad isn’t a West Ham fan - or doesn’t like football at all - the bubble blower can be used to celebrate filling up the piggy bank. Providing, of course, he spends the proceeds on a super-duper family-sized pizza, with all the sides.

If Dad is a West Ham fan and West Ham get relegated this year, losing all their Sky TV money, you might suggest that he sends the proceeds to Messrs Gold and Sullivan, to help them out in the Championship next year.

Alternatively, you can

  • Make a bird feed container out of an old jar.
  • Paint some old beans tins, plastic boxes and cardboard kitchen roll inners and turn them into ready-made containers to help him organise his office, garage, the kitchen greenhouse, den or ‘Man Drawer’.
  • Cut a hard plastic bottle into a DIY pooper scooper for the cat litter tray.
  • DIY lighting for the garden using wine bottles and battery-powered light.
  • Turn scraps of cloth and carpet into a headband or scarf.

Lockdown Challenge #19 - Drumpets and the Vacuum Cleaner Foghorn

It’s loud! It looks like a drum! But sounds like a trumpet! Is it a drum or a trumpet? No, it’s a ‘Drumpet’! Welcome to a wonderful world of musical instruments that you can make yourself. You can join both the Brass Section and the Percussion Section of the Philharmonic Orchestra simultaneously. 

You’ll need to find pieces of pipe of some kind, like plastic drainpipe, something 50mm or more in diameter and anything from 70mm to a metre or more long. Anything with an open end, even a baked bean can will do. You will also need a short length of clean smallbore pipe (clean, because you are going to blow down it). Maybe plumbing tube, or plastic electrical conduit tube, 15 or 20mm or so in diameter. Finally, balloons and elastic bands for the drumskin.

Making a Drumpet is straightforward: you just stretch a balloon flat over the open of the big pipe and then hold it on with an elastic band, doubling the elastic band to hold it firmly if needed. It’s tricky for one person to hold the balloon stretched over the pipe while you get the elastic band, so two people are needed. You will find, until you get used to it, that you sometimes push the balloon off the pipe when you blow. You can tape over the elastic band to stop this.

Now it's time to test out your first Drumpet. Take your small pipe and blow down it while pressing the other end gently down onto the Drumpet balloon drumskin. As Lauren Bacall might have said to Humphrey Bogart, “Just blow, Steve, don’t purse your lips like you are playing a trumpet, just blow.” Vary how hard you press while blowing and suddenly "TaranTaraTarAAAAaa"! Your Drumpet will come to life!

Now get an audio analysis app for your phone: a sound meter or a frequency analyser like the Frequensee. Many of these are free. Check out your Drumpet frequency and power. You might get up to 100dB, at frequencies from 200Hz to 2000kHz (that’s bass notes to operatic soprano top notes).

Equipment for drumpet

Potential equipment to make a 'Drumpet'

Image credit: Neil Downie

Things to try

Bass notes are trickier, but persevere – they are nice. Try pressing the tube onto different parts of the drumskin when you blow and angling the tube a little. Press your fingers on the drumskin gently. Try shorter and longer, narrower and wider pipe. Try tighter drumskin, looser drumskin – you may need a bigger balloon for that. What about a single rubber skin or double balloons?

The Vacuum Foghorn

And now for the Ultimate Drumpet… the Vacuum Foghorn. The Vacuum Foghorn gives you lots of great low bass notes that are difficult if you are just blowing. You will need a vacuum cleaner, of course, and a larger tube is probably best. You can use suck or blow. Ideally, run the vacuum cleaner on a low or half-power setting, if it has one – you really don’t need full power. 

Now just let the nozzle up to the drumskin and then pull it back until – "Screeeeech RoAAAAARRrrr!" –you get a note. Play around with the distance and angle of the nozzle so that it doesn’t just suck the balloon hard against the end of the vacuum cleaner tube. It’s a bit easier if you are using ‘blow’, but you still need to adjust. Rather than holding the nozzle itself, you can feed the vacuum cleaner hose up inside a long foghorn resonator pipe, adjusting it against the drumskin for a good note.

You will see the drumskin go all fuzzy in the air. It is actually going to and fro many times a second. If you have a slow-motion camera, you can maybe get a video which you can speed up to see what is really happening. The ways a drum can vibrate is complicated – look it up on Wikipedia, where there are some nice slow-motion images.


  • What is your loudest note, as judged by your audience or the sound meter?
  • What are the lowest note and highest note you can get?
  • Can you actually play a tune? Start with something simple. Beethoven’s Fifth maybe (da-da-da-durrr), or a horn call.
  • Make two Drumpets or Vacuum Foghorns: can you play harmony?

If you liked this, you will find lots more fun science stuff in my books like The Ultimate Book of Saturday Science from Princeton University, and for lots of other things (and a free copy of the Exploding Disk Cannons book), www.saturdayscience.org

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