As a parent, you have probably already noticed that young children are drawn to music and seem to have a built-in love of rhythm.  You can expand on this natural love of music by providing your children access to simple musical instruments at a young age.
Most of us remember the days of humming on a comb, covered with a piece of waxed paper or strumming on a a cigar box banjo.  Simple instruments, whether purchased or home-made, can provide lots of fun and lots of learning for young children.


Thinking and Math Skills – Research tells us that thinking and math skills are enhanced through the playing of musical instruments.

Social Skills – Working with others to form small or large musical groups, helps children learn how to get along with others.

Creative Skills – Musical instruments are great for allowing children to express themselves through music.  Exploring musical sounds can be a very creative experience for young children.

Scientific Skills – Experimenting with musical sounds can be a fun and rewarding experience.  Discovering what conditions make high or low, fast or slow, loud or soft, sounds help children learn valuable research skills.

Language Skills – If children are encouraged to express themselves vocally while they are playing an instrument, their language skills can also be enhanced.

When working with preschoolers keep all musical experiences “open-ended”, i.e., there are not “bad” sounds, only different and interesting sounds.  Respect your child’s attempts at making music and offer them simple easy to perform suggestions.  Instead of just handing your child a drum, for instance, and letting them bang away at it, demonstrate for them a simple beat that could be played while singing a simple familiar song.

Below you will find some suggested activities using home-made instruments.


KITCHEN PERCUSSION – Metal pots and pans of all shapes and sizes make wonderful drums.  Turn them upside down and invite your child to bang on the pot and pan bottoms.  To make steel drums, keep the pots right side up and place their lids on upside down.  Have your child use his hands or a wooden spoon to hit the drum on the inside of the lid.

BONGO DRUMS – Collect two or three round oatmeal boxes with lids.  Press the lids on tight and tape them in place.  Then place the boxes together in front of you, and wrap tape around them to secure them together.  This drum is best played while sitting on the floor or in a chair.  Have your child experiment to find the playing position that is most comfortable for him.  Other round containers could also be used such as potato chip cans.

COFFEE CAN MARCHING DRUM -  Select a coffee can with a plastic lid.  Use a nail to punch two holes in opposite sides of the can, near the top.  String a piece of ribbon through the holes for a drum strap.  Tie the ribbons around your child’s head, adjusting the ribbon so that the can hangs at about your child’s waist.  Give your child two wooden sticks or spoons to use to play her drum.  Encourage her to march around as she plays her drum.


TUBE KAZOO – Cover one end of a cardboard paper towel tube with waxed paper.  Hold the paper in place with a rubber band.  Then show your child how to hum a tune through the open end of the kazoo.  Have him sing or shout fun words into the kazoo, such as “zoom”, “toot”, “va-voom”, “e-i-e-i-o”, to feel how they tickle his lips as they travel through the kazoo.  Encourage him also to try singing and saying his favorite words, nursery rhymes, songs, and animal noises into his kazoo.

KAZOO COMB - You will need a five inch comb for this instrument.  Cut out a 3" x 4" piece of waxed paper and fold it over the teeth edge of the comb.  Secure the paper in place with some tape.  Show your child how to hold the comb to his lips and hum.  Also, show him how to slide the comb back and forth to change the sounds.

UNDERWATER TROMBONE – Fill a clean glass or plastic bottle, such as a soft drink bottle, three-fourths full of water.  Bottles with small necks work the best.  Have your child place a drinking straw into the water.  Let him blow through the straw as he hums a tune.  Encourage him to experiment by moving the straw up and down in the bottle.  Then have him take the straw out of the water (but not out of the bottle) and hum.  There won’t be any bubbles, but the water and the bottle serve as a nice resonating chamber.  Encourage him to feel the vibration of the straw on his lips as he hums.

FUNNEL HORN – For a safe and light weight horn, let your child use a plastic kitchen funnel.  Teach her how to purse her lips around the bottom of the funnel and hum as she blows.  The large chamber amplifies the sound.  Funnel Horns make great marching instruments.  Have your child sing and toot her horn to her favorite songs.


BANJO RACKET – Turn an old tennis or badminton racket into a stringed instrument by wrapping rubber bands vertically around the middle of its oval frame.  Demonstrate how to pluck or strum the rubber bands “strings” with one hand while holding onto the racket handle with the other hand.

TISSUE BOX GUITAR – Wrap rubber bands around the middle of an empty tissue box or other sturdy open box.  Try to space the rubber bands evenly.  Have your child experiment by varying the width, size, and number of rubber bands he uses.  (The wider or longer the band, the lower the sound.)  Show your child how to play the guitar by strumming and plucking the rubber band “strings”.


HAND JIVE – Our hands are the simplest and easiest rhythm instruments to master.  Show your child how to finger drum by drumming the pads of their fingers on a table top or clap out a rhythm with their hands.  Thigh slapping is also great fun while listening to music.

RHYTHM STICKS – Show your child how to tap and rub two wooden spoons together to make different sounds.  Go on a house safari looking for other objects that you can tap together to make interesting sounds, such as shoes, plastic containers, pencils, empty towel tubes, etc.

WASHBOARD – Popular in jug bands or kitchen bands, the washboard produces a rasping sound when it is scraped with a metal spoon or thimble.  You may not have a washboard handy but a baking rack or broiler tray work great for this activity.

WATER BELLS – Line up several drinking glasses of the same size.  Help your child fill them with different amounts of water from full to nearly empty.  Arrange them so that the first glass on the left is nearly full, the next is less full, etc.  The glasses represent an ascending scale.  Each glass is a note on the scale.  Let your child gently tape the sides of the glasses with a wooden spoon to make them chime.

MARACAS – A simple maraca can be made for your child by taking two paper cups and putting some beans or rice in one cup and then taping the other cup upside-down on top of the first cup.  Have your child play his maraca by shaking it to the tune of his favorite song.  Baby rattles can also be used for maracas.