Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Halilit Calypso Band set for babies over 6 months old

You have recently had a baby, and have read about how important music is for babies’ development (hint: music is an amazing activity for all areas of your baby’s development), and you like the idea of having a music box at home for your children to help themselves to. But where on earth do you start with the dizzying array of instruments to choose from? How do you know what instruments are safe for your very young children to play with?

The image above shows a box with Halitlit branding and marked Calypso Band. The box contains three musical instruments – a blue tambourine, a yellow bell, a green maraca. The box says the instruments are suitable for babies 6 months and older.

Well, the Halilit Calypso band is a great place to start!

This is a lovely set of instruments, a Baby Band in a Box if you like. They are nice, brightly coloured instruments that have perfect sized handles for small hands to hold. There are three instruments in this box:

  • A maraca – a green shaker with a chunky handle, played by shaking the maraca up and down or side to side. The maraca can be shaken fast or slow, a really lovely, audible and easily understandable way for children to start learning these concepts.
  • A bell – this bell is encased in a yellow ball and has a big handle for little hands to easily grip onto. Just like the maraca, it is played by shaking it up and down, or side to side.
  • A tambourine – this is the blue instrument in this set. A tambourine is made with zithers (metal discs), attached around the edges of a drum. On a standard tambourine these zithers can break off and become a choking hazard for small children. With the Halilit Calypso Band tambourine, however, the zithers are entirely encased (like the bell above) in a blue plastic case. The tambourine is thinner on the one side to help small children grip onto it and play it. Again this is an instrument that can be played by shaking it up and down, or side to side.
The image above shows the back of the Halilit box. There is a picture of a happy baby holding the yellow bell and the blue tambourine on the box. The writing on the box describes some of the benefits of the instruments for small children, e.g. builds a sense of rhythm, enhances motor skills, develops musical ability.

The beauty of this set of instruments is that each one of them can be played by the children themselves. They can grab hold of them and shake them by themselves. I mentioned above that you can shake the instruments fast or slow, introducing these concepts to small children with an easy to understand demonstration. You can also shake them very gently and quietly, or with huge enthusiasm and loudly (especially the tambourine) to demonstrate the difference between loud and quiet, telling your child that you are playing loud or quiet as you do so.

To see a demonstration of how to play these instruments, have a look at my TikTok on Wednesday where I will show you how to play them!

The instruments are made out of plastic and any small parts, namely the bell and the zithers in the tambourine, are fully enclosed in their plastic outer casing, so you do not need to worry about your baby putting the instruments in their mouths. I am not saying that you can leave your baby unsupervised as they play with them, as your baby can still give themselves a good whack in the face with them – or their siblings…. but they do take away an amount of worry about babies putting instruments in their mouths.

For very young children, being able to play instruments themselves helps your baby to understand cause and effect – your baby will move, or shake the instrument and a sound will come out of it because of their actions. It’s a great independent activity for them, they don’t need you to make the sound for them. (Your little one will need to be able to grip things by themselves to be able to play independently.)

A picture of the three instruments from this lovely set. These are the green maraca, the yellow bell and the blue tambourine on a blue background.

This is an absolutely lovely set of instruments, and a perfect set to start off your music box.

I bought this set from Amazon, and at the time of writing, the set costs £14.99.

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!!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Triangle

You do not need to purchase any instruments to make music at home with your children; there are a lot of household items that you can use as instruments. However, if you are considering investing in a music box, or box of musical instruments, for your children to be able to play with at home (a fantastic idea, by the way), then you could not go wrong adding a triangle to your instruments in that music box.

What is a Triangle?

A triangle is a very simple instrument. It is literally a tube of metal bent into the shape of, yes you guessed it, a triangle!

The triangle is an untuned percussion instrument. Percussion instruments, are ones which are played by being hit or scraped by a beater. Most percussion instruments are untuned, which means that they cannot be tuned to play a particular note, or notes.

How to Play the Triangle

It is played by hitting the sides of the triangle with a metal beater. The triangle needs to be dangled, usually from a string or something similar, although it can just dangle from a finger while you are playing it. I have lost the rubber band thing that my triangle came with, so in making the videos below I improvised using a pipe cleaner to dangle the triangle from.

So what would you do with the triangle at home?

  • Play along with some music on the radio, or that you have chosen to listen to
  • Try to hit the triangle in time to the beat, or pulse, of the music you are listening to
  • Play the triangle as quietly as you can. It is quite a quiet instrument anyway, but can you hit it as gently as possible and make a really quiet sound?
  • Play the triangle as loud as possible. To play loudly, well loud for this instrument, you just need to hit it hard (when playing with young children, watch out for the triangle, and beater perhaps, swinging around quite wildly!)
  • Have a feel of the triangle and discuss its properties – is it hard or soft, warm or cold etc
  • Use it in imaginative play, perhaps as a school bell, or alarm in a fire station; let your imagination run wild

Here are a couple of videos showing the very basics of how to play the triangle:

Another way of playing the triangle:

And once you have mastered the basics, it shouldn’t be too long before you can easily do something like this (well, a few weeks at least):

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!!

Music games to play at home

Call And Response Games To Play With Your Children

Hello everyone. How are you all doing? I have my two children at home with me and am trying to homeschool them both. My children are 3 and 6. My eldest has lessons set by school (they are mercifully good at telling everyone to only do what they can and that they don’t expect everyone to do all the work set: some days we do it all, some days we barely scrape through 2 classes.) My daughter has activities set by school as she is in preschool 3 days per week. She could be in school given her age. We all got coronavirus over Christmas, with my son getting it at New Year, so we assumed our 3 year old had it too and kept her home. She went to school for 1.5 days after the contagious period was over, and came home with a stomach bug. Then one of her teachers tested positive and the whole year groups had to self-isolate.

This is a rather long winded way to say that life is pretty challenging at the moment, as it is with pretty much everyone, and I am struggling to find any time at all to write on here.

For today I wanted to write a quick blog post about a nice and easy call and response game I played with the children at home yesterday using our drum. This game can be played with any instrument, or even a plastic bowl and wooden spoon.

Call and response games are great for developing:

  • Listening skills
  • Patience
  • Turn taking
  • Imitation skills

They simply involve you playing (or singing) a very short phrase and getting your children to copy you when you have finished. They should play exactly the same phrase back to you.

These games are great for helping your children start to understand rhythm, develop a sense of playing to the beat and, as an added bonus, can help your children with counting skills! Who wouldn’t want to play them?

We started our game with playing just 4 beats and counting them out loud. My 3 year old didn’t always manage to beat the drum on all four beats, but both children played/counted out on the beat.

I started to add in more complicated rhythms for them to copy, and for each round of the game the rhythm became more complicated. You can use any rhythm that comes into your head for this- think about songs you like, tv theme tunes etc and use the main melody to beat the drum to that melody.

My 6 year old managed more complicated rhythms than his younger sister, which is to be expected, but both had fun playing the drum and making lots of noise. They used up a bit of energy as well with this game-always a winner when stuck at home in lockdown!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Sleigh Bells / Jingle Bells

It is coming up towards that time of year when you start to hear sleigh bells in a lot of music. Sleigh bells are definitely a feature of Christmas music, and they make a fantastic Christmas present for children who enjoy music, or whose parents do. I would not buy these as a present for small children who mouth objects, but they can be played by them with extremely close supervision.

What are Sleigh Bells?

Sleigh bells are percussion instruments made by having a sheet of metal bent into a ball shape with ball bearings or a small metal rod inside the ball. Generally several of these balls are attached to something like a wooden stick.

How do you Play Sleigh Bells?

Sleigh bells are incredibly easy to play. You can play them by:

  • holding the sleigh bells in your hand and shaking them. Yep, that is it!
  • holding the sleigh bells in one hand and hitting the palm of your other hand with them.
  • tapping the sleigh bells on your body or on the floor.

Here is a video of the various ways to play sleigh bells.

Shaking the sleigh bells
Shaking the sleigh bells on the beat/to a pulse
Tapping sleigh bells on your hand
Tapping sleigh bells on the floor (this can be loud!)

Sleigh Bells and Small Children

Small children, especially those who mouth objects (chew on them or otherwise put them into their mouths), should never be left unsupervised with sleigh bells. The bells could detach from the wooden stick and could cause a choking hazard.

They are instruments that even a small child can play independently, as long as you are right by their side when they are playing them to stop them putting them in their mouths. The bells make a nice sound and so children really do enjoy playing with them. For us, it was easier to let my son play with the sleigh bells from a younger age than my daughter as he largely stopped mouthing objects from around 2 whereas my daughter has only just stopped putting everything in her mouth at over 3. You know your child best, but in our household the bells have only just gone into the main music box that both children have easy access to. A safer alternative to bells are enclosed mini tambourines, and you can read my blog post featuring these instruments here.

We have a set of bells attached to material that goes around the ankle, and both of my children absolutely love them, running and dancing around with them and making as much noise as they possibly can with them! Once again, while these are great for young children to play with young children shouldn’t play with them unsupervised because the bells here could come off the material as well. With older children, they can dance around with them on to their hearts’ content!

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!!

Reaponses to Music

Learning to Listen to Music: What Does This Music Make You Think Of?

We have music on a lot of the time at home. I love pretty much any music, and my husband particularly loves classical music and jazz. So we have music on when we are cooking, when we are eating, when we are working, when driving the car, when the children are playing….. It is almost always there in the background, like a soundtrack to our lives.

While it is great that my children hear lots of different musical works from different genres, I also want them to be able to properly listen to that music, to properly hear it rather than just use it as a soundtrack, to think about that music, and express their opinion about it: Do they like it? How does the music make them feel? Do they want to dance to it?

To do this, I have tried a number of techniques to get the children to tell me what they think of it, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, the questions I have asked or the things I have asked them to do have just been way too advanced for them, but my questions sometimes produce some very funny and lovely responses, especially from my son who can go off at a stream of consciousness tangent at the best of times!

When driving the car with the children when they were very small, I would ask the very simple question “do you like this music?” The answer was always yes. I don’t think they were always telling me their actual opinion on whether they liked the music, they were just giving me the answer they thought I wanted. I would answer my own question, and talk a little bit about why I liked a piece of music, or why I was not so keen on that piece of music.

I started putting some music on at the same time as getting paints and paper out at home. I would ask the children to paint something as a response to the music. They would paint exactly what they wanted, and in no way was their painting anything to do with the music. However, they were engaged in relating their pictures to the music being played.

At dinner time I sometimes talk to the children about a piece of music and what it makes me think about: what pictures come to my mind when I hear a piece of music. My husband does the same, he has different pictures in his head when hearing the same piece of music. The music means different things to us both. My children are both asked for their opinions on the music as well – what does the music make them think of? Does it make them imagine a particular scene, or imagine a story? Generally my three year old just shouts out “Peppa Pig” and my son says something about superheroes, or bad guys, whatever he is interested in at that point.

Although their responses are not necessarily about the music they are listening to, what I am doing with this exercise is encouraging the children to develop their own opinions and express those opinions about music. Their opinions and what they want to tell me about it are valid. To show them that music can be a prompt for your imagination, that it can tell you a story, and that it is what the music means for you that is important.

As I said, it can be quite amusing to listen to what my children says the music means to them, and I thought it might be a fun series of blog posts to write, noting down their responses to various pieces of music. To see how their responses develop over time, and whether they start to match the music a little more, rather than just be a stream of consciousness response on the subject of superheroes or Peppa Pig for example. Watch out for it here, and I would love to see the results of you doing this with your children too.

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Mini Tambourines

Mini tambourines are a good instrument choice for smaller children. They are easier for small children to hold onto, and therefore play independently; and for very small children who mouth objects, enclosed mini tambourines are available, which are much safer for them to use on their own.

What Is a Tambourine?

Tambourine means little drum, and is an instrument from the percussion family. Percussion instruments are those that are played by hitting, shaking, rubbing or scraping them. They are generally hand held, but can be fixed into position, like a drum kit. Tambourines have a round frame with metal discs, called zils, within that frame. The frame can be left open, so just the frame with the zils; or a drum skin can be stretched over the top of the frame.

Spotlight on Tambourine

How Does a Mini Tambourine Differ from a Normal Tambourine?

A tambourine looks like a drum with bells around the side, whereas mini tambourines look much more like a sleigh bell type instrument. We own two, one that is enclosed and one that is open. The open mini tambourine is shaped like a crescent, with a hand hold that does not have any bells on it. It is made out of plastic and so is very hard wearing with children who drop it all the time, chuck it back into the music box, even at each other on occasion if I have not been looking.

Our other mini tambourine does not really look like a tambourine. Again it is made out of plastic. The zils are covered over with plastic as well so that the children cannot actually access them. There is a handle attached to the instrument for easy holding. This type of instrument is the safest option for small children who like to put everything into their mouths as the zils cannot easily detach from the instrument, and if they do detach they cannot escape their plastic container.

How Do You Play a Mini Tambourine?

Basically, a mini tambourine is played in the same way as a tambourine.

  • You can tap the mini tambourine with your hands or with a stick.
  • You can hold the instrument in one hand and tap it against the palm of your other hand.
  • You can tap the instrument against your body, for example your legs, or feet. If you choose to tap your mini tambourine against yours or your child’s head, it would be worth doing it gently, perhaps!
  • You can shake the mini tambourine.

Basically, these are the same instrument as a tambourine, but on a smaller scale. In the case of the enclosed mini tambourine, they are a much safer alternative for very small children to play independently. You don’t have to keep your eyes on your child constantly with the mini tambourine, and you just have to watch that they don’t hit themselves or their siblings (or the cat) too hard with them!

Mini tambourines are a great alternative not only for tambourines, but also for sleigh bells when playing Christmas music, especially the enclosed ones. They make a similar sound and can be played in the same way as the sleigh bells.

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on Wooden Sticks

This is the next blog post in my series of posts highlighting different, simple and affordable musical instruments that you may wish to purchase to start playing with your little ones. These instruments are almost exclusively percussion instruments, and for each of them your child can start playing them independently to a greater or lesser extent from an early age.

Today I am looking at musical sticks. Very simply two pieces of wood that can be tapped together, or on the floor or on yours or your child’s body. The sorts of sticks I tend to use for this are wooden sticks, but they can be made out of plastic or (and I wouldn’t recommend these with children) fibreglass.

Wooden sticks have been used in music for many, many years. Aboriginal Australians used clapping sticks (also known as musicstick, bilma, bimli or clappers) to accompany voices and keep the rhythm of the chants used in traditional ceremonies. Northern Australians would use these instruments to accompany the digeridoo. A similar instrument, known as claves, were used to play repeated rhythm patterns in Cuban music. You can hear the claves right from the start and throughout this piece of music, Espiritu by Ann Reynolds:

Learning about musical pulse with wooden sticks

So, when playing the sticks with your child, you do not need to to attempt anything remotely complicated at all. Simply, the sticks can be tapped or hit together while you are listening to music together or singing together. Tap the sticks one onto the other along to the beat of the music you are listening to or singing. Every piece of music has a beat, if you find yourself tapping along to music you will most likely be tapping along to the beat. This beat is what you should use when tapping your sticks together.

Wooden sticks are great for helping to teach your little ones about feeling the beat or pulse of music – I will write another day about why is so good for your little ones to learn how to feel the pulse in music; it has perhaps some surprising benefits, but the most obvious one would be in helping children develop motor skills.

Choose music with a strong beat to play along to such as marching music (usually have two or four beats in a bar), waltzes (3 beats in a bar), or many pop songs where you can play along with the drum beat to help you find the pulse.

Demonstrating Playing on the Beat

2 beats in a bar
3 beats in a bar
4 beats in a bar

Learning Dynamics with Wooden Sticks

You can also explore how to play loud and quiet with wooden sticks. You can tap the sticks together very gently, even rub the sticks together to play quietly, telling your child what you are doing. You can bang the sticks together with more force, or bang the sticks on the floor (a hard surface floor), or on a table to make a loud sound, again telling your child what you are doing.

Playing loud
Playing quietly

Independent Musical Exploration

Playing wooden sticks can be very easy, so is great for even very young children to attempt to play.

  • As a tiny baby, your child will not be able to play the sticks themselves of course, but you can play them in front of your baby, to one side of their head and then the other, towards the top of their head, encouraging your baby to turn their head to see where the sounds are coming from. You can gently tap the sticks on their body – their hand or legs for example – when tapping along with the beat. That was your baby is feeling the pulse of the music you are playing.
  • As an older baby and toddler, have two sets of sticks – one for you and one for baby. Encourage your child to hold onto the sticks to see what they feel like. Wooden sticks tend to be fairly thin and so easy for very young children to hold onto. They may try to hit the sticks together, or on the floor, or they may just try to eat them!
  • An older toddler and pre-schooler can copy what you are doing with your sticks more and more, so are more able to play loudly and quietly, or along with the beat as you are doing.
  • As your child grows, you and your child can play “call and response” or turn taking games with wooden sticks – you play a rhythm with your sticks, and see if your child can play the same rhythm back to you. Or you play a rhythm, and see if your child can play their own rhythm in response to yours. Of particular importance here is that you each take turns to play, waiting for the other person to finish before playing yourself.

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!!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on glockenspiel

This is the second post in my series on musical instruments you might want to purchase to have in your music box at home.

All of the instruments featured in this series of posts can be bought relatively cheaply from various shops (even, dare I say it, Amazon, because we have all found ourselves on Amazon at 3am when up with the children, haven’t we?? OK maybe just me then!) They can sometimes be found at charity shops. This is one of the glockenspiels we have at home, the Halilit Baby Xylophone. We actually have about 3 of them, no idea why, but there you have it. (I should point out here, that I have always thought these instruments were xylophones, but someone kindly pointed out on Twitter that actually the instrument I was writing about was a glockenspiel as xylophones are actually wooden instruments!)

A glockenspiel is a percussion instrument. Percussion instruments are instruments that are played by hitting or striking them, in this case with a beater. The glockenspiel is a tuned percussion instrument, metal bars of different lengths arranged in a similar way to the piano. It is the different lengths of the metal bars that produce the different notes of the glockenspiel as they are hit. The longer the metal bar is, the lower the note produced.

Some of the reasons why I like this instrument with small children in the house are:

  • It isn’t too loud – this glockenspiel can be played nice and quietly, and even when your child is able to grasp the beater him- or herself and hit the thing with all of their might, it isn’t an instrument that goes right through you!
  • It is a simple, easy instrument and does not take much practice to be able to play a tune out of it. Ours came with a little booklet that had a few recognisable tunes you can play in it to get you started. You can also easily play around with glissandi (where you slide the beater up and down all of the notes, and it makes a sort of magical sliding sound. My children loved this.)
  • Your baby can start to play with the glockenspiel as soon as they are able to hold the beater by themselves. They can start to learn about cause and effect playing this instrument – they hit the glockenspiel with the thing in their hand and it makes a noise.
  • It is neat. Such a mum thing to say, but when tidying up I love that I can put the beater back in its place on the back of the glockenspiel and then next time my children get every single instrument out of the music box, we still have everything we need to play the glockenspiel was all together.
  • Our glockenspiel is a lovely bright colour, which is very attractive for the children. The metal bars that make up the glockenspiel have their note names labelled on each bar, and this helps the children play tunes (as they get older), because I can tell my son to play two Cs, then two Gs, for example, to start playing a tune he can recognise.

To play the glockenspiel you use a beater and hit the beater against one of the metal bars. To make a nice sound, you need to hold the beater loosely and hit the glockenspiel with a sort of bouncing action, like this:

If you hold on to the beater too tightly, or hit the glockenspiel too hard, then you will get a much harder, less tuneful sound like this:

That is pretty much it for the glockenspiel , other than having a play around with it, trying some tunes out. I will end this blog post with me playing a quick Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star on our glockenspiel.

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!!

Instrument spotlight

Spotlight on tambourine

If you have read this blog before you will know that we very much enjoy making our own musical instruments. We have made all sorts of instruments from drums, to windchimes, to shakers, and I have more in the pipeline to make with the children over the summer holidays which are due to start at the end of the week – 8 weeks of holidays!! We are also lucky to have a number of musical instruments at home as well – I am a musician after all!

If you are wanting to start a collection of musical instruments for your children what should you start with? And how would you play those instruments if you got hold of them? Where would you find those musical instruments at a reasonable price? I can hopefully try to help you with these questions over time, and I thought I would start with providing a spotlight, if you like, on some of the instruments we have at home for the children to play with. If you have any specific questions, please ask, but for today let us have a look at the tambourine.

Tambourine means little drum, and is an instrument from the percussion family. Percussion instruments are those that are played by hitting, shaking, rubbing or scraping them. They are generally hand held, but can be part of a drum kit and so fixed into position. Tambourines have a round frame with metal discs, called zils, within that frame. The frame can be left open, so just the frame with the zils; or a drum skin can be stretched over the top of the frame.

We have had a few tabourines over the years. Both of my children, together with pretty much all children who are allowed anywhere near a television I think, discovered the delights of Peppa Pig when they were small. At times they have been bought Peppa Pig magazines, and on one occasion there were free gifts of musical instruments on the cover of the magazine. These were small plastic instruments and I think there was a guitar, a harmonica and a tambourine included. None of these instruments survived all that long, I think the guitar broke within days, but the tambourine lasted for quite a while. It was made entirely out of plastic, and so produced a rather muted sound, but the children enjoyed playing with it.

I found our next tambourine in a charity shop, and this one has stayed with us much longer. I have found many musical instruments in charity shops over the years, and would recommend having a look in there, especially when your children are small and like to either chew or chuck instruments more than try to play them. Obviously, especially in these times, anything you buy from a charity shop needs to be cleaned before your children play with them, especially wind instruments like recorders!

For one of the children’s birthdays we asked one of my relatives to buy a set of musical instruments for them, and so we were given the lovely closed tambourine pictured at the top of this blog post. This makes a much nicer sound than the plastic tambourines that we had previously, but it is a little more expensive, and easier to damage, than a plastic tambourine.

So, the tambourine, can be played in three ways.

Firstly, it can be hit or banged like a drum using a beater or hands, as long as you have a tambourine with a skin on rather than an open tambourine. For very small children you can either play the tambourine for them, letting them feel the vibrations of the instrument while they listen to the sound it makes, or you can take their hands or feet and gently manipulate them to play the tambourine themselves. Older children can go wild hitting the tambourine and making their own music, if they want to!

Secondly, a tambourine can be shaken; either gently to produce a quiet sound, or more vigorously to produce a loud sound. Very small babies will be unlikely to be able to shake a tambourine by themselves and will need your help to hear the sound it makes. However, as soon as they are able to grasp the tambourine themselves, your baby will thoroughly enjoy being able to make a noise with it. It is an instrument they can start to play independently from a very young age. It will help your baby to understand cause and effect as well – I move my hand while holding this and it makes a noise.

Finally, it can be played combining the two above. If you use a clapping action, hitting the tambourine with one hand while holding it in the other, or shaking it then hitting it with one hand like this:

You could even use another part of your body, like a leg or your tummy, tapping the tambourine against it to make a sound.

I must sound a note of caution, however. Babies put everything in their mouths, and the metal discs, or zils, on the sides of tambourines that give them their distinctive sound are not safe to go into a child’s mouth. They can be very sharp, they are generally made of metal so not a great material to be chewed, and the spokes holding them in place can break so they could be a choking hazard. A normal tambourine can be played with only under close adult supervision, therefore. You should not leave your baby or young child alone with it. There are baby tambourines, like this one that you can buy that alleviate this problem as they enclose the metal discs and so your baby can’t get them into their mouths. These are great, but the downside is that they cannot be played as a drum like a normal tambourine, so are a little limited in their application. They can provide great peace of mind if your baby always finds the things they are not supposed to be playing with on their own as soon as your back is turned, however.

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 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…)

Music at home · Music games to play at home

Learning musical notation

If you have read this blog before you will know that I decided to use this time to teach my children some music. One of the things I wanted to teach my 5year old was how to start reading musical notation. You can read more about starting to teach him about this here.

In a nutshell, I wrote some rhythm patterns out for him and taught him the rhythm for them using the names of snacks he and his sister had been asking for!

So today, after we played the ukelele for a bit, I got my notation craft sticks out and revised the rhythm patterns with him. The snacks did their job and he managed to remember them all!

Then I put a different pattern down for him to copy, and we took it in turns to make different rhythm patterns for each other. For each pattern I asked him to say it with the snack names and then clap the rhythm pattern.

Starting with a simple pattern
Becoming a little more complex

He then had the idea to turn all the craft sticks upside down and pick out some at random and make a rhythm pattern using those craft sticks, and again we too turns doing this. He definitely did much better speaking the rhythms than clapping them, but with only a little more practice I think he will soon get the idea.

It was harder to clap the rhythm than say it.

It was a nice way to do this and to pass some time this afternoon. Let’s face it, most of us at home with the children have an awful lot of that at the moment!

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.
Concerts and Events

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Notelets series concert review: Crash Bang Wallop!

Crash, Bang, Wallop!

On Saturday 7 March we attended a concert at the CBSO centre, the hone of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It was one of their Notelets series of concerts that are mini-concerts aimed at toddlers and small children. I went with my 2 children aged 5, and this concert featured percussionists from the orchestra, hence it being titled Crash, Bag, Wallop!

In short, it was superb and we will be booking to go to another one of these concerts.

On arriving at the CBSO Centre, there were craft activities in what I think is usually the cafe/bar area. On this occasion, the activity was making tambourines out of paper plates, bells and bottle tops. There were stickers and pens to decorate the tambourines as well. My 5 year old was much more interested in actually making the tambourine, but my 2 year old liked shaking her tambourine- the 5 year old mostly told us his was a parachute and he kept trying to use it as a parachute!

A musician from the CBSO, a tuba player, was also out in the foyer before the concert and he was sat on the floor with some percussion instruments on hand for children to explore. There were several children there already playing with the instruments, and the tuba player was playing songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and encouraging the children to explore the percussion instruments available. Playing boomwhackers with some of the children as well.

The concert lasted for about an hour. It had an Inspector Cluedo theme to it and was a very interactive concert. The musicians dressed up and told a story through the concert of a missing shaker, we had to find and solve clues to work out which of the Cluedo characters had hidden the shaker. To help find the clues, the children were asked to use their tambourines they had made to help find the clues.

The percussionists played some lovely music, proper pieces of music that were not at all dumbed down, though maybe shortened a little. The piece I liked best was Philip Glass’ Mad Rush. We even played it at home while having dinner that night. The children’s favourite part of the concert, however, was where different children’s TV theme tunes were played and they had to guess what programmes they came from. They talked about that part of the concert the following day.

My 2 year old did start to ask to go home after about 40 minutes. We had some snacks with her, so that helped to keep her in the concert hall, but also there were more opportunities for the children to get up and dance or march around the room in the second half of the concert, and this really helped to keep her attention and stop her getting bored. My boy loved the dancing too!

At the end of the concert some percussion instruments were brought out in the concert hall and the children could go up and try them out. They were similar, largely, to the instruments in the foyer, but my daughter who had been hesitant to try anything out in the foyer was much more keen to play with the instruments at the end of the concert.

What I liked most about this concert was:-

  • It was a proper concert with pieces of music that would feature in any adult concert, perhaps with the exception of the TV theme tunes!
  • Most of the opportunities to get up and move were in the second half of the concert- when the children were starting to get restless.
  • There was nothing else to pay for once we got there. The craft activities were free to do; there was a handout flyer that gave information about the music performed so no programmes to buy; there was no merchandise available.

We did not take a buggy with us, I did see some parked in the foyer, but do not know if there was a buggy park. I suspect there was somewhere as I did not see any in the concert hall. We did not use any baby change facilities as we weren’t there long enough so can’t tell you anything about that. I also didn’t see anywhere to buy a drink while we were there as the cafe/bar area (I think as I have not been to the CBSO Centre before) was being used for the craft activities.

All in all, this was a lovely concert to take the children to, and there was more than enough there to keep both children interested in the concert. A really nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and as I said we will almost certainly be booking another one of these concerts again.