Ready to rock? Instructions for making each of the homemade musical instruments mentioned in this article can be found on the "Make It Happen" tab.
When I last visited my mother, a small piece of fluffy sheepskin broke away from a larger piece that covered one of her chairs. As my two sons raced through the living room, I held it up and asked, “This piece of sheepskin just fell off. Does anyone want to make it into a pet?” My six-year-old son, Murphy, eagerly seized it and my mother laughed.
“You can make a toy out of anything,” she said.
It’s true. After years of entertaining my children with whatever is at hand, I am a master. Nothing, however, satisfies me more than turning discarded household items into musical instruments—combining arts and crafts with music. Having bought the kids new shoes lately, I thought it would be an excellent time to make tissue box guitars. When I researched the guitars online, I discovered that kids can make a whole orchestra from items lying around the house.
As far as I’m concerned, the tissue box guitar is the quintessential homemade musical instrument. It simply requires a tissue box and stretching a few rubber bands around it. I wondered if it might be a little young for my 10-year-old son, Spencer. But after snapping the last rubber band around the box, he started wailing on it like Jimi Hendrix.
Another exiciting musical project was a tom tom drum made out of a can with a balloon stretched over one end. Once constructed, the drum made a satisfying drum sound. A few days later, Murphy announced that the drum also made a satisfying “pop” when pierced by a toothpick. This was when I realized there was an unforeseen benefit to my children making their own instruments—they could destroy them and Mommy wouldn’t burst into tears.
Both boys enjoyed making oboes out of straws a little too much. I stepped out of the room for a few minutes only to return to over 20 straw oboes littering the floor. Far from being a lesson in recycling, I had unwittingly added tiny plastic oboes to our local landfill. Next time, I’ll know to hand the boys only a couple of straws that have outlived their usefulness.
Like the real things, homemade instruments can be hard on the ear when banged and tooted by youngsters. After listening to a few impromptu songs, I was ready to excuse myself and close the door. As I started to stand, Murphy said, “You know what, Mommy? The straw sounds like the duck in Peter and the Wolf.”
Exactly. The duck in Prokofiev’s orchestration is represented by the oboe. That is the kind of connection that gives a mom like me the strength to endure even more of her children’s earsplitting, cacophonic arrangements.
I sat back down and enjoyed the rest of the concert.
Make It Happen
You can make the three instruments mentioned in this article! Don’t forget that kids can decorate their instruments with construction paper, magic markers, and stickers.
Tissue Box Guitar
- Gather an empty tissue box, scissors, two pencils, and rubber bands (Silly Bandz work well too!).
- Strap the rubber bands lengthwise around the box and over the hole. If the rubber bands are different widths, even better.
- Then place a pencil inder the rubber bands toward the each end of the box, as the bridge of the guitar (angle one of the pencils to change the pitch of the "strings").
- If you’re really ambitious, tape a paper towel insert to the top as the guitar neck.
- Strum or pluck the rubber bands over the hole to make sound.
Soup Can Drum
- Gather a small can (like a soup can or Play-Doh container), a round balloon, a rubber band, and a pencil with an eraser. Helpful hint: You may want to have several balloons in case they break.
- Completely remove the lid from one end the can (clean it if it had food in it).
- Cut the narrow end off of the balloon. Cut straight, as jagged edges can cause the balloon to tear.
- Stretch the balloon over the open end of the can, creating the skin of a drum.
- Secure the balloon skin by snapping a rubber band around the mouth of the cylinder.
- Play the drum by tapping with the eraser end of the pencil.
- Gather plastic drinking straws and scissors.
- Take a straw and flatten one end about an inch long.
- Cut both sides of the flattened end diagonally, so that the end looks like a pencil when flattened and a bird’s beak when opened.
- Create a couple of finger holes by cutting small triangles into the straw.
- Hold the straw with your fingertips on the holes, pinch the pointed end between your lips and blow to create sound.
- Lift fingers to manipulate the sound. It takes a few blows into the straw to find the right vibration that will produce sound.