Using musical instruments in the classroom

What are musical instruments?

Section from Teaching Primary Music, page 531:

'The use of the term ‘instrument’ should be liberally interpreted as we have endless amounts of ‘things which make a sound’ (and can be silent!) at our disposal to use within our own music making. 

When we think of the term instrument, we probably think of orchestral instruments, such as violins, clarinets, trumpets, bassoons, etc., or band instruments, like drum kits, electric guitars, keyboards, and then a special category we might (unwittingly) think of as ‘classroom instruments’, for instance recorders, chime bars, tambourines, claves, boomwhackers. However, ‘instruments’ also include anything else that makes the sound we need – buckets, dustbins, wind chimes, radiators; even our bodies make a wide range of percussive sounds. Anna Meredith’s piece ‘Connect It’ from the BBC’s Ten Pieces is a very versatile piece to perform using body percussion – sounds made using our own body as the musical instrument.  

Sometimes children make their own musical instruments, for example using rice in a tennis ball tin to create a shaker, or stretched elastic bands on a tissue box. This can be very inspiring for children; however, think also about a cross-curricular link with Design and Technology – the actual making of the instrument is not really a musical endeavour and perhaps there is better use of the music lesson if we consider the purpose as being to advance children’s musical learning in some way and find ways to use the new custom-built instruments to create and make music.

Instruments are not necessarily age-specific, although there are sometimes physical reasons that some instruments are, as yet, inaccessible to children of a certain age and physical development. For example, giving a 4-year-old a bassoon and expecting them to learn how to play it is a silly idea. However, as McPherson, Davidson and Faulkner (2012)2 point out, one of the things that draws children into being interested in music is the physical closeness to instruments and to people playing instruments. Seeing, hearing and touching instruments on a regular basis helps children to be inspired, to explore and also hopefully to be in close proximity of, and spell-bound by, live music.'

1Daubney, A. (2017) Teaching Primary Music. London:Sage. 

2McPherson, G.E., Davidson, J.W. and Faulkner, R. (2012) Music in our Lives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.