Virtual Concert: Instrument Families

Instrument Family Thumbnail
Hannah Rosholt/MPR

Age Range: Elementary

Learning Objective: Students will be able to identify the four primary instrument families and list an example of an instrument from each family.

Note to Teachers: Each classroom is unique. Each teacher has their own style to create an experience to meet students’ needs. This lesson is designed to be a simple, no prep lesson that works in most environments. It’s a great activity for a sub or lost-voice day! Please customize the lesson to fit your needs, resources, and teaching style.

ENGAGE students

ASK. “Can you think of three different instruments? Write them down or whisper them to a friend.”

EXPLORE sounds

EXPLAIN. “There are thousands of different kinds of instruments. Instruments make sounds in different ways. Most instruments are put into four groups, or families, based on how they create sounds.”

SING. Sing “Instruments Belong in Four Families” to teach students the definition of each family. You might stand and sing the song between each video to reinforce learning and to stretch! Download the score!


  • REMIND students: “If you shake, tap, scrape; it’s percussion!”

  • EXPLAIN that a really common percussion instrument is a drum.

  • DEMONSTRATE how we can play body percussion on our laps.

  • INTRODUCE the first piece of the concert by saying it features two percussion instruments: the marimba and the vibraphone. Enjoy Puddles by Kroehm Duo.


  • REMIND students: “If you pluck or bow, it’s in the string family!”

  • EXPLAIN that when a string or strings on the instrument or plucked or pulled with a bow, they vibrate and create a sound.

  • ASK students if they can name some instruments in the string family. Introduce the second piece of music featuring the violin and cello. Enjoy Shenandoah performed by The OK Factor.


  • REMIND students: “If you (blow) through wood, it’s a woodwind!”

  • EXPLAIN. “Some instruments make sound when the player blows air, or their “wind” through a wooden mouthpiece to make a sound. Some examples of woodwind instruments include clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and saxophone. The flute is a woodwind instrument because the whole instrument used to be made out of wood. Introduce the third piece of music featuring several woodwind instruments. You will see one instrument, the French Horn, that is not a woodwind instrument.” Enjoy Flamenco performed by the Concordia Wind Quintet.


  • REMIND students: “If you (pff) your lips, it’s in the brass family!”

  • EXPLAIN. “Brass players also blow wind through their instrument, but they have to do something kind of funny with their lips: they buzz them! Buzzing creates a vibration in the instrument that produces a sound. This next piece of music features a group of trombone players.” Enjoy His Eye is On the Sparrow performed by The Paper Clips.

Thanks for learning about the instruments. See learning extensions and adaptations below to test students’ comprehension and enhance their learning.

EXTEND learning

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

REVIEW. The following Class Notes performances feature a mix of instrument families. Test students’ comprehension by asking them to name the instrument families in each video below.

LEARN. Check out one or all of our instrument demonstrations to learn a little more about each instrument: Marimba, Vibraphone, Hand Drums, Goat Hoof Shaker, Tabla, Mbira, (Percussion), Bassoon, Oboe, Clarinet, Flute (Woodwinds), Violin, Viola, Cello, Guitar (Strings), Tenor Trombone, Alto Trombone, Tuba, and French Horn (Brass).

PLAY. Reinforce the learning objective by utilizing online resources such as instrument family coloring sheets or an instrument scavenger hunt!

Related Lesson Plans

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

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