Homemade Instruments

DIY Bottle Top Wind Chime

I do love the sound of a wind chime tinkling away in the breeze on a summer’s day. I have previously made a wind chime with some lovely, brightly coloured jingle bells, and if you want to have a look at that post, you can do so here.

So, this wind chime needs a little equipment to complete such as a drill, or a jewellery hole punch – I guess you probably could use a nail and hammer as well but I think that would be difficult because of the size of the bottle tops you will be working with. Basically you need something to help you make a hole in a metal bottle top.

I have been planning this wind chime for ages, well over a year in fact and so I started collecting the metal bottle tops when we had a bottled beer in preparation for this in the spring of 2020. I didn’t use all of the bottle tops I had collected, but I think I used about 45 of them for the wind chime.

So, the equipment you need to make a bottle top wind chime is as follows:

  • Beer or other soft drink metal top
  • Dream catcher hoop, or similar
  • Fishing thread
  • Jewellery hole punch

As I had been collecting the bottle tops for some time, the first task when making this wind chime was to give them all a good wash and dry. An odd experience to be sat at the kitchen table washing old beer bottle tops I have to say!

I then used my jewellery hole punch to make holes in the sides of the bottle tops. I knew that I would want to thread the fishing wire through both sides of the bottle top, so roughly aligned the holes to be able to do this. While it was pretty easy to punch holes in all of the bottle tops, because they are made with quite thin metal, there was one brand with gold colouring on it that had far softer metal than the other brands. I would say that it probably took about 45 minutes to wash, dry and hole punch all the bottle tops, and this was doing more bottle tops than I really needed to use as I wasn’t sure how large I wanted to make the wind chime.

Once all the bottle tops were clean, dry and hole punched, then it came time to make the wind chime itself. I collected the hole punched bottle tops, the dream catcher hoop and fishing thread and settled down to make the wind chime. I used this thread because it is quite strong, will withstand rainy and windy conditions outside and also because it is clear and hard to see.

Firstly I attached four lengths of the fishing thread to my dream catcher hoop. I chose quite long lengths of thread and chose to make two of these lengths of thread longer than the other two. The longer two lengths of thread were attached opposite each other on the dream catcher hoop. To attach the thread to the hoop I simply double knotted them. If I wanted to make them feel more secure I could have used a hot glue gun on the knots, but didn’t really feel I needed to for this.

I threaded the fishing thread through the top hole in the bottle top, and knotted the thread just underneath the hole so it could not slide up and down the thread, and then through the bottom hole in the bottle top, this time not bothering to knot the thread. This way the bottle top lay nice and flat on the fishing thread and none of them stuck out at awkward angles. I thought it looked nicer that way.

I did this with about 8-12 bottle tops for each of my four lengths of fishing thread on the dream catcher hoop, then used another, shorter length of the thread to loop at the top of the dream catcher hoop to create a hook to hang the wind chime from.

I put our new wind chime in various places both in the garden and even in our house. I quite liked having it in the kitchen near our kitchen table and listening to it tinkling away when the kitchen window was open. However the children also really liked having it there, playing with it and grabbing the tops and trying to make them hit each other – it was only a matter of time before someone accidentally got hit in the eye with it, or something like that! It could not stay there, so out in the garden it went!

I think the outcome is quite lovely. It is not so loud that it will annoy the neighbours, but is loud enough that we will hear it when sat out in the garden this summer.

This is a project for older children given the need to use equipment like the drill or jewellery hole punch. Or for slightly younger children with a lot of adult supervision. I would probably let my 7 year old have a go at threading the bottle tops with the fishing thread, but would not let my 4 year old try this activity, no matter how much she wanted to (and she would want to if she saw me or her brother doing this). The reason I would not let my 4 year old have a go is firstly that I don’t think she would have the manual dexterity for the fine threading the thread through small holes in the metal bottle top. In addition, when punching holes in metal, there could be some sharp edges on there to watch out for.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Homemade Instruments

DIY Windchime with bells

As I write this blog post the weather is improving (well it is not currently raining, I can’t guarantee it won’t be by the time I finish the post!) and we are spending more and more time in the garden. I have been thinking about the sounds you hear in the garden and so this week decided to make a wind chime.

If you look online for ideas to make wind chimes you will find loads of them, and I think I will have a go at a few over the next few months to see which is easiest and most effective; there are hundreds of options.

For this very simple wind chime I used the following:

  • Some fishing wire
  • A small metal dream catcher hoop
  • Colourful jingle bells
  • A pair of scissors

To make the wind chime I measured out and cut a length of fishing wire and tied the end onto one of the jingle bells with a double knot.

I tied another couple of bells onto the same length of fishing wire and then tied it onto the dream catcher hoop.

For this small wind chime I decided to do the same with another 2, slightly longer, lengths of fishing wire with the bells arranged so that they did not hit each other. The fishing wire was tied around 1cm apart to allow the bells to move freely in the wind.

A final length of fishing wire was tied to the top of the dream catcher hoop to use as a hook. I thought it was really pretty, and while it looked lovely in my front room window, I wanted to hear it as well as see it, so I hooked the wind chime onto a nail on my garden shed where it tinkled away in the wind.

This was an easy thing to make and adds an extra sensory element to our garden, albeit a quiet one. It would be good for children to help with. Threading the wire through a relatively small opening on the bell, knotting the fishing wire and tying it onto the dreamcatcher hoop can be a little fiddly, so I would suggest it would be difficult for children under about 5 without a lot of parental help as they just would not have the manual dexterity to achieve it on their own.

Using colourful bells immediately makes the wind chime very attractive. There is a little less creativity involved as the children can’t add their own decoration really, they can just choose which colour bells to add onto the wind chime.

Now we just have to sit back and relax in the garden listening to the lovely tinkling sound of our home made wind chime, maybe with a G&T in hand. Sounds lovely.

Homemade Instruments

DIY Slide Whistle

I currently have both children at home given the situation in the UK at the moment. My eldest is set work from school which occupies him (and me with cajoling him to get back to it and helping him understand what he is supposed to be doing), but not the whole day. So we are back to trying to find things to do to pass the time- their baths get earlier and earlier!!

I was looking at Pinterest the other day and came across a post from DadLab looking at the science of sound. You can find the post I saw here.

This immediately appealed to me because my boy loves science and it’s another route into getting him interested in music and making music. Long term readers will also know that we love making DIY musical instruments and this fitted beautifully with that as the sounds made we’re just like a slide whistle.

A slide whistle looks like a recorder, but it has a thin pole that goes through the middle of it. To play the slide whistle you blow into the mouthpiece and move the metal pole up and down. This changes the pitch that is played, like this

Now, the DadLab video is pretty self explanatory about how to make this whistle, but here is a step by step guide. To make the DIY slide whistle you will need:

  • A straw, more than one if there are a few of you doing this together.
  • A pair of scissors (a grown up will need to use the scissors for this as it would be extremely difficult to do, if not impossible, with safety scissors)
  • A glass or cup of water, pretty full.

Cut through the straw about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down the straw. You don’t want to cut all the way through, leave about 1/4 of the straw still attached.

Put the straw into your glass of water. The cut part of the straw should not be submerged into the water. I had quite a full glass of water when I did this with my two. My 3 year old can largely be trusted not to always knock a glass over, but I must admit to hovering right over her when she went anywhere near the glass! You do need plenty of water in the glass/cup to demonstrate the effect, so if your little one is very clumsy (that would be me still!) then perhaps you should just demonstrate this or use a plastic cup sat in the middle of a tray.

Your straw should bend a little where you have cut it allowing the air to escape. Blow through the straw gently and as you do, listen carefully to hear the pitch change from low to high and back again just like a slide whistle.

When my children had a go, they had great fun not only making the sliding sounds but also just blowing bubbles in the water. Our table was quite soggy within a few minutes!! As it was just water that I used it was easy to clean up with a tea towel afterwards.

When playing it we talked about whether the heard a low or high sound when the straw was at the top of the glass or the bottom of the glass.

Sound is made from waves and generally the further a sound wave has to travel, the lower the sound it makes. If the sound wave has a shorter (or thinner) distance to travel, then a higher note is produced. You can see this is musical instruments – a large double bass with very long strings will sound lower than a violin that has shorter strings. So with this slide whistle as the straw is at the top of the glass the air, and so the sound, can travel all the way to the bottom of the glass making a lower sound. When the straw is moved to the bottom of the glass, then the air only has a short distance to travel down the straw, and so it makes a higher sound.

This was a fun experiment, and a very quick and easy DIY instrument to make.

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY Castanets

It has been a little while – about 1 1/2 months – since I last wrote a blog post showing you how to make a musical instrument at home, so I thought it was high time I did a new one. This time, I have made a couple of pairs of castanets. There are different ways to make these instruments, but this is how I made them today.

What is a castanet?

Firstly, what is a castanet? A castanet is a percussion instrument, known particularly for their role in Spanish Flamenco music although they feature in music of many more traditions and cultures. They were traditionally made of hardwood, although fibreglass is becoming more popular, and of course castanets that are suitable for children, especially young children, are often made from plastic. A pair of castanets (each instrument is a pair already) is played by clicking or hitting the pair together. Two pairs are played together, one in each hand and each pair would make a slightly different sound.

How to play the castanets

There are different ways to play, but here are three simple ways to play that you can use at home:

  • Hold a pair of castanets in one hand looping the string over your index finger. Put your index finger on one side of the pair of castanets and your thumb on the other. Open and close your index finger and thumb to click the castanets together.
  • Put the pair of castanets on the floor and tap on the top of it with your hand.
  • Put the pair of castanets in one hand and use the other to tap on the top of it.

I don’t have a pair of castanets to demonsrate for you, but here is a short video of castanets in action.

Making your own castanets

You can make your own castanets with some very simple things that you may already have at home. You will need:

  • Craft sticks (I used large, plain craft sticks because that is what I have at home, and also once the castanets were made I could leave them for my children to decorate)
  • Bottle tops (I used beer bottle tops, obviously it was a chore for me to have to drink the beer in order to get the bottle tops. Any bottle tops would work)
  • Small amount of cardboard
  • Elastic bands
  • Scissors
  • Glue (I used a hot glue gun, but other glues or even sticky tape would probably work just as well)

Firstly I hot glued the bottle tops onto the craft sticks, making sure that the bottle tops were roughly level with each other.

Next, I put the craft sticks together so that the bottle tops were touching each other. I placed an elastic band at the other end of the craft sticks and tried to play the castanets. They did not quite work, as there was nothing there to make the craft sticks spring away from each other after they have been tapped together.

So I cut a small piece of cardboard, mine was slightly wider than my craft sticks, but I could have made more effort to make the cardboard the same width, or thinner than my craft sticks. I folded the cardboard into a V shape and hot glued the cardboard to each of the craft sticks so that the open side of the V faced upwards towards the bottle tops. The cardboard, which made a lever inside the castanet, was approximately half way up and I took care to ensure that the bottle tops would still be level with each other.

I made two pairs of castanets, one for each of my children. I found that one of the pairs of castanets worked best with an elastic band would around the bottom underneath the cardboard lever, and one of the worked best without the elastic band. Here they are in action:

Now it will be over to my children to decorate them however they see fit.

If you have got to the end of this blog post, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed, or got something out of this post! If you have enjoyed what you have read, and would be interested in supporting me to keep this blog running, I would be absolutely delighted if you would consider buying me a coffee using the following link: Buy Me A Coffee Thank you!!

Homemade Instruments · Music at home

Making a DIY hand drum

We made these drums just before half term (which was last week here in Birmingham, UK) on a Saturday morning. I was trying to tempt the children away from the iPad and using screens, and hadn’t yet got them out of their pyjamas – well it’s not like we had anywhere to go to! This was a nice activity that kept them busy for about 20 minutes, decorating and sticking stuff onto their paper and cardboard. As I wanted nice, clean cardboard circles for the drums, I did prepare the circles in advance, but if you are not too bothered about them being exact, it would be great fine motor (pre-writing) scissor skills practice for your children. If I had just my 5 year old with me, I may have been tempted to get him to cut the shapes out for this activity himself.

So, what do you need to make this drum?

  • Some cardboard
  • Some paper
  • A compass, or something round to draw around, we used a roll of masking tape
  • Scissors
  • A pencil
  • A couple of beads
  • Some yarn or string (only a very small amount)
  • Pens, washi tape, stickers, anything you want to use to decorate your drum
  • 1 straw for each drum
  • Glue. We used Pritt stick, but you could use PVA glue, or even hot glue if you are not doing this alongside your children. Mine were helping with the assembly of the drums so I wanted to use something they could both easily use by themselves
  • Hot glue gun (optional)

First of all, I drew around my masking tape roll. You need 2 of these for each drum you make. I made 4 circles because I was making 2 drums, one for each of the children. I then cut out 4 same size circles out of paper.

Once I had my circles all ready, I called the children in to help me put them together. My son had decided he had had enough of helping mummy making these instruments, and definitely did not want to be doing this. He really wanted to be playing on the iPad to be honest and I had said no, so he wasn’t best pleased with me at that moment in time. However, as soon as he saw glue and pens out and realised I was asking him to make something fun he changed his mind.

The children used Pritt Stick to stick the paper circles onto the cardboard circles. My son used felt pens to draw a star on either side of his drum, and my daughter used washi tape to decorate her circles. Interestingly, when we started making things with washi tape astound christmas my daughter, who was 2 at the time, would peel off as much tape as she could and stick it mostly to the table, rather than the paper or card we were using. I noticed with this task that she was much more purposeful with putting the right size tape onto the paper and trying to smooth it flat. She was starting to make much more conscious design decisions than haphazardly placing the tape as she had done only a few months earlier.

While the children were decorating their drums I cut 2 pieces of yarn. I cut about 4 inches. The yarn or string needs to be around 2 inches or more longer than the diameter of your cardboard circle. It will lie across your circle, so that there are 2 lengths of yarn either side that are roughly the same length. This is easiest illustrated with a picture I think!

The children chose 2 beads each, and we threaded them onto each side of the yarn.

Next we got a straw, 1 for each drum and flattened the top of it and folded it over slightly. This is the end of the straw that will be sandwiched between the 2 halves of the drum.

To make up each drum, we took 2 circles, liberally glued one half (I used hot glue, so didn’t let the children do this, so the drum would hold together better) and placed the yarn onto the glued circle together with the flattened and folded straw.

I then placed the other half on top, covering the first circle. Then as our beads kept trying to escape from the yarn (thicker yarn or beads with smaller holes, or even better knot tying would possibly resolve this!), I tried to put a little blob of hot glue on either end of the yarn to keep the bead from escaping. I did not do a very good job with this, and got in a bit of a mess with it!

To play the drum, your children (or you) will need to hold the straw in between their palms with the cardboard at the top. They with then twirl the straw around in their palms so that the beads hit the cardboard and make a noise. It is another nice, quiet instrument, but lots of fun. My children have had it out several time since making it. I mentioned above that I didn’t do a great job first time with the hot glue on the end of the yarn – so much so that one of the beads flew off the yarn the first time, so be generous with the glue if you are using it, or tie several really large knots in the yarn/string!!

Homemade Instruments

Making a DIY cardboard box guitar

Another incredibly simple instrument to have a go at making at home this week. Today we have a box guitar!

Now you can make these guitars as fancy or as plain as you like. We opted for plain so we could get on with using them- the children couldn’t wait to use them! You can make necks for the out of kitchen roll tubes, or a long, thin box, but essentially they boil down to a cardboard box with some elastic bands around them. That is it!!

We opted for very plain white boxes as I had been sent a lovely Easter gift in the box. It was a great size for my little hands to hold onto as well. I found some different size elastic bands, some thinner than the others, and it so happened that mine were multi-coloured. We stretched the elastic bands to fit the box and I spaced them out on the box so they were roughly equally spaced. You could tape the elastic bands down but I chose not to.

It is a very quiet instrument, but by using different size and thickness elastic bands I could produce slightly different notes or sounds. If I’d had more sizes of elastic bands I could have produced more notes.

For no reason, other than that is what I found and was able to get on the box before one of my children excitedly grabbed it and took it off with them, one box had 4 and one had 5 elastic bands on. As you can see below my children loved them!

My son was so enamoured of his “guitar” that he showed his school friends in his zoom storytime/show and tell. I also had to take it off him before he went to sleep the other night as he had been singing his dinosaurs a lullaby with it.

My daughter found another use for it altogether when she finished her boogieing! I have no idea what the Paw Patrol has done to deserve it?

How does it work?

This instrument works on the same principles as a guitar, or any other plucked stringed instrument. When the string, or here the elastic band, is plucked, it vibrates over the space below it. Here it is the open part of the box, and in a guitar it would be the hole under the string. The vibrations make sound. You can change the sound made by using a different length or thickness elastic band. Shorter elastic bands are pulled more taut on the cardboard box and so they vibrate faster when plucked. The faster an elastic band vibrates, the higher pitch we hear and so different length bands produce higher or lower notes. It would be the same with different thickness of elastic bands with thicker bands vibrating more slowly, producing a lower note.

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY straw and foil shaker

Apparently I am obsessed with shakers! I admit it. They are the easiest instruments to make at home, they can be made from so many different materials and don’t take very long to make. All things that are of supreme importance when trying to get small children interested in making instruments with you.

My eldest, at 5, nearly 6, is much better at concentrating on something for a relatively long period (although I have noticed that even he is struggling to concentrate for as long as normal in these very odd times we are having at the moment), so he can take part in larger or more complicated makes. However my youngest is only 2 – she will be 3 later on this week (and is incredibly excited about that!). She is very different to her brother. Where he likes to concentrate on something and master a new task or activity, she is much more likely to throw herself into something and give it a go straight away. This means that her patience for concentrating on anything is very limited at the moment. So, shakers are great for her in particular. She can throw herself into having a go at making something herself and not have to wait too ling before she can play with it!

This is what you need to make these shakers:

  • Straws. We used about 4 for each shaker.
  • Yarn, thread or string.
  • Foil from chocolate coins or bottle tops.
  • Scissors.
  • Sticky tape.
  • A tapestry needle. I use a plastic one that is quite large to make it easier for small hands, and because it is not as sharp as a normal metal sewing needle.

First we gathered straws, about 4 for each shaker, together and stuck them together with sticky tape, wrapping it around the bottom, middle and top. You don’t need a lot of tape, just enough to go around the straws once. Then I cut 4 lengths of yarn for each shaker. If your child is old enough they can do this themselves. I let both of my children have a go at cutting some of the yarn under very strict supervision. (Basically, I pretty much did it with my 2 year old just let her have her hands around the handles as we pressed them down together, I let my 5 year old cut the yarn right in front of me.

I then showed the children how to thread the tapestry needle with the yarn, which they both managed, then showed them hope to make a small hole in the foil wrapper and gently pull the yarn through that small hole. This was fun. We went through a number of the foil wrappers as they were learning how to be gentle enough not to just rip the foil apart. I’ll be honest, my 2 year old didn’t quite manage it by herself, but she had a good go! Luckily I had been saving these foil wrappers up for a while (we have been using them as rewards for potty training!) so had plenty.

We strung four foil wrappers on each piece of yarn and then tied it around the straws, tying it securely in place and trimming the tail of the yarn.

Once I had tied four of the yarn pieces onto the foil I decided to tape them in place. You can use as many or as few of these as you like with these shakers. I wanted the foils to be fairly close together so that they hit each other when the straw was shaken to make it a slightly louder instrument.

And that is all there is to it with these. A very simple, easy and quick to make instrument. And here you have a little demonstration of how to play it from my son.

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY Lego shaker

I think shakers are the easiest instruments to make at home. There’s not much engineering to them at all. All you need is a vessel, the only requirement is that is can be sealed, and some dry stuff to put inside it. We have made a number of shakers in the last few weeks, and I would encourage you to have a go with your little ones.

Quite early on in the lockdown, I saw a tweet from @OCproducer about making Lego instruments. He had shared this video made by Andrew Huang who had made some percussion instruments using Lego. I watched it with my 5 year old who loves Lego, and who has very much enjoyed our instrument making in the last few weeks. I fully intended for us to have a go at making some instruments with Lego, but slightly forgot about it.

This afternoon my son brought me a shaker he had made out of Lego. He had remembered the video we watched and decided on his own to give it a go.

It’s a simple, but very effective instrument made using a small baseplate with Lego bricks all around the edge. He put a couple of tiny round pieces in the middle and another small baseplate on top. That is as complicated as it gets. The shaker works beautifully, if a little quietly. For me, the best thing was that my son had decided to do it himself and didn’t need any help. He was so proud of himself that he had made a percussion instrument by himself.

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY windchimes

Today’s DIY instrument was A set of windchimes.

These are very much indoor windchimes, but I do have vague plans in my head to make some outdoor windchimes at some point in the next few weeks with some old cutlery we no longer use but have hoarded in a drawer for some unknown reason (it’s general laziness really, but I like to pretend it’s because of the small children in the house taking up all my time.) I have plans to make a lot of things “in the next few week”, so we’ll have to see what we actually manage to make!

Anyway, the windchimes. To make these indoor windchimes you need:

  • A paper cup- we used the last of our Star Wars cups from my son’s birthday last year
  • Some yarn, thread or shoelaces- weused some bright yellow yarn, cut into 4 equal length pieces for each cup
  • Some ribbon or more yarn to hang the cup up with.
  • Beads or buttons to thread on the yarn. We used a mixture of both.
  • Scissors.
  • A hole punch, or something to make holes in the paper cup.
  • Plastic tapestry needle (optional).
  • Hot glue gun (optional)

We made two windchimes. One each for each of the children. To start off with I set things up for them in advance to try to make it easier for them (and me!). I punched 4 roughly equally spaced holes around the edge of the cup with my hole punch. I could also have used scissors, my needle, a chop stick or something like that rather than the hole punch. I then made a hole in the top of the cup, we’ll the bottom of it really, and threaded the ribbon through it, tying a knot inside the cup to keep it in place and a loop at the top to hang the cup from when it was finished.

I measured out 4 equally sized lengths of yarn for each cup, and put a knot in the end of each piece of yarn. I needed a large knot because we would be using a large button, but if only small buttons or beads would be used it would not need to be as large.

If I had been doing this with just my 5 year old I would not have taken this next step, I would have let him help himself to the beads and buttons in the containers they came in. However, my nearly 3 year old was also taking part so I could foresee many beads being kicked all over the room if I let her at them all as they were! So I gave them each four giant buttons, one for each piece of yarn, and a selection of buttons. We had these paint mixing pallets at home, so I used those for the beads.

I did suggest (heavily) that they use the giant button on each piece of yarn first so that it was at the bottom of each one. I then let them thread beads on the yarn, which is great fine motor skills practice. They needed to add the same number of beads to each piece of yarn and so we got some number practice in as well. I got them to use plastic tapestry needles to thread the beads onto the yarn with. These tapestry needles can be bought online or from most haberdashery stores. I got mine in a set of about 15 from amazon. They are great for small hands as they are larger, and not as sharp as regular needles so much easier and safer for them to use.

My boy, who likes making things with beads anyway, managed to do all four sets of beads himself. My girl, the youngest, managed to nearly finish one piece of yarn by herself, helped pick the beads out for the second and then abandoned the project altogether for the last two pieces of yarn!

Once there were enough beads on the yarn, we threaded them through the holes made around the edge of the paper cup, and then trimmed the yarn to the right length. I was a little concerned that the knots I tied in the bottom of the yarn would not hold out so I used my hot glue gun on the knots to make sure they stayed in place.

There you have it DIY windchimes. A fun activity that my 5 year old especially enjoyed doing and they will hopefully make a nice sound when swaying in the breeze near the open window.

Or, like my son, you could decide they are octopi fighting each other and play fighting with them! (This May have been the point that I thought it would be worth using the hot glue gun…)

Homemade Instruments

Making DIY panpipes

Another fun activity to do at home with your little ones while we are all on lockdown. Today I made panpipes using only items that I found in the drawers at home.

To make panpipes at home you will need to collect together:

  • Straws. We had a stock of plastic straws at home. Paper ones would work as well, but wouldn’t last as long. Silicon straws would not work for this as you need to be able to cut the bottoms off the straw to make the instrument.
  • Sticky tape
  • Scissors
  • Stickers/paper tape/ anything you want to use to decorate the panpipes with (optional)
A small number of household items needed to make panpipes.

So, the first thing I did was to choose a number of straws I wanted to make the instrument. There is absolutely no hard and fast rule about this. I wanted to be able to make a few because I have small children, and if I haven’t given them both exactly the same to play with/put stickers on then I immediately regret it. I wanted to make one for myself to experiment with and then one each for the children to decorate and play.

The straws need to be lined up so that they lie in a fairly nice, straight line at the top. This is the side of the instrument you will be blowing down to play, so it does need to be a relatively uniform height. I then used sticky tape to attach the straws together.

Once the straws were all stuck down (I’ll be honest, this didn’t really last all that long once my 2 year old got hold of it and started her usual exploration of things by squeezing it….) I then cut the bottom of the straws to make the panpipes. I held my scissors at an angle so that I ended up with a lovely even slope for the bottom of the instrument.

Cutting the straws with a steep sloping angle.

Here’s the reason for the sloping angle. Panpipes are wind instruments. This means that you use use your own breath blown down or across a tube to make a sound.

With these simple wind instruments, the pitch of the note produces is dependent on the length of the tube the air has to travel down. So here, with these panpipes, the shorter straws produce a higher note, or higher pitch, than the longer straws. The longest straws produce the lowest note, or pitch. If all of the straw were cut at the same height, they would have produced the same pitch (and it would have largely been pointless cutting the straws in the first place). I could have cut each straw individually and then arranged them from low to high pitch (longest to shortest straw). However panpipes are played by moving your mouth from one side to the other (skilled players can play actual tunes on panpipes, but we are very much NOT skilled panpipe players!) and that makes sounds that move evenly in pitch from left to right and right to left. The easiest way to achieve this was to angle my scissors and cut the straws using a steep angle as shown in the picture, and the height of each straw was then much more evenly distributed.

My children were asked to decorate the panpipes. We have a lot of stickers at home- there will be considerably fewer left at home, if any, once this lockdown has ended! – and they certainly didn’t hold back with their use of sticker decorations. And apparently it is absolutely the done thing to make a Halloween themed panpipe at the start of spring…..

Stars and pumpkins, because of course!

So what did they sound like then? Well, again I will be honest, I don’t think we will be worrying any panpipe manufacturers with our homemade versions. In fact you have to listen very carefully to detect the difference in pitch. But having made several quite noisy instruments with the children, it was something of a delight to make a quiet instrument. And they do work. You can definitely hear the rising pitch as you blow down the straws and move your mouth across the panpipe from the longest to the shortest. You just have to listen very carefully- a skill that every musician needs to acquire!

If you have a go at making your own panpipes I would love to see and hear how you got on.

Homemade Instruments · Music at home

Making Balloon Shakers

We have made a few instruments at home now and my boy has really enjoyed it. So much so that when we were talking about what we would do this week during self-isolation he said that he wanted to make an instrument.

I thought this might make quite a good project for him (and pass some time one afternoon!) So I asked him to first plan out his instrument in a notebook (writing and drawing practice) and then we would work on making it together. The instrument he had in his head was a balloon shaker, which inspired me to make a version or two myself.

This was my son’s instrument diagram:

“Plan of Music Instrument”

And he wrote some quite detailed instructions for making the balloon shaker:

  • First put 5 chickpeas inside a balloon.
  • Next put 12 dried lentils inside the balloon.
  • Then put 5 little pieces of paper inside the balloon.
  • Finally blow the balloon up.

He had told me his plan before starting to write it out, so I found a funnel, balloons, chickpeas and lentils and prepared to make the shakers:

Firstly I made a lentil shaker. Lentils were poured into the balloon through the funnel, and then I blew up the balloon. Surprisingly few lentils were needed to make quite a good sound.

And then we tried out the lentil balloon shaker. I loved that you could see the lentils through the latex, I thought it added a bit of an extra sensory element to the shaker.

Then it was the turn of the chickpeas, and they needed a little extra help getting into the balloon, I think finally I used a pencil to poke them down into the balloon. These made a much deeper sound and we needed far fewer of them.

We then made my son’s shaker following his very specific instructions and finally we did one balloon with a mixture of both lentils and chickpeas. We finally sang the song I Hear Thunder with our shakers, a good few times over. The children loved them. They loved making the balloons, they loved shaking them, they loved that they were really quite loud, and we spent almost an hour making these shakers and exploring the sounds they made.

The yellow balloon on the foreground does make the video appear to have flashing images.
Homemade Instruments

Making DIY Drums

I am continuing my little series, if I can call it that, on musical instruments that you can make at home from items you already have there, with some drums. These were easy to make-took about 2 minutes- and a lot of fun to play with.

Firstly, what do you need to make a DIY drum?

  • An empty cylindrical container- I used two food tins that I had washed out and removed the label from. I also tried a larger round container for coffee beans I had given my husband for Christmas.
  • A balloon
  • Scissors
  • An elastic band
  • Duck tape (optional, and other tape would work too)

So the first thing I did once my tins were washed and dry, was to cover the tin in dick tape. I did this because when taking the lid off the tin as I was washing it I slightly cut my hand on the sharp edge, and didn’t want little hands to play with the sharp edges. It had the added benefit of making the tin, therefore the drum, looking much prettier with this lovely tape that I found in Wilkinsons a few days ago.

Covering over any sharp edges
Much prettier!

I cut the bottom off a balloon and then stretched it over the top of the tin can securing it in place with an elastic band. You need a nice, tight fit for the balloon, and for the balloon to appear level on the top, this give the right sort of skin for the drum.

The only balloons we had in the house were ones left over from my daughter’s 2nd birthday last year-and voila, celebratory drums!

I repeated the process with the second tin can and also the coffee bean canister. The canister was much harder to use. It was much larger than the tin and so the balloon had to stretch far more to cover the top. I didn’t feel like I got a nice, taut and level surface with this. Also, as the sides of the canister were made from card rather than tin, they were not as rigid, and also contributed to the sides moving when the drum was being played, and the top of the drum being less taut, so not making a very good sound. We abandoned this drum very quickly when trying them out.

Then the children and I played with the drum. Their preferred method was to use a pencil and sort of poke the balloon top! But I did get them to use the pencil on its side like a drum stick.

Using a pastry brush was a lot of fun, though very quiet, my son decided to try out his hands, playing it like a bongo. And then I had a go and dripping water onto the top of the balloon which created some surprising and fun sounds. There is a video at the bottom of this post showing some of the different ways we played this DIY musical instrument.

A great instrument to play with, if rather noisy! I’m not sure I’ll keep it in easy reach for the children, but will definitely bring it out again for them to have a play with!

Homemade Instruments

Making Homemade Kazoos

If you have read this blog before you will know that I really like making homemade instruments with my children. I have recently made some homemade kazoos with them, and thought it would be good to let you know how I did it in case you want to make one yourself.

There are very few things you need for this. We gathered together toilet rolls, some baking paper, elastic bands, paint and washi tape, together with safety scissors and a pencil. This is such an easy instrument to make at home. Having said that, making one with a 2 year old and 5 year old was not necessarily such a good plan. Some things worked very well, and some things really did not!

We started off very well, with the children getting very excited about it having previously told me they did not want to take part. I drew a circle on the baking paper that was larger than the diameter of the toilet roll and handed these circles to the children to cut out. Lesson 1: safety scissors do not work well on baking paper, and in the hands of a 2 year old they are, quite frankly, a liability because she got thoroughly fed up with them very quickly. I abandoned the idea of some nice scissor skills practice for them and cut the circles out myself with proper scissors.

Make the baking paper circles slightly wider diameter than the toilet roll

Then we put the baking paper circles over the toilet roll and secured it with an elastic band. Both children needed some help with this so that they didn’t squash the toilet roll. And that, basically, was that. Our kazoos were made.

Securing the baking paper with an elastic band

Decoration time, and I chose some washi tape stripes for mine, and the children decided to paint the toilet roll – the baking paper fell off, and got put back on, thrown across the table, squished, and redone. I just about stopped myself from wishing I had never started this with them.

Then it was time to try the kazoos out.

I don’t know if you have ever tried playing a kazoo. It is a very easy instrument to play, and great first instrument for children to play. Having said that, I never understood how to play one until last year. You don’t blow down a kazoo, you sing or hum down it.

My youngest, at 2 years old, was probably a bit too young to be able to play it herself, she had a good go at it though. My eldest, in theory, was perfectly old enough. I showed my son how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with the kazoo, and he had a go – using a surprisingly high voice:

Yep, I think that is enough of that! This one was better:

My son then realised that he could use the kazoo to pretend to be Darth Vader (massive Star Wars fan) and that was that for the music making, it was Vader impressions all the way:

They really enjoyed making the kazoos and finding out how to use them. They actually made music, and got my children to exercise their imagination.


Homemade Instruments

Why make instruments at home?

We have a lot of instruments in our house – I am a musician myself, and a music teacher, so there is no shortage of musical instruments for the children to play. These range from my own instruments – at the time of writing I play flute, piano and am learning to play the ukulele; but we also have a violin, guitar and saxophone at home. We also have a load of percussion instruments at home – some the children were given as presents by relatives, some I have found for a good price in local shops, and occasionally I have spotted some nice instruments in local charity shops (although I always steer clear of any pre-used wind instruments from the charity shop). I do love making instruments with the children, though. Why on earth would we make them when we have other instruments at hand?

There are a couple of reasons:

  • My children love making things – my son, who is 5, loves art and drawing and is at an age where he wants to know how everything works; and my daughter, who is 2, loves getting her hands into things like play dough, clay, paint, anything she can make a mess with
  • Tapping into their interests with this helps get them interested in music – so talking about how we can make the instrument, what we are doing and why, and giving them free reign as to how the instrument is decorated keeps them playing with it and participating in it longer.
  • I like to get them to think about the sounds that are made by their new instruments, and so by extension, the sounds their more standard instruments make.

Above all, it is a fun activity that we really enjoy doing together. I have, so far, made shakers and kazoos with the children, which I will blog about; and I plan to make several more!

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.