Instrument Carousel

Give a class of children a set of instruments with no instruction and I can guarantee you will have a set of broken instruments and a class of children clueless how to play them properly.  If you want children to play instruments correctly they need to know the following

  1. What they are called
  2. Where they are stored
  3. How to hold them
  4. How to play them
  5. How we put them away

For this to happen you need to have consistency, which normally means the instruments should be stored in a music room or on a music trolley.  Sadly in many Early Years environments this does not seem to be happening as what I have observed is that instruments are placed randomly around for children to play and given almost no instruction.  I suggest that you use the following method to introduce young children to a variety of instruments and to teach them how to use them.  Only then should you allow children to have access to instruments in a free choice environment.  I have done this successfully with 3 year old children.  I would repeat the process over four weeks.

  1. Seat all children in a big circle
  2. Take an instrument and say the name of it twice.  Tell children to say the name three times
  3. Say “I am going to give the _____ to _____”
  4. Play the instrument correctly
  5. Explain any misconceptions on how it is played.  For example say “Some people think you play the triangle like this.  That’s not right! This is how you play it!”
  6. Put the instrument behind each child and say that no one can play their instrument until the teacher says the magic word “play”
  7. Do this for every child until there is an instrument behind everyone
  8. Say to the children “Take your instrument, now play”
  9. Let them play for about 15 to 20 seconds.  Use the time to correct technique, especially on the cymbals and the triangle
  10. Say “Stop. Instruments on the floor.  Hands on heads.  Stand up.  Move to the next instrument”
  11. Make sure the children move clockwise to the next instrument
  12. Repeat process until children have played every instrument
  13. On the last round, tell the children to put their instrument into the middle and sit back down in their place where they were
  14. Then go around the circle and say “____ can you please put the _____away”
  15. Help the child find the instrument if they need help locating it.  Repeat the name of the instrument continuously and point to where it goes.  Do not put the instrument away for the child.  This their job.
  16. Continue for every child.  Do an inspection at the end so the children understand that putting instruments away tidily is an expectation
  17. When all the instruments are away, line the children up for the exit
  18. Say “Tell me the name of your favourite instrument”.  Do not accept one word answers, ask them to say “my favourite instrument is the _____”
  19. If they do not know the name of an instrument, let them watch four or five children say it so they know what they have to say
  20. Wait till all have exited
  21. Have a nervous breakdown, a glass of whiskey and recuperation time to recover from the ear onslaught

This is a very noisy activity but there is a lot of learning as long as you repeat the activity for a few weeks so they remember the names of the instruments and how they are played.  I then think it is a good idea to wait a few weeks and then go back to the activity as interleaving practice will reinforce the learning.  Only then should you allow children to have free choice of instruments and you still have to reiterate how they should be played.  If you do this then your maracas will not be in pieces on the floor and your bongos will not have holes in them. More importantly, the children will know the names of the instruments, how they should be played and where they are stored which will make instrumental activities much easier and calmer in the future.

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