Make Your Own Musical Instruments

Musical instruments made in the classroom won’t sound the same as the kind you can buy, but there are lots of good reasons for making them anyway:

  • Creating instruments helps students understand how musical instruments work in a way no other experience can.
  • Every child can have an instrument to play, something you can’t always achieve within a school budget.
  • Class-made instruments work quite well in lessons about rhythm, to help students remember information through chanting, or as art projects supporting your lessons.

For the youngest students, start with the classics.

Make your own drums

Every container with an open space inside has the potential to become a drum. Have students bring oatmeal containers, margarine tubs, cookie tins, and other sturdy containers from home. The cylindrical oatmeal boxes are my favorite, because it’s easy to decorate them effectively. You can download a print-and-color page to wrap around your oatmeal container at Jan Brett’s website, or you can have students measure, plan, and design their own.

See our lesson on Cherokee Water Drums, too.

Make your own rasp

musical rasp

Many Native American groups traditionally used musical rasps. Typically carved from wood, these instruments are played by rubbing a stick across the ridges to create a rasping percussive sound.

The easiest way to make one is to use Bordette. If you use it on your bulletin boards, you can put the scraps into service in this way. Otherwise, pick a color you like — there are plenty of colors and patterns to choose from, and one roll will make rasps for the whole class. Cut strips about 8″ long. Glue them onto cardboard for extra sturdiness, or leave them as is so you can store them easily, rolled up in a container. If you roll them, you can store them inside your oatmeal box drums. Play your paper rasp with a pencil.

 Make your own shakers

Jan Brett has decorations for shakers, too. You can make shakers from water bottles, as she does, or from any small container with a tight lid. We used to love film canisters for this; baby food jars may be the best new alternative. Put in a handful of rice, dried beans, or popcorn kernels. Shake them for a nice sound.

Make your own rainstick

 Make your own tambourine

Have students decorate paper plates. Put one plate down on the table and put a handful of dry beans or popcorn kernels onto it. Lay a second plate on top, sandwiching the beans or kernels inside. Staple all around. Alternatively, you can punch holes all around the edges of both plates and have students tie the plates together with ribbons or yarn — great for dexterity work, and very festive if you leave tails of ribbon hanging from the tambourine.

Check these links for some more ideas:

  • You can find step-by-step directions for making instruments from recyclables at this site: Bash the Trash We’re not sure how they will sound, but it looks like a lot of fun.
  • Artsedge has science/music lessons involving building instruments as experiments in acoustics.
  • Rhythmweb has a bunch of ideas and links.
  • Egyptian Instruments No instructions, but we think you can use the descriptions of these traditional Egyptian instruments to make your own versions of these ancient soundmakers.
  • Mudcat Instruments will link you to instructions for lots of musical instruments.
  • Check out this school site for a gallery of some more ambitious projects.
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