Easy Homemade Musical Instruments

By , January 14, 2009 10:25 am

Thanks to a wonderfully creative music teacher at my children’s Montessori school, the latest fad around our house are little homemade guitars/harps like that shown above.  The kids are loving putting different sized rubber bands around my food storage containers and then experimenting with the sounds produced.

The sound reminds me of a kalimba.  It’s a little hard on me when I need to put away some food and can’t find any containers, but…oh well.  I can adjust.

These simple little string instruments made me think that a post about quick and easy homemade musical instruments might be fun to write.  I obviously won’t be anywhere close to covering all the homemade musical options, so if you think of something I forgot, please leave your idea in the comments.

If you are here because you are looking for musical instrument ideas, then be sure to read the comments for more ideas.  Unplug Your Kids readers are very creative!

Here are my ideas:

  • Let gourds or squash dry out.  Once they are completely dry, the exterior will be hard and when you shake them, the seeds will rattle around inside.  You’ll have some nice, natural maracas.
  • Quick maracas:  Fill plastic Easter eggs with rice or lentils and tape shut.  Instant shakers!
  • Paper plate maracas:  Put some dried beans on a small paper plate.  Cover with another, upside down paper plate.  Staple the two plates together around the edges to seal them shut.  Add a cardboard or popsicle stick handle if you want, then decorate.  Here is ours:

  • Wrap tissue paper around a fine tooth comb and make “Doo-doo-doo” noises through it for a kazoo sound.
  • Flip over empty cylindrical cardboard oatmeal containers and bang on the bottom to make a drum.
  • Line up a row of glasses and fill each with a different amount of water.  Tap them with a spoon and note the different pitches.  Play a tune!
  • If you have a thin-rimmed wine glass, fill it with water.  Wet your finger and rub it slowly and gently around the rim to create your own glass harmonica.  It might take a bit of experimenting to figure out exactly what pressure you need, but the results are impressive.  Experiment with more water in the glass and less water.  What happens to the pitch?  What about an empty glass?
    NOTE:  Benjamin Franklin invented a mechanical glass harmonica like this modern one based on his design (he called it an “armonica”):

If you have never heard it, you must listen to the rather fairy-like sound of an armonica!

      Can you play a tune with several glasses with different levels of water?  You might not sound

this good

    , but it’ll be fun!
    • Blow across a glass soda or beer bottle like you would play a flute.  Unless you play the flute, it’ll take a bit of practice.  Adjust the angle of the bottle against your lips until you get it right.  It will make a lovely tone.  Different levels of liquid will produce different tones.  What about lining up many bottles with different levels of liquid and playing a song?

(NOTE: Great related link – Bottled Music.  This link tells exactly how much water is needed in a twenty ounce bottle to produce each particular note of the scale, and even has instructions for playing Row Row Row your boat on the bottles.)

I didn’t think these sounded too much like crickets, but they do make a cool sound for your musical instrument collection!  Learn how to make them here.

  • Another craft idea: Sandpaper blocks – Wrap sandpaper around two blocks and attach it to the back with thumbtacks.  For easier handling you might want to attach a knob to the back of each block (with glue or screws).  Rub the blocks together for a cool sound.  Try coarser and finer paper for different sounds.

And of course, the obvious:  turn your 2 year-old loose in your pots and pans cupboard for lots of drums, cymbals and noise music.

That’s it for what’s in my brain right now, but Googling “homemade musical instruments” produces lots of cool results.

Here are links to a few of my favorites:

Jingle Sticks

Rainstick

Didgeridoo

Inventing Homemade Instruments with Math and Measurement (a wonderful website that teaches the science of music!)

Artists Helping Children (a very long list of many musical instrument craft links – useful!)

For a book that has some fun instrument games and activity ideas for young (preschool) children to use their homemade (or non-homemade) simple instruments, consider 101 Rhythm Instrument Activities: for Young Children by Abigail Flesch Connors:

NOTE: This is a great book to use with young children, older ones might find it boring.

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