3. Exploring musical instruments

For centuries, people have developed musical instruments using local materials. These all involve plucking, hitting, blowing or rubbing to create vibrations of different pitch and volume. Many instruments also have a box of vibrating air to amplify the sound (make the sound louder). Try to find out about traditional instruments in your community –is there anyone who could come into your classroom and show their instrument? Read about one female singer from West Africa using traditional musical instruments in Resource 4: Ami Koita.

The Key Activity and Case Study 3 involve pupils exploring musical instruments –either from the community or those pupils have made themselves. In both cases, pupils develop criteria to judge the instruments. In the activity, you could also ask your pupils to develop criteria to judge their presentations.

Inviting local musicians into the school to demonstrate their instruments and to hear the pupils’ instruments would be a wonderful way to end the activity. (SeeKey Resource: Using the local community/environment as a resource [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] )

Case Study 3: Involving pupils –what is best to buy?

Mrs Osei involved her class in the choice of a musical instrument for the school choir. She planned a research project where pupils researched locally available musical instruments, such as the balafon (xylophone), musical bow, drums and trumpets. The class suggested the kinds of questions that would have to be asked, the points to be awarded for each answer and how they would report back. These questions were put together to form a questionnaire. (See Resource 5: Ideas for judging each instrument ) Pupils worked in small friendship groups for homework to get answers to their questions.

To analyse the scores, Mrs Osei made a table on a large manila sheet (also in Resource 5 for hints). As the different groups brought in their reports, the scores were entered into the table. These points were all totalled up and, based on the instrument with the highest total score, the class decided to buy the small locally made wooden balafon (See Resource 6: Traditional musical instruments .)

Key Activity: Making musical instruments

Organise your class into groups of three (or more if you have a very large class).

Tell them that each group will make their own musical instrument, using what they know about changing sounds.

Ask each group to draw a rough diagram, showing their instrument and a list of what they will need to make it.

Ask each group to organise themselves to bring in materials from home.

The next day, give time for each group to make their instrument and prepare a three-minute presentation to:

  • show the different sounds the instrument makes (louder/softer, higher/lower);
  • try to explain how the instrument makes the different sounds.

Depending on the size of your class, bring groups together or into four larger groups.

With the class (or large group), develop a set of criteria to judge the instruments. Make a list of these criteria on the board. Discuss whether they are all of equal importance. (See Resource 5 for hints.)

2. Working in groups to investigate sound

Resource 1: Sound story