Initial Instrument List

If I had to start a Primary Music department up from scratch with a very generous budget this is what I would get:

Piano, drums and guitars

  1. Electric Piano – essential for teaching
  2. Drum Kit – get a normal size kit, not a kiddy one
  3. Bass guitar – and a bass amp.  Not any amp, it must be a bass amp.
  4. Electric guitar – and an amp.
  5. Acoustic guitar – a nice one for teaching purposes, very useful if you have to teach in a normal classroom

Tuned percussion

  1. Bass xylophone – crazy expensive but if you are going to do Orff work you need it
  2. Two alto xylophones
  3. Four soprano xylophones
  4. One alto metalophone
  5. One soprano metalophone
  6. Four glockenspiels
  7. Four sets of diatonic rainbow handbells – for your Year 1 and 2 handbell club
  8. 1 set of diatonic boomwhackers – cheap and useful for ostinato work
  9. Selection of different types of tuned percussion beaters – get more than you think, don’t buy the cheap yellow plastic ones and find a nice big container to put them all in

Untuned percussion

  1. 30 sleigh bells – not the wrist ones, they are fiddly.  You need these for early years Christmas
  2. 6 half moon tambourines – essential, used all the time
  3. 6 two toned woodblocks – not just used for Little Donkey
  4. 6 triangles – with beaters, different sizes is fine
  5. 3 cymbals (good quality big ones) – the small ones just don’t make the right sound
  6. 15 pairs of plastic maracas (not the tiny ones) – wooden ones look nice but get damaged easily
  7. 30 egg shakers – these are cheap and simple for basic rhythm work and can be easily stored
  8. Chime tree – also known as a Mark tree – this gives a magical sound and is always used for shows.  Looks impressive too
  9. Agogo bell – you only need one, they are that loud
  10. 6 clickits – an unusual choice but these work very well in groups and are a good alternative to guiros.  I hate guiros
  11. 30 pairs of claves – just get cheap ones for simple rhythm work
  12. 6 wooden castanets – go for the animal ones, the normal ones are a nightmare for children to play well
  13. 6 pairs of sand blocks – for scraping sounds
  14. Vibraslap – you need this for sound effects
  15. Thunderer – for sound effects
  16. Rainstick – for sound effects


  1. 6 lollipop drums – these are brilliant and have their own lollipop beaters
  2. Bass drum – expensive but worth it for marching around to the beat.  You will need one with a stand
  3. Congas – again a bit expensive but if you have two drummers one can do kit while the other does congas.  Congas are not bongos, they are tall and you stand up to play them
  4. Djembe – just get one to start with but invest in these for the future when you want an African drumming group
  5. Samba kit – not essential but like djembes something to invest in for the future.  Only get this if you want to start a samba band club.  You will need a member of staff who really knows what they are doing here, it is quite specialized.

Other essentials

  1. 20 Music stands – for your orchestra.  Yes you will have one in time but this takes a while to build up.  Buy the stands now.
  2. Storage for your instruments – go for something accessible for the children so they learn to pack away themselves.  I organize the instruments into tuned percussion storage, untuned percussion storage and a bell table
  3. Subscription to SingUp – worth it as all colleagues can then do singing in class
  4. Guitar stands.  I like to hang the instruments on the wall rather than having an additional instrument on the floor annoying the cleaner who has come to vacuum the floor


  1. “Singing Sherlock” books 1 and 2 – this is basically all you need for beginner Choir
  2. “Flying a round” – for singing rounds
  3. “Okkitokkiunga” – for KS 1 singing
  4. Your show books – you have to do a show!
  5. Music Express 1-6 – I don’t actually recommend these but you need some sort of scheme if you don’t have a music specialist and this would do to start with

Other instruments that parents pay for

  1. Recorders – From Year 2 or 3, children should learn the recorder.  Parents should buy these as they should not be shared.  Just buy one for each child and then charge the parents £3.  Don’t let them buy their own from a shop, you need them all the same as they can actually be tuned differently.  And some parents get them from the Early Learning Centre – these aren’t proper instruments, they are just toys and make a dreadful sound.  Buy a dozen more recorders than you need as spares for new children who join the school and those who lose them and need to buy another
  2. Recorder books – get copies of “Recorder From The Beginning” by John Pitts.  Children need to be encouraged to practice at home so they should have a recorder book.  Photocopying bits of paper is a logistical nightmare and always a false economy.  The book is really cheap.  Buy 15 copies for school use and send a letter home saying if parents pay you can get them a copy for children to practice at home.
  3. Violins – its worth getting a class set of violins and then having a First Access group.  You can hire these from your local music hub (if you have one) but many schools like to have their own.  You will need replacement strings, resin and someone who can teach violin.
  4. Ukuleles – from Year 5 do ukes.  Just like recorders, encourage parents to buy their own.  Cheap ones are fine but have some replacement strings.  If you want to buy the instruments yourself think carefully about storage.
  5. Other orchestral instruments – again try to hire these and if you do buy some remember that if you buy the chepest then you will have a lot more costs in repair fees.  Repairing clarinets and trumpets is quite specialized and most general music teachers will not have this expertise as they get their own instruments fixed professionally

This is by no means an exhaustive list and it would be a very generous budget.  I have chosen these as apart from the electric piano, you can get them all in the MES (Music Education Supplies) order book.  This would give a great start to a Primary Music Department and as long as you have a great teacher or good music team, you should have enough to go along with for quite a few years.