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:
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:
Bart Hopkin – he’s the man!
Before I came across Bart Hopkin’s work and his wonderful books I had come up with a few very simple instruments. After Bart Hopkin – the world of weird and wonderful instruments was opened up for me.