Create Your Own Instrument

Wooden spoons hanging in a row
Teodor Drobota/Unsplash

Age Range: Elementary

Learning Objective: Students will use everyday objects to explore timbre and create their own instrument.

ENGAGE students

REVIEW. Ask students, “Can anyone tell me what the word ‘timbre’ means?” After students have offered their answers, summarize, “Timbre (TAM-ber) is a word that describes the unique and special sound of any instrument or sound source. Today, we’re going to use everyday objects to explore their unique sounds and make our own instruments!”

EXPLORE sounds

SEARCH. Have students find as much junk as they can, raiding the recycling bin or cleaning out a closet. Make sure their collection of junk represents a wide variety of materials. Here are a few ideas of things that will work well for the following activities:

  • Empty yogurt tubs with lids (make sure you clean them out first)

  • Metal coffee cans or any kind of corrugated tin

  • Pencils

  • Rubber bands

  • Cereal boxes

  • Spiral notebooks

  • Wooden spoons

  • Cardboard tubes from a used roll of toilet paper or paper towels

EXPLORE. Invite students to explore all the different kinds of sounds they can make with their collections. For example, an easy way to make a sound on the yogurt container like a drum. Can they find other ways to make a sound with the same object? Try filling it with various objects and shaking it. Compare the difference in sound between shaking a container full of pennies and a container full of rubber bands and a container full of cotton balls. (Cotton balls are really quiet - listen carefully and you will hear them.) Using a pencil, tap in different spots on the container to discover different sounds on the same object.

SORT. Ask students to sort all of their objects according to sound. Decide on categories, such as "metal," "wood," "plastic," and "paper." Label a box or plastic tub with each category name and store their found-object percussion instruments. Be prepared to make some decisions together: should cardboard be included in the "paper" category or should it have its own category? Create an inventory or list of your sorted instruments. A completed example might look like this:

Chart of found object percussion
Katie Condon/MPR

EXTEND learning

Choose one or more of the following activities to extend learning.

SING. Invite students to sing a favorite song and use one of their new found-object instruments for accompaniment.

WATCH. Watch the percussion group STOMP as they use everyday objects in all their performances. In the first video they play a piece with the Harlem Globetrotters, using only basketballs. In the second, they use brooms and trash cans to make music. After watching, ask, “Does watching this make you want to add some instruments to your collection?”

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Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

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