DIY Instrument Making at Home for You and the Kids

The music chair at the Patel Conservatory, Dr. Lauren Murray, shows you fun, simple instructions for how to make your own instruments using household objects.

Today we’re offering up an activity of note where you can conduct an experiment of symphonic proportions. We invited Lauren Murray, chamber musician extraordinaire and the music chair of the Patel Conservatory, to show you an easy way to make instruments—and music—at home with the kids. As she says, “musical instrument making is a fun way to do something crafty and also explore scientific concepts of acoustics and physics.” This plan, “Sound Experimentation,” is straight from her curriculum.

Let’s get to it. We’ll introduce the learning concepts you can teach at home then present the instructions for instrument-making below.

Make-Some-Noise

Here we go:

Concepts

  1. Sound is created through some kind of vibration which creates a sound wave (we can’t see those but we can hear them).
  2. The pitch (highness or lowness of a sound) changes with size: length, width or height.
  3. The volume (loudness or softness) is varied by density (how hard or soft a material is).
  4. Vibrations (sounds) can be created by hitting things together, striking, shaking, using air, plucking or creating friction of some kind.

 

1

Part One: Percussion Instruments

Creating drums or percussion instruments is a simple first step in sound experimentation. Percussion instruments are instruments that can be played by striking, shaking, rattling, or rubbing things together.

Materials

  • Gather 3-4 objects that have a lid or can be opened and closed, such as coffee cans, plastic food storage containers, travel mugs or plastic bottles.
  • Find small items that can be placed inside the containers such as rice, dried pasta, beads, buttons, coins, nuts and bolts, legos, etc.

Now, let’s experiment with sound. Dr. Murray will walk you through the process with the materials she gathered.

Percussion

  1. If we go with the idea that hardness of a material will make the loudest sound, which of the containers might make the most sound?
  2. I have rice, pasta, dried beans, and metal coins to choose from for my shaker materials.  Which of these will be the loudest? So my first shaker—my loud shaker—will be a coffee can with coins inside.  Once the lid is closed, I can tape it shut with duct tape and decorate the can!
  3. We repeat the process with the plastic container and the other materials. How do the beans sound different from the rice or pasta?  Which sound do you prefer? Does the sound change when you combine them?
  4. I have selected rice for my second shaker—my soft sound.
  5. How many different sounds can be made on one shaker?  Can you change how you  create the vibrations? We can shake it, but what happens if we hit it with something?  Use a metal spoon and a wooden spoon. How do they sound different? What if we hit it against the floor?

With this basic combination of materials, we have discovered a lot of information about creating different kinds of sounds.

 

2

Part Two: Wind Instrument

Creating a wind instrument is a fun next step to sound experimentation. Wind instruments make their sound by, you guessed it, blowing into or across the instrument. Wind power! Wind instruments typically use a tube or some kind of container that has a small opening on one side only, like a bottle, to make their sounds. Wind instruments change their pitch (highness or lowness) by varying the length of the tube or changing the overtone of the vibration.

Materials

  • Craft sticks (wide), 3 rubber bands, two pieces of paper approx. 3” X 3”, tape

For our wind instrument, we will make a harmonica.

Fold-the-paper

  1. Fold one of the pieces of paper in half 4 or 5 (if possible) times. Do the same with the other.

Band-on-Craft-Stick

2. Select a rubber band that will fit over one of the craft sticks long way (end to end). The rubber band should be small enough that you have to stretch it some – you don’t want it to fall off.

Tape

3. Tape the two folded pieces of paper on the edge of each side. Roll the piece of tape and stick it to the back of the paper – don’t wrap the tape around the stick. Try to place them in similar places on each side close to the edge but not touching it.

Craft-Sticks

4. Once your paper is taped in place, put your second craft stick on top of the one with the paper … like you are making a sandwich with the paper in the middle.

Wrap-rubber-band

5. Take another rubber band and wrap it tightly around the center of one of the sides with the paper. Keep twisting and wrapping until it is very tight and there is no slack left in the rubber band.  You might break a few rubber bands so keep extras close by! Repeat with the other rubber band/other side.

Harmonica

6. Hold your harmonica on the two ends where the rubber bands are and blow through the center where it’s open.  You will need to blow hard enough to make the rubber band inside vibrate.

7. Once you can make a sound by just blowing, experiment with humming and making sounds while you blow.

HaveFun

Now you’re ready to make your own kind of music experimenting with the harmonica and the percussion instruments. Once you get something together that you like, email us a video at submissions@strazcenter.org for a chance to land on our social media. We can’t wait to hear your joyful noise.

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