Banging on

9:37, 5th February 2020

What could be more fun than making your own musical instruments? Start with these simple ideas using recycled objects to inspire children’s love of music and appreciation of how sounds are made

This article appeared in February 2020  issue of EYE magazine, which provides expert guidance for early years professionals committed to enhancing their provision, developing their skill base and advancing their own continuing professional development. To celebrate our early years’ focus, EYE magazine is offering Music Teacher readers an exclusive 20% discount. Subscribe today using promo code EY20MUT to take advantage of this special offer. Subscribe today: http://bit.ly/3bbWAUv

‘I play a musical instrument a little, but only for my own amazement.’ (Fred Allen)

Making music instruments develops children’s fine motor skills and coordination while they have the opportunity to investigate the ‘similarities and differences’ between lots of objects and materials – a key part of the Early Learning Goal for ‘People and Communities’. Children will also enjoy listening to music from all around the world.

Playing and exploring

  • Children explore the sounds of different shaking instruments
  • They have a go at using a variety of materials to make musical instruments
  • They will be able to sing along to a simple tuned instrument


Many percussion instruments make a sound when shaken – maracas, tambourines, rain sticks, bells, and so on. Let children experiment with some of these instruments.

Simple shakers can be made using clear plastic bottles and a variety of fillings.

Ideas for making some authentic instruments, with adults supervising safety:


Each child will need a pair of plastic spoons and a plastic Easter egg half-filled with some dry rice or beans. Paint white spoons with acrylic paint. Fill one half of the egg with the dried materials and glue or tape it shut. Sandwich the egg in between two spoons and fasten with coloured sticky tape. Leave the handle plain or cover with more tape. Shake.


Fasten together two paper plates or round aluminium trays using glue or staples. Punch holes around the edges at regular intervals and attach bells or metal bottle tops using coloured wool, ribbons or garden wire. The tambourines can be shaken and tapped.


Scrapers are very simple instruments to make and play. Let children handle and play a selection of guiros. Make your own from empty plastic bottles with ridged sides and scrape them using sticks or blunt pencils.

Sand blocks:

Wrap sandpaper around small pieces of wood or blocks. Children can tap or scrape two blocks together to create rhythms and musical sounds.


One of the best instruments for playing rhythms with young children are the claves. These can be made from old broom handles or pieces of dowelling, cut into 15cm lengths and sanded until smooth. Pairs of pencils can be used as a simple substitute in the classroom.


Cut strips of stiff cardboard, 5cm by 13cm, score two folds at 6cm and 7cm and fold in half to create a 1cm hinge. Stick a pair of metal bottle tops or lids from baby food jars onto the inside of each square. Children can click the tops together to create a castanet sound.


Everybody enjoys playing drums. Let children explore the sounds of different drums: snare drum, djembe, tambour, steel pans, etc. Use empty baby milk or biscuit tins as homemade drums and don’t forget to use the lids as gongs and cymbals.

Spin drum:

This easy to play drum is also known as a ‘monkey drum’ or a Chinese drum. The simplest version to make is using Dairylea cheese boxes and a wooden spoon. Thread a bead onto each end of a shoelace or length of string. Wrap the string around the neck of the wooden spoon. Glue the box and the lid onto opposite sides of the spoon and cut out gaps for the spoon handle and the beaded strings. Seal box and decorate. The drum is played by twisting or spinning the handle from side to side so the beads bounce off the boxes.

Tuned instruments:

Provide children with some tuned instruments to explore – xylophone, chime bars, glockenspiel, Boomwhackers, ocarinas, recorders, guitar, etc.

Bottle phone:

Fill five clear same-sized glass bottles or jars with different amounts of coloured water. Tap with a metal or wooden spoon and listen to the different tones. Order the bottles into a scale. You will find that more water makes a lower note and less water makes a higher note.

Tissue box guitar:

Stretch different sizes of elastic bands over an empty tissue box to create an instant guitar for children to pluck and strum.

Active learning

  • Children play a set of instruments together in a circle
  • They enjoy listening to music from around the world
  • They play their instruments during a music workout

Make sets of shakers to use with groups of children by collecting sets of matching containers such as small Pringles pots, plastic Easter eggs, hand soap boxes, Steradent tubes, food colouring bottles, and so on. Children can help to decorate the shakers. Sit in a circle and play the instruments together.

Instruments from around the world:

Go to YouTube and listen to some Latin American salsa music or check out Jerome Green playing maracas with Bo Diddley.  Sing along to the chorus of Bob Dylan singing ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. Listen out for the ‘reco reco’, a type of guiro, that recreates the sound of the train in ‘The Little Train of the Caipira’ by Brazilian composer, Villa Lobos. Watch a video on YouTube of Steve Reich’s ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’ that is played on five pairs of claves! Enjoy the ‘Lah-Lah Plays Castanets’ on YouTube or listen to some flamenco music from Spain. And don’t miss the ‘Toolbox Glockenspiel’ built by Tom Kaufmann on YouTube. Try a music workout by encouraging children to play their instruments and move or dance to different musical excerpts.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children sing new songs and make up some of their own
  • They experiment with materials to create different shakers
  • They learn about the science of sound and vibrations

Instrument songs:

Try one of these songs or make up your own with the children and invite them to play along on their new instruments.

Tap, rattle and pop goes the tambourine,

Tambourine, tambourine.

Tap, rattle and pop goes the tambourine,

Tambourine, tambourine.

[Tune: ‘We all live in a yellow submarine’]

Playing on my drum, x2

Playing, playing, playing, playing,

Playing on my drum.

[Tune: Knees up Mother Brown]

Give children time to investigate the different sounds they can make using a variety of materials. Provide lots of loose parts and/or natural materials for them to try out in shakers in the workshop such as buttons, beads, bells, coins, dry rice, lentils, beans, pasta, sand, pebbles, conkers, acorns, pinecones, feathers, leaves, etc. Which materials make the loudest or quietest sounds?

EYFS Early Learning Goals

Observe how children play cooperatively while sharing materials, making instruments and playing music together. There are many opportunities to ‘handle equipment and tools effectively’ and ‘show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements’. They will also be able to demonstrate the ability to ‘follow instructions involving several ideas or actions’.

Article by Judith Harris

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