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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: small percussion storage

Welcome back to Teacher Tuesday! If you saw my classroom tour from the beginning of the school year, you will remember with great rejoicing my wonderful open shelving in my classroom:

While I know most do not have such extensive open shelving in their elementary music classrooms, I want to talk a little bit about some general tips to keep in mind when storing small percussion instruments, which will hopefully be applicable to many teachers in different classroom settings.

So first, let's take a closer look at the shelves in question:

Hmm, not exactly pretty, huh? That's OK. I'll fix that someday with stylish, matching containers. It's on my to-do list (groan). Moving on...

1. Keep larger sets of instruments together in open boxes and baskets.

Keeping sets of instruments, like rhythm sticks and shakers, together is probably common sense. But I think it is important to keep them in open containers, even if you don't have them on open shelves. It's much faster to take out and put away when you're using them in class, students can see what is in each container and how they are stored to put them back, and you can find the right container more quickly too.

2. Keep the instruments used most often by your youngest students at their height.

I used to be more obsessive about sorting instruments by type (metals, woods etc) on my shelves, but I am now a firm believer in organizing things to allow maximum student independence. Think about the instruments that are used most often by your kindergartners (or whatever youngest grade you teach) and put those instruments just below their line of sight where they can easily reach them. I think it is so important to teach students how to take out and put away instruments on their own, so the more you can leave things where they are and have students go get them right from their storage location themselves, the better.

3. Keep those really tempting but less-used instruments out of reach.

This is especially important with open shelving, but no matter where you are keeping your instruments, if you are wanting to foster independence and have students getting out and putting away instruments themselves, you are going to have to protect some of the more fragile instruments. I keep my box of really small percussion, as well as my gong and wind chimes, at the back of the shelf where students can't get to them on their own.

4. Keep everything needed to play the instruments together.

Keep the beaters with the triangles, the sticks with the guiros, and the mallets with the temple blocks. I used to keep all the beaters/unpitched percussion mallets etc together in one container, but that makes the process of getting set up and cleaned up from playing much slower. Keep everything a student needs to play each instrument together so they only have to go to one place to get everything they need.

5. Let students be responsible for their instruments!

Students will never learn how to carefully and properly pick up, carry, and store instruments if they never do it themselves. Encourage independence by storing instruments in view (as space allows) and organize them to streamline the process of helping students find and put back the instruments properly. Yes, it does require more monitoring when idle hands can more easily reach them as well, but it is an important lesson to learn and one that will encourage a community of respect in your classroom as well.

**Update: I've come up with some specific solutions for storing those really pesky but commonly-used instruments that have made a huge difference in my classroom: click here to see my hand drum solution, and click here to see my solution for triangles.**

What are your tips for organizing and storing instruments in the classroom? Leave a comment below! If you want more tips and lesson ideas for other instruments like ukulele, recorder, xylophones, keyboards, and more, head to this post:


  1. I am using your picture of open shelving as an example to my school of what excellent storage space looks like for a music classroom (they are currently building a new one). Were these custom-built or were they ready-made from a vendor??

    1. That is awesome that you are getting to give input into the new room- what a dream come true! I inherited these shelves so I'm not positive but I believe they were made from regular shelving materials from a hardware store or whatever- the sides/walls have the two rows of holes where you stick a dowel in and rest the shelf on top, so in theory you can move the shelves to whatever heights you want (although the custodian told me that because 1) they've been in the same place for so many years and 2) the shelves are very heavy, it would be difficult to do so). I'd be happy to take more pictures or get more info if you need it to help make your case- just let me know!

  2. I loved teaching procedures for getting and putting instruments away. It was a long process, but so worth it when I could just tell them to line up and get such and such instrument, and they knew exactly what to do. It was so satisfying to see them do things independently and gave me so much more breathing room. Thanks as always for the great tips! #fermatafridays

    1. So true! It takes time to teach procedures but saves so much time in the long run.

  3. How do you like your Toca drums? Are they worth purchasing?

    1. I would say they are a great value for the money! I've had to adjust some of the ropes but they haven't affected the drumheads and they're easy to fix.