ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Chinese Instruments

Explore the similarities and differences between traditional western instruments and Chinese instruments


Key Staff

Can be taught by a classroom teacher, can be taught by a music educator, or can be assigned as self-directed enrichment learning.

Key Skills

Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing
Developing Arts Literacies: Applying Vocabulary
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Creativity and Innovation


After being exposed to and learning about different types of instruments (string, woodwind, and percussion) in traditional western music, students explore Chinese instruments through demonstration, research, and instrument making. Students present their findings formally to the class and participate in a musical performance. Because Chinese music is often used to tell a story, students will create an original story to reflect their musical experience.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn about the different families of music instruments (string, woodwind, percussion)
  • Classify Chinese instruments by instrument type
  • Research a specific Chinese instrument
  • Create a Chinese instrument using recycled materials
  • Present their instrument to the class
  • Participate in a classroom musical performance
  • Create a story to reflect on the musical experience

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Demonstration
  • Discussion
  • Self-Directed Learning
  • Research
  • Group or Individual Instruction

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
Technology Notes

You will need Windows Media Player.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should review the following resources, all of which are available within the Resource Carousel:

  • Review Chinese instrument performance by Liu Fang.
  • Become familiar with musician Liu Fang.
  • Review information about traditional Chinese instruments.
  • Review information about Stringed Instruments of China.
  • Become familiar with popular Chinese music.
  • Obtain and review a copy of Those Amazing Musical Instruments! with CD: Your Guide to the Orchestra Through Sounds and Stories by Genevieve Helsby
  • Review Chinese Instrument and Classification handout.

Prior Student Knowledge

Basic Internet research skills

Physical Space

Computer Lab


Large Group Instruction


Print Chinese Instrument and Classification handout, located within the Resource Carousel. Gather recycled and other materials for the creation of instruments (boxes, strings, sticks for bows, etc.), or assign the instrument creation as a homework assignment and allow students to gather their own materials.

Accessibility Notes

Students with poor or developing English skills may have difficulty with the Chinese words. Emphasis for these students should be on the translations and not the Chinese names for instruments. Deaf/hard of hearing students may need to rely on visual cues and not auditory cues to classify instruments.



1. Play a performance by Liu Fang, a link for which is available within the Resource Carousel. Show one instrument demonstration, stop, discuss, and then show the other. Ask students:

  • What is she playing?
  • What does this instrument remind you of?
  • What is making the sound?
  • What nationality do you think she is?
  • From what country do you think this instrument originates? (Find China on the map)
  • How does this music sound similar to or different from the music you’re used to hearing?

Share biographical information about the musician and her instruments. You may find such information through a link located within the Resource Carousel.

Build Knowledge

1. Discuss the three main instrument families. Explain to students that most instruments, including Chinese instruments, belong to one of three families of instruments: percussion instruments (instruments that are hit and are used to give rhythm to music, string instruments (instruments that have strings and can be played by plucking with fingers or played with a bow), and wind instruments (a hollow instrument that makes a sound when air is blown into it). Read (or discuss using the book as a guide) all or parts of Those Amazing Musical Instruments! with CD: Your Guide to the Orchestra Through Sounds and Stories to introduce or reinforce information about traditional western instruments.

2. Create an instrument family chart. On the board or a flip chart, create a chart with the three main instrument families.






















3. Add instruments to the chart using either visual references (the book or flashcards, if available) or auditory references (the CD from the book or another source, such as DSO Kids). Depending on the base knowledge of students, teachers may choose to focus just on well-known instruments or explore instruments that may be unfamiliar or less familiar to students. Depending on the base knowledge of students, teachers may choose to focus just on well-known instruments or explore instruments that may be unfamiliar or less familiar to students.

4. Categorize Chinese instruments. Have students research and complete the Chinese Instrument and Classification handout located within the Resource Carousel. The traditional Chinese instruments web site will be useful to the students for this part of the lesson, a link for which may be found within the Resource Carousel. As a class, add the Chinese instruments to the chart in Step 2.

5. Explain the relationship between Chinese music and its story. Share one of ten popular Chinese music compositions with students, a link for which is available within the Resource Carousel, each containing a story and music. Ask them to close their eyes and try to imagine the story that the music is telling.


1. Research a Chinese instrument. Assign one Chinese instrument to each student or pairs of students. Ask them to research the instrument using the Chinese Instrument and Classification handout located within the Resource Carousel as a guide for their research.

2. Create Chinese instrument. Using recycled and other materials, ask students to create a replica of the Chinese instrument they are studying. They should be able to “play” the instrument, although it may not sound like the original. (Rubber bands can be plucked, percussion instruments struck or shook, flutes blown through or across, etc.)

3. Present each Chinese instrument to the class. Ask each student (or student pairs) to present their instrument to the class. Have students explain what family the instrument belongs to. Have students describe how the instrument is played. If possible, ask them to find a recording of the instrument to share. Some of the stringed instruments can be researched and heard at the Stringed Instruments of China web site, a link for which is available within the Resource Carousel.


1. Perform Chinese music. As a class, have students perform an “impromptu” piece using their hand-made instruments. This music will not sound correct, but the instruments should be played in the correct manner. Remind students that in Chinese music, instruments often speak to each other or answer each other. This part of the lesson may work best with small groups, perhaps four students at a time. Then, play one of the ten popular Chinese music compositions, a link to which is available within the Resource Carousel, and ask students to listen for their instrument and pretend to play at the appropriate time.

2. Have students write a story to accompany music. Using one of the ten popular Chinese music compositions, a link for which is available within the Resource Carousel, then ask students to write a short creative paragraph that tells the music’s story. There is no right or wrong story interpretation. Ask students to explain in their writing how the music works to tell their story.


Use the Performance Assessment Rubric to evaluate the student's performance

Extended Learning

  • Explore and classify instruments from other cultures.
  • Write creative stories based on other music, both traditional and non-traditional.
  • Create other hand-made instruments.
  • Explore the life and career of modern-day musicians.
  • Attend a Chinese musical performance in a local Chinatown or visit an online Chinatown.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
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Carol Parenzan Smalley
Original Writer

Mary Beth Bauernschub

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