How to Make simple Home-made Instruments for kids

About Home-made Instruments

Instruments can be very simple to make. Don’t be afraid to try. Here are some starter ideas:

1. Put unpopped popcorn kernels, dried beans, dried peas, jelly beans, pebbles, little shells, nuts and bolts, any sort of beads, macaroni…..Basically, PUT ANYTHING into SOMETHING, then cover up any holes or sharp edges,and shake!!  Something@ could be: old soda cans, other cans,  two pie plates, two paper plates, toy Easter egg-shells….just make sure to prevent choking on small bits!

2. BANG on  ANYTHING which may include: boxes, pans, clean little garbage cans,oatmeal containers, plastic cups, pretty much anything that could contain something else.

3. DRUM STICKS can be fashioned out of:  plastic straws, plastic spoons, wooden spoons, dowel, spatulas. Just remember to keep it safe for children.

4.  Many kinds of BELLS can be found at CRAFT STORES. Tie on a string or fasten with elastic.

5. Party stores often sell inexpensive instruments and sound makers. We use “knock-knocks” at my school ie: wooden eggs from a craft store to banged together.  Pier One sells a nice wooden placemat (with many hollow bamboo-like sticks tied together) that we tap and rub with pencils like an old-fashioned “washboard.”  Walk around such stores tapping on things or banging things together. Same thing with Home Depot. (Just think, you’ll give people something good to talk about at the dinner table. )

6. Kazoos can be made out of paper towel holders, rubber bands, and wax paper (best with a  few pin pricks in it.) I’ve heard that juice boxes can be played too. That may be a joke however. ….

7. Hang different sized flower pots for a a xylophone@ effect. Make tuna cans Achild safe@ and      string these together.  PVP pipes can sound fantastic when struck with certain  mallets.

8. Make cheap rhythm sticks out of sanded down wooden dowels. Foam or wooden Childrens blocks also work. We use pencils as sticks in my school. Cheap and if you lose them, it’s no big deal.  Speaking thereof: plastic spoon tops make great pics. Try it for yourself: cheap, easy to locate when dropped and ergonomically shaped to the thumb.

9. Any bumpy or rough surface can be child-proofed and rubbed with a wooden spoon to create a guiro or musical-fish effect. Think of the old washboard. Look around!

10. In general, you can do well by visiting the toy box, home improvement stores, craft  stores, party stores, and dollar stores.

Go tap and shake some objects in a new way.  You may look a tad askew but tell people you’re just thinking out of the box. Which reminds me of my newest use of dollar store pails: they make wonderful vocal and tactile feedback devices. I use them with kids who need to discover and explore their voice as a precursor to speech. When they make any sound into the pail, they will hear it at a very magnified level and get a lot of result for a “little”  effort.  Not only will they hear their vocalizations, they will feel them through their fingertips. Apparently, a turned-upside down pail makes a great music therapy device.

This will be very important with the economy the way it is.  (Just joshing, but try the pail!)


by Margie La Bella 

I’ve spent the last twenty-five years working as a music therapist with young kids who contend with language and communication disabilities. I want to share about increasing vocal and verbal behaviors in young kids. I do have to premise this by saying that these are very generalized, non-specific ideas to consider. I’m not a speech therapist, but these activities can be thought of as a good starting point.
1. Surround the child with anything and everything that makes noise. Everything makes a sound these days. You may want to order instruments, make them, or buy them at a party store. Pots and pans are good here also, but you may want to invest in cotton balls. Wooden spoons make good sticks. The lesson here is that things make sounds, and so can you.
2. Blow into anything that creates a sound. Check out the party store again for ideas. West music is a great source of sound makers. The lesson here is that your mouth, lungs, and breath work together to make sounds. See how this is a prerequisite to language sounds?
 3. Imitate any sneezing, coughing, laughing, hiccuping, burping. These really do get the attention of kids. Even imitate anger and crying sounds- but do so in a respectful manner that tells the child you hear, support and respect their vocal message. Sound effects are great first “words.”
4. Vocalize into anything that you can hold up to your mouth like a paper towel roll.  Play with vocal pitch, volume, emotionality, length. Take turns. This is teaching that the child can make his own sounds and those sounds get results. Vocalize into a box- it sure gets loud in there. Party stores sell toy microphones that reverb/echo what you sound into them.
5. Make sound effects of everything you see, hear, play with, ride in. Playing with toy cars – make the sound. Playing farm? All the animals make sounds. Most things do. Lesson here is that sounds can be imitated. More importantly, the sounds people make can be imitated. A huge language precursor.
6. Talk about everything you can. Life is a big lesson after all. Folding laundry? It’s a great time to build vocabulary on clothing items. Going to the grocery store? Food is everywhere. Driving anywhere? What do you see. Point here is to expose the child to spoken language.
7. You can insert any sound into a song that already exists. If you want to elicit the sound “bah,” then you can sing the whole melody to Mary Had a Little Lamb on the word “bah.” Ok, lambs say “bah” but that was just a coincidence.
8. Of course sing the old standard nursery rhymes and time-tested kids songs like “Itsy Bitsy Spider, “ and “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” These have been around for so long because they have a real effect on language. Pairing a motion with a song strengthens the connections even more.
9. Leave the last word off a phrase (musical sentence) and wait for the child to fill it in. An example would be “E I E I_______.” Praise all attempts and if need be, model the correct response.
This needs to stay fun and not become a lesson- – at least in the child’s mind! You may know otherwise!
10. Sing. Sing. Sing. Singing activates more areas of the brain than speaking alone. It heightens, focuses, and motivates attention. And it’s its own reward. It’s good for them. Turn everything into a song. Giving a bath? “If your happy and you know it wash your toes!” Going to Grandmas? Sing “this is the way we sit in the car.” 
 How to get started singing to your child? See the blogs below.  Hope this helps.  Can’t sing? Go ahead anyway. I won’t tell.      -Musictherapytunes. 


General types of activities and variations I do with my kids, who contend with language, communication, learning difficulties…  ages: 2-12.

  1. Mirroring/imitating activities.
  2. Circle dances.
  3. Instruments  -general rhythm instruments, homemade instruments.
  4. Songs with motions/movements/signs.
  5. Role playing/pretending/pretending.
  6. Lyric discussion.
  7. Lyric/Song writing…  adapting songs, fill-in-the-blank songs, mad lib songs
  8. Story writing to music.  Accompaniment to a story.
  9. Singing activities.
  10. Specific concepts taught through music.
  11. Auditory identification of sounds.
  12. Auditory attention span, discrimination and memory.
  13. Relaxation or coping strategy experiences.
  14. Guided imagery (very light unless done with a pro.)
  15.  Finger plays.
  16. Adaptive instrument lessons.
  17.  Call-response activities.
  18. Drawing to music.
  19. Improvising of every kind; instruments, dance, vocals.
  20. Dancing to live or recorded music.
  21. Play instruments in turn and cooperatively (ie: divide up a drum set and share the beat.) by Margie La Bella of

Top 20 BENEFITS OF KAZOOING by Margie La Bella of

1. Improved inhalation, exhalation, breath control.
2. Fosters vocalization and vocal play.
3. Improves awareness of lips, teeth, tongue.
4. Improves coordination of lips, teeth, tongue, and breath.
5. Improves oral musculature
6. Improves awareness and use of inflection and high, middle, low.
7. Improves auditory memory via echo games
8. Improves auditory awareness and processing of loud, soft, fast, slow, high, low…
9. Improves conceptual understanding of the same.
10. Allows shy singers to remain “anonymous.”
11. Children who can produce melodies but not words can succeed.
12. Easy group and solo success. Easy and convenient for Jamming/improvising.
13. Can help Foster turn taking
14. Fosters audiation: hearing the words within the mind. (Like “Bingo.”)
15. Easy to play name that tune with.
16. Fosters understanding of the give and take of conversation, musically.
17. Can help reduce nasality in hyper-nasal clients.
18. Can provide for mulch-generational interaction and fun.
19. It’s portable, accessible, and adaptable.
20. It is fun. Whoo-hoo.
A note on kazoo pedagogy: Instruct and model the process of vocalizing into a post-functional paper towel roll. Position the roll in front of the ambusher (your mouth) and vocalize a tone for the student. Have the student do likewise. Transition to the actual kazoo. Some naive students may think all that is needed is breath without sound. With younger players, the resonation device (thin paper) can be
removed so that the child can hear himself singing through the kazoo. I tell these students to“sneeze” or “howl” into the kazoo to foster proper vocalization and sound production. If this results in more
breath without voice, I suggest that the student make a long “whoooo-ooo” train whistle or perhaps a monkey sound. Once the student consistently vocalizes into the instrument, the resonating device (little thin paper thing screwed in the top) can be returned to proper position.
-Margie La Bella

How parents and teachers can USE CD/MP3 PLAYERS TO ENHANCE LEARNING

Top 10 activities for mixing kids and music.
-by Margie La Bella at
The big point is this: You can use your CD player like an instrument. It has stop/go and loud/soft capabilities.  You can also turn the volume off  for a favorite phrase or phrase you want to teach and have the children “fill in” the lyrics- – that’ll prompt language and participation.  Those are two bonus biggies.  TRY IT. You’ll like it!
1.Use the CD play button and pause button to make the music “go” and “freeze.”  Have the children play their instruments, stop, then resume. 
 2.Use the CD volume button to lead the class in playing “loud” and “soft.” Mix this skill with the “go” and “freeze” mentioned above. This fosters improved auditory awareness and attention
 3. Have the kids do a series of turn taking songs.  Use the play and pause buttons of your CD player to signal when turns begin and end.  Have the kids play under certain language characteristics and say things like “play if you’re a boy/if you’re a girl,” and “play if  you are 3 years old.” Repeat with the 4s and 5s.  How about playing if you’re wearing certain clothing items, or by the colors of your clothes?
See how this teaches peer awareness, colors, clothing vocab….. the list goes on      
and on.  What is it you want to teach?  Play games like this one.
 4.  Another turn taking game is to have the kids play depending on how their  
instrument is made. Turn the CD on and tell the kids to play if their instrument is                  made from plastic, wood, metal, or is homemade…
 5. Take turns and share the music depending on how you play the instrument.
Have the shakers play first. Then the tapping instruments play. Then the rubbing instruments and on and on.
 6. Play under certain conditions: for example, if you like to play basketball, or if you like to eat ice cream, or spinach.  If you have a June birthday, or meet some other condition. 
 7. Here’s another new type of idea. Have the kids march to music (and play their instruments) around a group of pictures of shapes, colors, numbers, site-words or any other picture representing something you want to teach.  The kids march to the music and when the music stops, they identify the picture of the object in front of them. Use chairs or a table or rugs to place the pictures on if the kids need more structure than just the floor.    
 8. Play musical hot-potato.  Pass a maraca (or two or three) around the circle. When the music stops, that child has to answer a question.  Use to teach concepts. Examples: what do we wear on a rainy day. What animal do you like.  What animal lives at the zoo? What toy do you play with? (You can write them out ahead of time.) Variation:  Or simply have the kids who end up with the “hot potato” come to the center of the group to play other instruments along to the music. Repeat with the next hot potato child coming to play with the music.
 9. Play instruments and pass them when the music stops. Too hard? When the music stops take the instrument of the last child, then tell the next-to-last child to give her old one away. Repeat down the line.  Give the instrument in your hand to the last child.
 10. Play along to part of a favorite song. Then have the kids put the instruments under their chairs and put their hands in their lap.  Give them a one-step direction (“clap your hands”, or “tap your knees”)  and have them do that for a little while.  Then repeat over and over with different directions/requests.  Have them come up with their own ideas of how to move. 
See you don’t have to go near a guitar or even sing!  Go have fun and give it a try.
Be careful with picking a song that’s too fast for your group; they will probably get over excited.  Also be a little wary of song lyrics and content. Listen to the words and only use it if you don’t mind them telling the parents that they learned the words in school. Even some kids music and music from kid’s shows and movies can be inappropriate for some groups. 

NOTES TO AN INTERN by Margie La Bella of Music Therapy

1. First of all, it will be very handy for you to be very comfortable on the guitar. You’ll have enough to think about without having to think of finger positions. Sit with the guitar and switch chord positions silently while you watch TV. This implies that you have time to watch TV, but even 10 minutes every day will train your fingers. Guitars are much easier to carry than pianos, so there’s a decent chance you’ll need your guitar every day.

2. You probably got a copy of a blank evaluation form when you started your internship. That’s exactly what you’re being graded on. Use it as a guide to help teach yourself what you need to learn. If not the exact eval form, then use your syllabus to push your skills forward.

3. Put the songs you want to learn on CD or MP3 and listen to them when you’re in the car,cleaning, walking, or working out. If you can’t get a recording of the material, then buy a little tape recorder and sing them yourself and memorize them that way. See if you can record the songs your supervisor sings. Suggest meeting and having a song swap between the two of you. There are several handy free programs on the internet to help you obtain new material. Download a youtube to mp3 converter and have access to even more songs. Libraries have tons of great music for kids. Find a song and google words and chords. Have a question or a problem? Google or Youtube it. Try to teach yourself how to play by ear if you can. That I, IV,V bit really helps.

4.Get comfortable with your voice and singing. I think you’ll have a voice class. Sing in the range that you sound best in and don’t push. I use a mic and little amp every day. I had one intern that was quite tone deaf and one field work student with the same problem. Know yourself what are your strengths and weaknesses- now called “need areas.” That sounds nicer.

5. I used to think that I should be able to do all the right things, and know how to handle situations I’d never been in, in all my 22 years of life. Take it from me: Life’s a big lesson.
You may think you’re here to teach/work with this group of people. Guess what: they’re here to teach you as much. Different things because it’s a 2-way street. There’s a piece of every disability within us all. Whether or not it’s disabling is simply a matter of degree.

6. Open your eyes and open your mouth! Ask for help. This is where you are NOT supposed to know everything. Ask about what you don’t know. Ask the questions you’re afraid to ask.
Ask the teachers and assistants and OTs and PTs and speech therapists what their goals and techniques are. Ask. Sometimes you can work on the “same” goals musically. Articulation, oral-motor exercises, auditory memory, attention span and simple words are naturally done musically. And Watch. How does the teacher handle that same situation? When people offer you information, they may be doing it for a reason. When they jump in and say “Johnny close your lips and say mmmusic” they are telling you that’s significant for Johnny, so next time help Johnny say mmmu-sic.

7. My internship was with tough kids, some of whom were barely younger than me. Very challenging. Here’s something that helped keep my attitude focused. Every day I’d look for one thing that made me laugh, one way that I’d been blessed, and one lesson I’d learned. Seems simplistic but it kept me looking in the right direction. One thing I wish I has access to was a person to talk to about how I felt – someone to give me a good set of ears and some good direction. (But I didn’t talk about that stuff then.) Talk.

8. Back to my present job: you’d be surprised at who can do what. Sometimes I bring in a new instrument that’s a bit tricky to play and let the kids have at it: see what they come up with. Sometimes I do an activity that I’m suspecting is too hard on one level and the kids end up showing me that they can do it a different way or for a different purpose. I’ve given two-handed instruments to kids with only one working hand and guess what: they show me that they can do it! I made four short mallets for a tyke with virtually no fingers and he never needed them. He used a regular mallet. He also strung beads in OT. We don’t know how he did it! Whew. Think I’ll take a break. Good “luck” to all the SMTs!!!