Elementary Music

Easy Ways to Add More Instruments to Elementary Music Lessons

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Recently, I asked for questions on Instagram (@beccasmusicroom), and many people asked a variation of, “How do we play more instruments in elementary music class?!”

I was so relieved to get that question, because for years, I have been wondering this question and thinking that I was alone in having a hard time with adding more instruments to my elementary music lessons. 

This was always a struggle, and then in 2020 when we went all online, it was not possible. Because of this, I decided once we got back in the classroom, I would make an extra effort to add more instruments to my music lessons. 

Last year, this was a huge focus, so in the blog post, I’ll be sharing some of the things I learned about how to add instruments to class. 

Now, obviously, you can do an instrument unit, where you focus on an instrument. You can also do fun instrument arrangements with Orff stuff. Those are big time things that we all know about. Instead, in this post, I’m sharing smaller, more everyday activities to add instruments to your general music lessons.

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Add More Instruments with Ostinatos

First off, playing ostinatos! With my older kids, this is my favorite way to add instruments to folk songs AND listen to the song multiple times. 

An ostinato is a short repeated pattern. Typically, we will start with our bodies. I’ll have students clap, snap, or pat the ostinatos we practice. Then we add instruments and try it with those.

Then on a separate day, we will have different instruments at different stations and students will play the ostinatos on their instruments. 

Here’s an example with the song Star Festival: 

  • Triangle plays once per line
  • Woodblock plays ta (rest) titi ta
  • Xylophone (or drum) plays half note, half note, half note, quarter, quarter

(learn more about that song here)

You can also have the students come up with ostinatos to play. 

If you’re just starting, have one set of kids play the rhythm and the other play the beat, then switch. This is the simplest way to get students to play two different ostinatos at once.

Form lessons

One fun way to play more instruments in elementary music is with form. Many pieces of music have a defined form. Put instruments into hula hoops that play on certain sections. 

For example, Rondo Alla Turca is ABCBABcoda. We did this in first grade where A was played by rhythm sticks, B by drums, C by egg shakers, and coda by everyone. 

I walk around and “conduct” the sections, so they know to play when I get to them.

Then we switch, so that students are able to play different instruments throughout.


I’ve also done this with:

graphic that says using more instruments in elementary music in a blog post about how to add instruments in elementary music class from becca's music room

Rhythm Breakdown

Rhythm breakdown is what I call assigning an instrument to each rhythm. 

We start (as always) with body percussion, where we will add a movement to each note. So quarter note might be clap, and eighth notes snapping. Then we will add instruments where the casanets are quarter notes and the eighth notes are maracas. 

The good thing? This works with any instruments and and song. 

Here’s how we do it with Love Somebody: 

  • Rhythm sticks for eighth notes
  • Drums for quarter notes
  • Shakers for sixteenth notes.

This is one of my favorite songs and singing games for the older students. Grab the lesson pack here!

Add More Instruments with Play Alongs

Youtube is full of kind people who make play along videos like this one that I made for March from The Nutcracker.

Here are some of my favorite play along makers:

These are great because they usually only take a few minutes. You can do it multiple times and take up a lot of time, or just once as a quick warm up and sneak it in. 


Did you think we’d get through a blog post without talking about centers? Of course not! We use instruments in centers from 3 main things:

  1. Composition: Students will make a pattern with manipulatives or writing rhythms and then play it on instruments.
  2. Reading rhythms: Give them flashcards and castanets and you are good to go!
  3. Playing a folk song we’re learning: This is typically done on xylophone with my supervision.

I also talk about many more ways to play along with centers in this FREE PDF that shares 12 pages of centers activities. 

Click here to download free!

PS: For centers, I typically only give out indestructible instruments (think: rhythm sticks, egg shakers) that are cheap, or I stay in that center the whole time for xylophones. I also only do one instrument center because… noise.

graphic that says how to use more instruments in elementary music class from a blog post about how to add more instruments in elementary music class from becca's music room

Learning a song

This year, my favorite thing to do with the older kids was to learn a folk song and then have them figure it out on instruments. 

You can just give them the rhythm and letters and a xylophone and they can go to town! I like to do this in groups so they can help each other. At the end, we would play it together. Sometimes I let them play in front of the class at the end. 

Add More Instruments with Books

Lastly, you can add instruments to books! 

An easy way to do that is with activities like Rumble in the Jungle. We read the story and at the end of each page chant, “Rumble, rumble, rumble in the jungle!”. Then we add drums of shakers to it. 

There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell: Students play the bells after every time that it says bell. 

Soundscapes: Assign an instrument to different characters. When a character pops up, that instrument is played.

Where the Wild Things Are: We assigned a rhythm pattern to every monster. Then, we played the rhythms in the order that the monsters appear on that page. You can check that out in this virtual field trip.

Finally, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Read about this lesson here.

How do you add instruments to your class? Let me know by sending me a message on instagram @beccasmusicroom. I can’t wait to hear your ideas!

Happy teaching!


Also read: Drum Dream Girl Lessons

graphic that says how to use more instruments in elementary music from becca's music room
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