Instruments in Class: Tips & Tricks 1

“Me, me, me! It’s MY turn!” Have you heard that a million times? Instruments are so fun to play! Here are some tips and tricks I’ve used when using instruments in the classroom.

Before they play

  • I mention the rules OVER and OVER.
  • Instruments are NOT toys. They are special. They belong to the school and we must respect them. It is a privilege to play the instruments. “I look for kids who are making good choices and demonstrating they know how to follow the rules. Those kids get to play instruments.”
  • “You play it, you lose it.” I frequently remind kids they may only play when I tell them to. Otherwise, they are making noise, not music.
  • We mime the 3 positions with empty hands while I demonstrate. I demonstrate with an instrument, they continue to pretend they are holding an instrument. Starting with rhythm sticks is helpful (Ready position is hands on knees with sticks pointing up). I teach them the 3 positions:
    • Resting = instrument down (on floor or lap or riser)
    • Ready = instrument in hands, ready to play, watching conductor
    • Playing = Play with a light touch. Music making, not noise making!
  • Students must participate (sing, clap, do motions) in order to demonstrate to me that they will be ready to play instruments. Playing an instrument adds a level of difficulty (especially coordination) to the rhythm. They must feel the rhythm in their hands (clapping or pretending they are playing) before they get the instrument in their hands.

Passing out (and putting away) instruments

  • When I take out an instrument for the first time, I name it and have them echo the name. I demonstrate how to play it. I like having enough for a quarter or a fifth of the class, so everyone can get a turn, and it doesn’t take too long. (Did that make sense?) So, in my mind I divide the class into 4 or 5 sections, and each group gets to play 2 or 3 times, then they pass the instruments (or I do, at the beginning of the year) to the next group.
  • As I pass out an instrument, I say “resting position” or “on the floor” or “in your lap” to almost every student. I lift my head and ask the rest of the class, “Are they doing a good job?” “Do they know where resting position is?” Like I mentioned, students who are not playing yet must either clap or pretend they are playing the instrument to the rhythm. But they may not sit there doing nothing while they wait their turn. Interestingly, I have found that some students are so enthralled they forget to clap or sing, so if someone is just sitting there, I quietly remind him/her to sing or clap. I have had students throw a fit if I don’t give them an instrument because they didn’t realize they weren’t participating. Believe it or not, sometimes it’s true. Most of the time, I will skip that person’s turn and say something like, “You get an instrument when you participate. Let me watch you participate while the other group plays; then you get to play the next turn.”
  • When I lift my hands and say “ready position,” I make sure each child is holding the instrument correctly. Then I say “play” and we begin the rhythm.
  • As the year progresses, I choose one student from each group (usually 4-5 students per riser) to get the instrument bin and pass them out. I remind them about the rules and watch & listen. I am strict about not playing before it’s time, so I will quietly remove an instrument from a student who plays out of turn. Nothing needs to be said. The student has learned the lesson without a lecture. Remember, positive words are powerful: “Wow, you guys are remembering to put your instrument in resting position! Awesome job!” Then that same person puts the instruments away. We save so much time when I have the kids (instead of me) pass out and collect the instruments. And that means I can look at the clock and think, “8 minutes left in class? We can play instruments in that time!”
  • Caveat: if the students are doing the passing out and collecting by themselves, there are surely going to be times when an instrument is inadvertently dropped. I look to see if it was an accident (almost always it is), and there is no need for me to say anything or freak out. The student already feels badly. Just a smile and “It’s ok” is sufficient. Don’t you love when someone shows you grace when you’ve done something wrong? I try to remember that for the kids.

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