Musical Instruments: 7 Ways to Teach Them When You Don't Have Any!

And this, class, is a picture of a 'cello.  

And this is a trombone.  And here is a clarinet.  And here is a viola.  It's basically a big violin......


And so it goes on.  Teaching about the instruments of the orchestra but not actually having any instruments to show or demonstrate to the class.  

Would you do a virtual cake making demonstration?  No.

Would you show a class pictures of a football game but never actually go and play?  No, of course not.  

But us poor music teachers somehow have to teach about the range, sound, appearance and uses of a multitude of various instruments without our students ever even seeing them.  

Have you downloaded the FREE KEYWORD SUPERFOLDER yet?  An amazing time-saving, workload-reducing pack of resources containing all keywords needed for GCSE/BTEC, with listening links and definitions.  Check it out HERE.

If you're lucky, as I once was in a school far, far, away..... you may have some school instruments and can do a little 'show and tell'.  This has happened to me before and I must say, it was amazing.  Students could see the size and beauty of the instruments and could have a go and hear the sounds for real and appreciate how hard some are to actually make a nice sound out of!  But in this age of funding problems, many schools do not have anything beyond keyboards, guitars and percussion. 

So how do you make the instruments of the orchestra and then the instruments of 'world music' interesting without having any resources?

1. Think creatively about sourcing some actual, real instruments

There is no doubt that instruments are expensive.  But there are other ways.  First, see if your local music hub has any loan instruments available.  If you can at least borrow something from each family then you can demonstrate the different ways that instruments make sounds.  Or do you have another local secondary school that might lend you some instruments for a week?  Perhaps you could swap resources?

If you are allowed to, buy second-hand instruments from eBay or car boot sales.  They may not be in perfect condition, but seeing and holding a slightly clapped out violin is far better than seeing a picture of a violin. 

Apply to all the funding grants that you can think of.  EMI sound foundation and National Lottery have lots of money and all you have to do is prepare a case and ask.

2. Peripatetic Teachers 

Ask your peripatetic teachers to come in and do an assembly or workshop.  They will often do this for free in order to get more interest in their lessons.  If you don't have any (sad days) then contact your local hub and ask if they have any teachers who would visit.  

3. Local Arts Centre Events

If you are lucky enough to live near a major arts centre, especially one that houses a symphony orchestra then contact them immediately.  When I lived in Poole I was lucky enough to have Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra there on the doorstep and they come complete with an entire education department.  Contact them and see what they have on or what workshops or events they can offer you.  

4. Workshops 

Hire a workshop for a year group.  If your students have been through the UK primary system they may well have endured the 'Wider Opportunities' programme, which for those of you who are unfamiliar, means they spent a year playing an instrument before rapidly moving on to another.  Thus, they have experienced around 4 instruments, claim to be able to play all of them but don't really have a clue.  Anyway, they have probably played the recorder, a violin, a djembe and a ukelele.  So get something a little more exciting in, such as P-bones or Steel Pans.  

5. Make your own

Now I am well aware that some of these ideas have cost implications and some of you may barely be able to cover your photocopying costs.  So if you are looking for cheap/free, then why not make your own instruments?  To demonstrate the size, get students to work in pairs to create 2D cutouts of the instruments.  If you are a little more inventive/brave, create 3D life-size models out of junk.  This will give students an idea of the scale of instruments compared to them and to each other.  You could even then re-enact a piece of orchestral music with some air-instrument action. 

6. Video/audio

Video and audio sources are still vital in teaching instrumental sounds, of course.  Pieces such as 'The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra' and Bill Bailey's Guide are invaluable in seeing instruments being played solo and ensemble.  Don't underestimate the power of showing a student a symphony orchestra in full flow; this can be an incredible new experience for many.  

7. Games 

The amazing Music Tech Teacher website has a multitude of games about instruments.  Aural recognition, as well as facts, can be found there and students love them.  Great for independent reinforcement if you have access to IT.  Games such as Kahoot and Plickers are also great for assessment.

Simple active classroom games can also be played.  Card sorts for family groupings are fine, as well as instrument bingo where the teacher plays an instrumental sound and students tick it off on their card.  When learning families you could set up a family per corner of the room and have students move to the correct family for each instrument.  

You could set up a virtual orchestra and seat your students with a picture of the correct instrument to give them an idea of layout and scale. 


So even if you cannot lay your hands on some actual, real instruments, let's make the learning active and not be the teacher who just shows a picture.  Instruments are meant to be held and heard, so let's encourage our students to do just that. 

Have you downloaded the FREE KEYWORD SUPERFOLDER yet?  An amazing time-saving, workload-reducing pack of resources containing all keywords needed for GCSE/BTEC, with listening links and definitions.  Check it out HERE.


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