06 Sep 2017

How to make instruments at home with your kids

Your kid’s first encounter with music-making doesn’t need to involve expensive instruments – more like a length or two of dowel, some empty bottles, a couple of buckets, and lots of gaffer tape.

Sydney Symphony Orchestra percussionist Mark Robinson has had plenty of experience making percussion instruments with his own kids, even turning his daughter's fifth birthday party into a musical extravaganza. "Little girls love craft, so it was the perfect thing for them to do," Robinson says.

Form your own batería band

Of course, being a professional, he and the kids didn't throw together any old percussion instruments – with a little ingenuity on Robinson's part, they ended up with a mini Brazilian batería samba band. "I had them all learning different rhythms on each instrument, and we played along to some music."

Step 1: Maracas

Make some shakers from cut-off pieces of PVC pipe, filled with rice and taped at each end with gaffer tape. "You can use old cans or bottles instead – whatever you can come up with," Robinson explains.

Step 2: Clapping sticks

The second instrument is even simpler – claves, or clapping sticks. "It's basically an old broom handle or piece of dowel, chopped into 20cm lengths." Hit two sticks together, and you're set.

Step 3: Cow bells

Make agogô bells, or cow bells, by taping two bottles of different sizes (to get different pitches) side by side with gaffer tape. "That's important, because you don't want to break them." They're simply played with sticks, or 10mm dowel, cut to size.

Step 4: Drums

Finally, plastic buckets from the hardware store – or under the sink – can be transformed into drums by whacking them with dowel wrapped in gaffer tape at one end.

Thong and dance

Another great idea is to tape different lengths of PVC pipe together in a line. "Hit them with sticks or play them with thongs – I've seen that done before by the Blue Man Group," says Robinson, referring to international performing art troupe. As the pipes differ in length, you'll be able to play a tune on this particular percussion instrument.

The educational value of music-making

While it all sounds like great fun, Robinson says making and playing the instruments introduces kids to all sorts of concepts in maths, physics, history, geography and music, not to mention being an excellent way of improving listening skills, increasing confidence (especially when they have their moment in the spotlight as a soloist) and helping them work together as a team.

Season Packages to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's 2018 season are now on sale. For more musical inspiration, bring your youngest friends and family members along to one of the SSO's Family concerts. And to discover the thrill of Japanese percussion, see drumming ensemble Taikoz play with the SSO in February at the Sydney Opera House.

How to make instruments at home with your kidsHow to make instruments at home with your kidsHow to make instruments at home with your kids