This post may contain affiliate links. You pay the same and I get a small commission. Yay! (Please see my/our full disclosure for further information.)
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.
Want some free music teacher resources? Join the FREE Resource Library! After joining, you’ll get access to a library with powerpoints, lyric sheets, quizzes, worksheets, and more! Plus, you’ll get elementary music lessons emailed straight to your inbox to keep the ideas flowing and make lesson planning EASY.
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
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.
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:
- Syncopated Clock ABACAcoda
- William Tell Overture ABAiCDCBiAcoda
- Trepak/Russian Dance from The Nutcracker (there’s a video play along included in this virtual field trip!) ABCA
- For the littles, you could also use Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks which is AABA, and have students play on A and stop on B. (grab visuals + slides to teach this song here)
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:
- Composition: Students will make a pattern with manipulatives or writing rhythms and then play it on instruments.
- Reading rhythms: Give them flashcards and castanets and you are good to go!
- 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.
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.
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!
Also read: Drum Dream Girl Lessons