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Using musical instruments in the classroom

What instruments might you have and need?

In England, The National Curriculum for Music (DfE, 2013) states that children must be able to play tuned and non-tuned percussion instruments. Therefore, as an absolute minimum, these instruments should be available.

Examples of percussion instruments that are useful in primary schools are given below. Tuned percussion are tuned to a particular pitch whereas non-tuned (sometimes called untuned) are not melody instruments.

Tuned percussion instruments
Chime bar, xylophone, glockenspiel, tuned hand bells, boomwhacker.
*a range of beaters are required for some percussion instruments.

Untuned percussion instruments
Claves, tambourine (with and without skin), tambour, guiro, triangle, drum (many kinds including tom tom, djembe and bongo), wood block, two tone wood block, agogo, maracas, castanets, cowbell, jingle bells, assorted shakers (including egg shakers), rain stick, drumsticks, castanet, gongs, rattles.

A basic list of percussion instruments useful in a primary school classroom


Try out the different instruments available in your school – think about how you could make a range of different sounds with them. It is likely that some of these instruments you may have personally tried out in the past, but this is a good exercise to help give yourself ‘permission’ to try them out.

Hopefully, there will be many other instruments available for use in the school. Some schools have whole-class sets of instruments, for example recorders, ukuleles, ocarina, fife, djembe, samba kits etc. Some junior schools even have instruments such as guitars, keyboards, drum kits, Cajón (it looks like a rectangular box that you sit on and it makes percussive sounds) and equipment such as jam hubs to plug them in. Everything you can find can be used in some way! Also remember that some children have musical instruments they can play or have at home – it is great to be able to incorporate these into the music curriculum, helping them to develop their learning in a classroom context but also being mindful not to make other children feel like the ‘musicians’ are only those who play instruments. It is a tricky balance!

Some schools even have outdoor musical instruments. Here is an example: