Finding simple wind instruments suitable to make with very young children is hard, but the balloon bassoon is perfect. Easy to make and satisfying to play, children love this instrument, not least because it’s loud! In my early childhood education music incursion programs this is always one of the most popular instruments.
Balloon bassoons are also inexpensive – about A$4 if you use PVC pressure pipe, much less if you use cardboard tube. It sounds like a very cheap saxophone, and it only plays one note. Technically it’s more like a sax or clarinet than a bassoon, but hey! The name was to good to pass up!
How easy is it to make? I can make one from scratch in less than 3 minutes, including measuring and cutting the pipe. I use this instrument in my program to show children how easy and quick it is to make a musical instrument (I pre-cut the pipe, but that’s all).
Children from about 4 and up can make it themselves with some adult assistance – you will have to cut the hose for them, and they will need assistance and close supervision if they are going to saw the PVC pipe.
Children as young as 3 can play it, although most 3 year olds will need to have the instrument held for them. 4 year olds and up can hold it for themselves, but learning the right way to hold it takes practice.
The full instructions are below, but if you prefer a visual guide watch this video:
In my last blog post I walked you through selecting scrap metal for making musical instruments; now it’s time to show you how I built a strong and easy to build PVC frame and turned some scrap aluminium castings into a bell tree. I use these instruments in my Child’s Play Music hands-on play-based music incursions with young children in all kinds of Early Childhood Education settings here in Perth.
You can use this frame design for many different instruments – even for hanging old pots and pans. I have 3 frames: for my stainless steel cymbals, my aluminium gongs, and now this one for my aluminium castings bell tree.
In my Child’s Play Music early childhood education incursion programs I tell children that they can make music from practically anything that makes a sound – and it’s true! And if you are looking for metal to make your own musical instruments you can’t beat a real old-fashioned ‘scrappie’, a scrap yard piled high with with all sort of interesting metal bits carefully sorted by type of metal.
Metal + imagination = musical instruments
I design my instruments to be simple, safe and tough, because I work with very young children in all kinds of early childhood education and care settings here in Perth. Wherever possible I use recycled materials; I get a real kick out of upcycling scrap metal to make great sounding instruments that children love to play, and I love to spread that message of sustainability.
Stainless steel cymbals – CRASH!
In this post I’ll be sharing with you:
What kind of scrap metal dealer to look for
The best scrappie in Perth, WA!
The kinds of instruments you can make from scrap metal
Types of scrap metal, and what instruments they are best-suited to
How to test the scrap metal for its sonic qualities
I get a lot of emails from people all around the world about Child’s Play Music. But this one touched a chord with me, because it’s about the Future of Play-Based Learning. And to me that means it’s about the Future of Education, period.
It’s from Malissa Carey, a 20 year old student from Kansas, who is now studying at Concordia University. Let me quote from the email and you’ll see why it means so much to me.
My name is Malissa Carey. I am from Princeton, Kansas but I attend school at Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska. I stumbled upon your website and have fallen in LOVE with your program. I am double majoring in Early Childhood and Special Education and will continue to get my Masters in Music Therapy and hopefully a Doctorate. I would love to get to experience one of your classes but I don’t think that will ever get to happen, at least not in the near future.
I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate what you are doing and how much I want to base my future classroom like what you have! I am so very passionate about children’s learning through play. In a time where most teachers are worried about teaching to the test and hitting standards it’s refreshing to be able to just experience play and something that God intended us to do… to just live.
Anyway, now that I have ranted and raved about how much I love what you’re doing I just want to simply say, THANK YOU! Sincerely, Malissa Carey.
Now, it’s lovely that Malissa likes Child’s Play Music so much – I’m honoured and, indeed, humbled. But what struck me most was Malissa’s passion for play-based learning.
I am so very passionate about children’s learning through play … it’s refreshing to be able to just experience play and something that God intended us to do… to just live.
I know only too well that play-based learning is under serious threat in the US (and to a lesser extent here in Australia too). As Malissa says, we are living “in a time where most teachers are worried about teaching to the test and hitting standards”.
I firmly believe that the best way for young children to learn music is through free, hands-on self-directed play. Formal music lessons can be wonderful for older children but for young children nothing beats exploration and free play.
I made this poster about music play and I think it explains my beliefs about young children and music very well. It got quite a few shares on Facebook and it seems to have struck a chord with people.
Let me expand a little on what I mean by “Music play is play!”:
Play is the fundamental way that children learn and make sense of their world, and music play is simply one of the many forms of play. But what is “play”?
Over many years people have asked me about how I come up with the crazy instruments I build. Surely I must have a phenomenally creative mind. Um, no. I just look at other “real” instruments and think “what’s the simplest possible way to make a version of this, preferably one that is incredibly cheap and extremely hard to break, and that very young children will be able to play successfully”.
I’m very proud of my instruments – I think they are pretty darn wonderful, and other people seem to think so too, especially the children I work with – but they are not complex. My over-riding design principle is KISS. If I cant build it simply I don’t build it at all. If I can also make it from recycled junk that’s a bonus.
People also assume that I must have wonderful manual arts skills, that I am a trained woodworker and metal machinist. Nope. To be honest, my skills are very limited. I’m not proud of this, but I failed woodwork and metalwork in first year high school, and I think of myself as a self-taught wood-butcher and metal-hacker. OK, I had a lot of experience working with PVC pipe when I used to be a professional gardener, but a 5 year old child can cut PVC pipe just as well as I can.
Nor do I have a state-of the art workshop with milling machines, band saws, thicknessers, router tables and the like. I mainly work with manual hand tools of the simplest kind. In fact the only power tools I use are:
a cordless drill
a drill press
an angle grinder;
an electric jigsaw
a 1/3rd sheet electric sander
a hand-held electric planer
You could outfit my entire workshop by going to any major hardware store with $1000 and come away with plenty of change. Indeed there is not one of my instruments that actually requires power tools to make – they just save a lot of time, but if necessary I could make them just with hand tools.
So, if I don’t have enormous creativity, nor great manual skills, nor a flash workshop, how did I learn to make such great instruments? Two words:
As an early childhood educator you are the single most important component of your children’s play & learning environment.
What you do – how you structure the environment, what program choices you make, what you value, how you interact with children – sets the tone for all the learning that takes place. And that is equally true for music in early childhood.
But as I said in Part One, many early childhood educators feel less than competent when it comes to music. I’m here to tell you that you ARE competent – but you may not FEEL competent.
So let’s get you feeling competent, because the research shows it’s your confidence that counts not your musical abilities.
Is anybody out there feeling a little less than totally confident about your own ability to provide a vibrant music program in early childhood settings? Worried that you don’t sing well enough or you aren’t a good enough musician? Not sure what a good music program looks like, let alone how to implement one?
If you want to do a great play-based music program in early childhood settings, providing a music-rich environment is 90% of the battle. But sometimes that can be difficult to achieve in a classroom – music play can be loud! Sometimes too loud!
Water play – it conjures up visions of children scooping and pouring, floating things and sinking them, measuring and washing and splashing and laughing. Huge fun, and there are a thousand things to be learned at the water trough. But water play … and music? It doesn’t seem like a natural combination but it’s amazing what you can do with a few household items, some stuff from your garden shed and a water play trough!
Make sure you have different sized bowls available
My first exposure to water and music wasn’t working in child care – it was watching the great percussionist Trilok Gurtu dipping gongs, bells, cymbals and sea-shell rattles into a bucket of water during a John McLaughlin Trio concert many years ago. The unearthly tones he produced delighted me – shimmering waves of ever-changing tones that swooped up and down in pitch.
I have a very broad definition of music. To me, music is sound organised in time. All sounds can be music, and with water play we can explore:
These are the building blocks of all music, and water offers a unique playground for exploring them. It also offers a fantastic way to explore the science of sound in a way that is meaningful and understandable for young children.
We aren’t going to be creating songs (although singing may happen); we aren’t going to be creating performances (although that may happen too). Instead this is about exploration and learning through the joy of free play. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be wet and it’s going to be fun. Get your water play clothes on (budgie smugglers optional) and let’s get playing!