Making Elementary Musical Instruments: A Fun Approach for Hands-on Learners

Making Elementary Musical Instruments: A Fun Approach for Hands-on Learners
Page content

This is an easy lesson to implement, with the added bonus of not needing a lot of prior preparation. It can be used in the classroom or as one of your summer camp activities. If possible, ask your elementary students or campers to collect the items before you begin this music lesson, as this a great additional hands on learning task which incorporates skills such as collecting, organizing, remembering and transporting.

You will need the following tools and materials for making musical instruments:

  • large tin or round container (the one shown in the photo is a tin of infant formula)
  • long cylinders of sturdy cardboard (the ones shown are donated from a drafting office)
  • items to fill the rainmaker instrument (cylinder shape) eg. noodles, beans, gum nuts, buttons (ensure these are safe to use with your students, and watch that you do not give students access to these items if they are at all likely to put them in their mouths)
  • strong tape such as masking tape
  • tin foil
  • colored paper
  • paints
  • glue
  • other items for decoration as desired
  • scissors (use those which suit your students eg. board mounted scissors, squeeze grip scissors or safety scissors)
  • brushes / rollers / sponges for applying paint and glue (use those which suit your students eg. rounded handle brushes, or a sponge attached to a paint brush end for easier gripping)

Hands on learners love getting busy

Fun summer camp activities

Making Musical Instruments is Easy!

Decorate the tin and cylinder using paints, colored paper shapes, textas, pencils etc. Encourage students to make choices and give directions about their colors, shapes and textures here - there are lots of opportunities to build communication skills in this activity. Group your hands on learners with others who have different learning styles so you make the most of everyone’s strengths and students can communicate and share their skills with others. Encourage talking about music in all its forms - you might be surprised who has hidden musical talents!

Cover one end of the cylinder with tin foil and tape - double the foil over so it holds firm.

Put noodles, beans etc into the cylinder and the tin. Don’t overfill as the sound will be dulled when it is played. For more highly skilled hands on learners, try inserting some small lengths of dowel (thin wooden rods) into the sides of the cylinder to slow down the path of the noodles inside.

Cover the other end of the cylinder with foil and tape, and secure the lid onto the top of the tin in the same fashion.

Your instruments are now ready for their first test run!

If you are doing this as one of your summer camp activities, try making musical instruments over a few days and then collect them all for a camp concert or performance! Students on summer camp love sharing what they have made with family and friends, so try taking some digital photos or sending home a short video via a webpage of the musical instruments being played on summer camp!

Making Music Together

Now is the time to experiment with your hand-made instruments with a few songs. Encourage students to simply explore the sounds which can be made at first. The rainmaker cylinder can be turned fast or slow, the drum can be hit with whole hand or finger tips, and the instruments can be played separately or together.

Share some songs with your students and make sure you join in as well!

For junior classes, choose nursery rhymes such as ‘Incy Wincey’ (rainmaker can be turned in time for the ‘rain came down and washed poor Incy out’) or ‘Wee Willy Winkey’ (the drum can keep the beat and the rainmaker turned for ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’).

For older students, use current songs they know and ask students to explore beat, rhythm and loud / soft etc. You can introduce some musical terms such as forte (loud) and piano (soft) or crescendo (getting louder) or decrescendo (getting softer). Be warned that forte has fairly predictable results in an elementary classroom! As a summer camp activity, there are often less noise issues, although they are possibly not great as a bed time activity!

As an additional one of your summer camp activities, try extending making musical instruments into making a camp song about the experiences of your campers, with percussion provided by the instruments you have made as a group.

Try this article on Nursery Rhymes for more information on class activities.


  • Teacher experience.