Xylophones are expensive but really good for the classroom. They may not have lots of buttons and sounds like keyboards but they have a much better physical response and quite frankly look better. I really think if you want keyboards you should have a keyboard lab – keyboards and other classroom instruments simply do not mix well in my opinion. The biggest problem, apart from the cost is how to set them all up. The first thing to consider is how best to divide up the small amount of resources most schools do have. It therefore makes sense to have two pupils to an instrument. The only problem with this is it restricts the amount of notes you can use. However, there are two sets of C to A notes and there are many melodies that only use only six notes, so there are umpteen activities that can be played. A good place to find six note tunes are books for handbells. Orff books also have many activities to cater for a limited range of notes.
In an ideal world we would have classes of 20 and have four soprano xylophones, four alto xylophones and two bass xylophones. This would mean everybody could play together. This would cost around two thousand five hundred pounds to buy new – a lot of money for only ten instruments. However with thought and organisation, this is actually enough to cover most primary music melody work. It might also help to have two metalophones and some small soprano glockenspiels so the music doesn’t sound so wooden all the time.
Sometimes the screws come off the instruments. These can be fixed using new screws and the plastic covering I found in the chemistry department – one of the science technicians was able to fix it up for me and the DT department put the screws in. I managed to fix four instruments this way.
Beaters are important and sadly people make the mistake I did and bought the plastic yellow beaters. These are a false economy. For a start they bend badly, secondly they sound terrible and third they look so awful and cheap. It is much better to buy beaters with proper felts or woven material on the ends. It is also advantageous to set up your room so that the pitched percussion are on stands and instantly available to play. See the picture below for details of how my friend sets up his room – his set up is really good. He has one bass xylophone, one bass metalophone, two alto xylophones, one alto metalophone, two soprano xylophones, one soprano metalophone and four soprano glockenspiels. This would mean twenty students could all play tuned percussion together. I find that in many schools there are instruments available but the set up is really badly organised and many instruments need to be repaired. I wish I had the stands my friend has and a little more physical space so I could have a set up like this. Perhaps in my next school I will!
The last thing to consider is how the students will play the music. You could go for music stands or if you want to keep it simple, learn everything by rote. I find having the whiteboard in the line of vision the most useful as this means you don’t need to bother with photocopying and music stands but can still have something for the children to refer to in the lesson if they need it. Also it is important to have the piano facing the children if you are going to direct from the piano or sit facing the children if you are going to accompany them on guitar. For many schools, this is an expensive multi-year ongoing project but if you think strategically, perhaps you could have a paid after school club to pay for resources or do some fund raising. It is money well spent, as long as the instruments are used well.