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Using musical instruments in the classroom

Using instruments - where to start

There are many, many uses for instruments in the music classroom and beyond. The purpose of this resource is to get you started and point out places where you will find banks of ideas, rather than to provide, for example, units of work. There is a separate part of this toolkit on children’s own music, but of course there is a great deal of overlap between the sections, and indeed, starting with children’s ‘own music’ is where they start anyway!

Children are natural ‘explorers’ – making, selecting and adapting sounds often for the sheer pleasure of the sounds produced. We should encourage this, along with facilitating children to purposefully adapt sounds for their own music. Bringing in games where children feel safe to explore instruments is useful. For example, passing around a tambourine (or any other instrument) and asking children to each find one way in which the sound can be made that should be different to those before, or asking the class to close their eyes whilst one child makes a sound with an instrument and the others need to guess how it was made.

You could also make ‘venn diagrams’ on the floor using hula hoops, by asking children to sort instruments out into ways they can be played – this helps them realise that many can be struck as well as shaken, scraped etc.

Having a selection of beaters made of different materials is useful to help children explore different sounds that can be made by instruments, particularly when using tuned percussion instruments. Letting children explore different ways to hold beaters and either ‘bouncing’ the beaters on the notes or holding them down can help them work out how to make the sounds resonate (sometimes called ‘open sounds’) and how closed sounds are made. You may need to show some children how and where to hold beaters and use imagery, such as ‘the notes are hot’ or ‘try to bounce the beaters on the notes’ to help some children to make sustained sounds.

Something else to really think about is the relationship between singing and playing musical instruments. We want children to really develop as critical musicians who think about and really listen to music, particularly when playing it. It is often easier for them to be able to do this when the music is already ‘inside their heads’, for example when they have internalised music through listening and also through singing or humming the melody or phrase back.