It’s summertime, which means one thing is a certainty: bonfires. They’re a staple to any June, July or August night, giving you and your friends time to relish in the warmth of a flame and the smell of burning wood. Another welcome addition to this formula is the sound of music.
Some of my favorite bonfire memories come from my friends and I learning songs to jam around the firepit. Even if we didn’t play or sing them so nicely, it didn’t matter; it created a fun and atmospheric way to cap off the night.
So, if you’re looking to spice up your campfire get-togethers while learning something new, here are my personal recommendations for simple instruments to pack along. Just keep them out of the fire.
For me, this is a must-have for any bonfire. It’s the perfect instrument to accompany a party around the pit. A musical tradition, it possesses the ability to play almost any piece from music history, whether a current hit, a classic rocker, something folky or even Beethoven. You can play rhythm or take over on lead with intricate melodies and solos.
It certainly takes patience to learn. One of the toughest things for me was building calluses on my fingers to handle the instrument’s six steel strings (although nylon-stringed classical guitars are much easier on the fingers). In addition, there are dozens of different strumming patterns, chord shapes and other techniques to master before playing to the level of Hendrix. However, just knowing the basics is enough to play all sorts of famous tunes.
There’s tons of different sizes and styles to choose from, so your pick comes down to preference. Prices can range from under 50$ to over a grand, so keep a keen eye.
If you want a stringed instrument a little simpler than guitar, look no further. The ukulele has seen a massive resurgence in popularity recently, and for good reason: it’s easy to learn, portable, versatile and fun to play! After all, you’re only dealing with four strings instead of six.
The ukulele has a shallow learning curve, as the chords and strumming patterns are much simpler to figure out. Many popular songs playable on uke have similar basic chords, so you’ll be able to learn a song or two quickly. The strings are nylon, so it’s much easier on your fingers, too.
Like guitar, there’s plenty of styles and sizes to select from, including soprano, concert and tenor; it’s a good idea to try them in-person to gauge your preference. Luckily, there’s several beginner models that don’t break the bank and sound great for any bonfire excursion.
If you’re looking for something a little more rhythmic, the cajon’s the perfect fireside beatmaker. Unlike shakers, tambourines or congas, this little drum also provides a place to sit.
It’s simple: sit on the top of the cajon and make a rhythm with your hands. There are different sectors on the front of the drum, with one providing a bass drum-like sound, and the other serving as the snare. While it helps to have a little background in percussion instruments when playing, a simple backing beat provides more than enough accompaniment for a campfire jam session.
Cajons can be found in several different sizes and styles. While pricier models provide better sound, entry-level versions will do the trick for simple outdoor playing. I recommend getting a tambourine or shaker to double with the cajon or share with someone else.
Perhaps strings and percussion aren’t your thing, and you’re looking to jam on some keys. In that case, the melodica is your best bet.
Melodicas are simple by concept and playability, but they’re certainly an eye-catcher too. It’s a small keyboard that you blow into through a straw to play. The sound is like a mix of a harmonica and accordion, both of which are similar instruments played through reeds.
Just like the piano, the melodica provides an easy visual of the notes and chords that are played, which makes it much easier to learn new music. Whether you’re playing backing chords or full melodies, the melodica is a sweet accompaniment to the guitar or ukulele. You can get your own melodica in a variety of sizes and styles online.
The kalimba is certainly a unique addition to any campfire jam, packing a portable design and a beautiful sound. Essentially, it’s an African thumb piano with small metal tongs that are plucked to create sound. The instrument sounds like a xylophone, but it’s much more subdued, which gives it a characteristically mellow sound. It’s a nice touch with calmer music, especially when paired with a ukulele.
They can be easily learned because of their simplicity, even without knowledge of music theory. In addition, several quality kalimbas can be found under $50.
With these recommendations, you can build your own campfire band with your buds! All options include a large musical repertoire with easy-to-learn tunes, so musical ability isn’t required. I personally recommend keeping costs as low as possible, since these instruments will be next to a flaming inferno and around others who may be, well, a little loopy on their feet.
There’s tons of easy songs to learn, and you can find out how to play them online! Each instrument has a variety of different instructional websites and sheet music directories to get a setlist going for your next bonfire. Give some songs a go and rock out your next hang out around the pit!