Using musical instruments in the classroom

Getting instruments out and putting them away

Getting instruments out and putting them away can be a straightforward process with a little forward planning. You need to be very clear about the instructions given; this can help overcome the issues of children being disappointed about not getting the instrument they want, or being left with a messy pile of instruments at the end of the lesson for the teacher to have to sort through and put away. There are various ways to do this, depending on the age of the children, the set-up for the particular activity and which part of the lesson the instruments are required in. For example, if the first part of the lesson involves singing, listening and responding through movement or conversation, having the instruments out may be an unwelcome distraction.  

Some examples of setting instruments up include:

  • set the classroom up in advance, putting instruments just out of the children’s reach or under their chairs when they are sitting in a circle
  • distribute the instruments efficiently yourself at the point in the lesson where they are required, if not from the beginning
  • you may give children a number and invite them in groups to sensibly collect an instrument. Make sure they are clear about what they are to do with the instrument when they get back to their place
  • appoint one or more  ‘monitors’ to help distribute and collect instruments. Make sure you have given the monitors clear instructions about who is to have which instruments and where they should be placed.

Having a free-for-all is not a good idea. In many classrooms, there are not enough instruments for all children to have either the same instrument or their first choice of instrument, or sometimes you need to organise the learning so that one group have instruments whilst the rest do something else (for example, singing/body percussion/moving to music). Fairness is very important, so your choices need to be transparent and equitable – for example making sure that different children get an instrument each time and that everyone gets a chance to try out everything. Some instruments are always the most desirable – usually anything large, potentially loud or in some way ‘different’ to the other instruments available. Children need to be given a framework for handling musical instrument respectfully and with care.  

Sometimes different components of musical instruments can become detached either accidentally or purposefully during the lesson. For example, you may be using a pentatonic scale and have instructed children to remove certain notes (for example, B and F) from their tuned percussion instruments. Triangles often get separated from the metal striker. Make sure that children take responsibility for fully re-assembling their instruments before putting them away – and then either check them as they are returned, or appoint some sensible and tactful children to assist with this important job. It is very important that you leave enough time at the end of the lesson to get the instruments away tidily and safely.