Making Your Own Instruments

November can sometimes be a dreary month – it’s colder, the leaves are down, it is sometimes rainy, and it’s too early for snow. What a perfect time to liven up your days with homemade music! Singing together is of course fun and easy and requires almost no tools. But with a little bit of craft time, you can create your own instruments for a totally unique accompaniment. Who knows? Maybe your family will become the next Family Von Trapp! (Go watch The Sound of Music for the 43rd time right away!)

What you need:

• A pile of rubber bands of different


• A shoebox

• Thumbtacks (with the round, flat


• Masking tape

• Paper cups of different sizes

• Dried beans

• Newspaper

• 4-6 glasses

• Water

• Small metal spoons

What to do:

1. Take a without the lid shoebox and insert thumbtacks securely into the short edges, about an inch apart down each side. Try to align pairs of tacks on either side so that they are roughly across from each other.

2. Ask your children to string the rubber bands of their choosing around the pairs of tacks. Supervise this carefully to avoid any pin-pricks! Then carefully place a long piece of masking tape across both sides of the tacks, to prevent them from detaching.

3. Now have your children play your home-made guitar gently. How does it sound? Help your children readjust or choose different rubber bands to make different sounds, being careful as you remove and replace the masking tape. Ask them to experiment with the different sizes of bands you have available. What kinds of patterns do they notice? What is the difference in the sound between a thick rubber band and a thin one?

4. For a different kind of instrument, pour handful of dried beans into a paper cup. Now cut a square piece of newspaper big enough to cover the top of the cup plus some extra to go over the edges, and place it over the top. Use a rubber band to secure the paper around the edge of the cup.

5. Ask children to shake their cups and listen to the sound. Then have them change the number of beans in the cups or the size of the cups to observe how the sounds change. What do they notice?

6. To create a third type of instrument, line a table with a tablecloth or newspaper to absorb water that may spill.

7. Then line up a series of glasses in a row. Fill each one with a different amount of water. With a small spoon, lightly tap each glass individually and listen to the sound it makes. Tap each glass in a row to hear the series you created.

8. Now ask your children to adjust the levels of water in the glasses until they like the sounds of the series they create. What do they notice about the changes in sound as they fill the glasses with more water? How are the sounds different? Encourage them to experiment!

9. Now you have enough instruments for a homemade orchestra! Ask children to pick their favorite creation and together play a song. You can even sing along!

This Helps Develop. . .

Cognitive skills – the mental process of knowing by developing awareness, perception and reasoning.

Listening to music and observing how sounds are made builds awareness, analysis and attention to detail. Listening and observation skills are essential to learning the process of science and contribute to countless other school-based skills.

Fine motor skills – the use of small muscle movements in the hands that occur in coordination with the eyes.

Assembling these instruments can provide practice in fine motor skills.

Language – the expressive ability to communicate ideas and needs, and the receptive ability to understand what is said or written.

Encouraging your child to talk to you about what he or she is observing about how sound is made and how it changes with manipulation will help to build your child’s descriptive language ability.

Social emotional development involves a child’s feelings of self worth and confidence.

As children create something real and meaningful to them and gain confidence in their skills, they will feel good about their accomplishments and become encouraged to try new sound experiments and explain them to others.

This monthly family activity series, “Hands-on-Kids!” is brought to you by a partnership between the Children’s Science Center (CSC) and FAMILY Magazine. CSC is committed to building a place where children can grow in their love of learning that will carry them into adulthood. We invite you to visit the CSC website,, where you and your children can “Explore, Create, Inspire.” Sharon Katz Cooper is an educator and freelance writer in Fairfax. She is a volunteer with CSC.


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