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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Elementary Music Supplies: my top picks in order of priority

One of the unfortunate situations in which many music teachers find themselves is needing to figure out what the most important items are to buy for their music class when they have a tiny budget and nothing (or next to nothing) available. Having been through this experience myself, and now also having some experience with different classrooms with different resources at my disposal, I thought I would share my list, in order of priority, of elementary music supplies.

I have been very lucky in terms of resources in most of the schools I've taught in, but my very first year of teaching I was the first elementary music teacher they had ever had, so I was faced with the decision, without having any real teaching experience, of deciding what was most important to get for my classroom for that first year. In every job since then I have come into a program that was already pretty well-stocked, but in every case I have found several gaping holes in inventory that just puzzle me. Why have 20 guiros and no rhythm sticks???? (True. Story.)

If I was starting from scratch, and had a limited budget each year, here is the order in which I would try to acquire things. Keep in mind, even if your school budget is very small, there are plenty of other ways to get supplies and/or funding! I have used DonorsChoose successfully to get a lot of my instruments and other "big ticket" items. Jennifer Bailey from SingToKids has more great suggestions for funding options in this post. Don't get totally discouraged by a tiny budget!

1. rhythm sticks and hand drums: class sets

These are the first things I look for in a music room and are absolutely the highest priority for me- rhythm sticks and hand drums are versatile for all elementary ages and can be used for rhythm practice, adding instrumental ostinati, and other basic lesson content we all want to cover effectively for a relatively low cost. Ideally I think the Remo Fiberskyn hand drums are the best- I like to have maybe one of each of the different sizes and then the rest in the 8" or 10" size (those seem to be the most versatile size for elementary students). For rhythm sticks I prefer wooden ones without the ridges (I know, it seems like you're getting more "bang for your buck" with the ridged ones but they're honestly more of a distraction than anything else in my opinion).

2. diatonic boomwhackers: 1 octave per 3-4 students

For a tiny budget, boomwhackers are next on the priority list so that I can have some pitched instruments. Boomwhackers are another instrument that can be used with a wide range of ages, and can be used for pitched ostinati and melodies, composition, etc. I don't think it's worth the cost to get the extended octaves, but octavator caps are a great way to expand the range at a much lower cost (and far less storage space).

3. barred instruments: at least half of a class set

Here's where a lot depends on the budget size: ideally, it's great to have a variety of barred instruments so you can have more varied timbres and have a wider range in ensemble pieces. If I could get any combination of 12 total barred instruments, I would get 2 soprano glockenspiels, 3 soprano xylophones, 4 alto xylophones, 1 bass xylophone, 1 soprano metallophone, and 1 alto metallophone. If I had enough to get a set of 24 instruments, I would add 1 bass xylophone, 1 more soprano glockenspiel and 3 alto glockenspiels, 4 more soprano xylophones, and 3 more alto xylophones.

That said, if I can only get 1 or 2 instruments at a time, I would start with soprano and alto xylophones, then glockenspiels, then bass xylophones, and add metallophones last. For the xylophones I don't recommend skimping too much on the quality, but if you can't afford any of the nicer barred instruments, these boomwhacker color glockenspiels are a great way to get some barred instruments for students to use that are worth the price (and, bonus, they're great for composing etc because the bars match the boomwhacker colors).

4. tambourines and triangles: half a class set

My next priorities for unpitched percussion instruments would be tambourines and triangles- they are, again, great for a wide range of ages, and they add a good variety in timbre to go with the rhythm sticks and hand drums. I think the tambourines with heads are definitely preferable to the headless ones. For triangles it's hard to go wrong as long as they're not the teeny tiny toy ones or the giant orchestral ones, but for me the one non-negotiable is these rubber triangle holders. They are cheap and make a huge difference for young players, because they keep the instrument relatively still while it's being held up and played.

5. scarves and bean bags: class sets

Movement props are such a great addition to elementary music lessons. Scarves in assorted colors are perfect for lower elementary, and bean bags are great for lots of singing and circle games for all ages.

6. wrist bells and egg shakers: class sets

I mostly use wrist bells and egg shakers for lower elementary students but they are great for adding variety for the younger crowd who may not be ready for some of the other instruments, and they're cheap. They're also great sounds to have for soundscapes and rhythm compositions for the older students.

7. "color" instruments: 2 of each

Beyond the basics that I want to have for all my students to use regularly, I like to have a variety of other unpitched percussion instruments for adding more variety to instrumental ensembles, giving more choices for student compositions, and adding more timbres for soundscapes. I would try to get 2 of each (you'll avoid a good amount of arguing just by having 2 instead of 1- trust me, it's worth it) in the following order: cowbell, vibraslap, ratchet, sandblocks, guiro, slapstick, cabasa, gong, sleigh bells, finger cymbals, maracas, rainstick, tone/ temple block, stir drum, wind chimes, flexatone, and agogo bells.

8. dry erase staff boards: class set

Once I have a good classroom set of instruments and movement props, music staff dry erase boards are my next priority. You can definitely use paper, or even laminated paper, but the boards are so much sturdier so students can use them in their laps, and the younger students can use them to place manipulatives on the staff as well.

9. ukuleles: class set

If you can't afford a class set you can definitely do a lot with half of a class set, but ukuleles are surprisingly affordable and they are a fantastic thing to have for older elementary and middle school students. They are a great tool for learning about chords, and older students can use them for composition and adding chordal accompaniments. These are the ones I have, which I love, and I've written a whole separate post about all my tips for ukuleles here.

10. larger drums

If you can afford them, having some larger drums to add some more low tones to your instrument selections and give your older students more variety of drumming resources is a great addition. A gathering drum works well, and tubanos add a lot of versatility.

other considerations

There are obviously some broader categories and big ticket items that are important to an elementary music classroom but are not included here: every elementary music room should have a piano, sound system/ music player, computer, and projector at a minimum, and ideally you would want an interactive board and student laptops and/or tablets as well. Recorders are another priority instrument for me, but I don't think they're worth teaching if you have to have students share a class set- students should be purchasing their own, and if you can't do that, I would stick with barred instruments and boomwhackers.

For furniture, I think decent chairs are a must- I don't like having older students sitting on the floor or even risers, because it promotes poor posture. I've been lucky enough to have these Wenger student chairs in most of my classrooms and they are ideal. Circle rugs that seat at least 24 students comfortably are also really awesome, especially if you have hard floors, but are usually quite expensive.

Texts are a whole other category as well, which I haven't touched on at all here. There are a LOT of amazing text resources that I love, but if you are on a limited budget and don't have curricular resources, this is what I would recommend buying. You can also learn about setting up your own curriculum resource for free in my Lesson Planning Made Awesome course.

Of course there are plenty of other things that are great to have: manipulatives, puppets, other movement props, conducting batons, visuals and decor, recording microphone, music notation software, etc. But when I look at what I need to be able to teach students all of the concepts I want them to learn, the priorities above are most important to me.

So now I turn it over to you: what did I miss? Which things on my list surprised you? Would you put things in a different order? Share your advice in the comments to help other teachers make the most informed decision possible!


  1. Thank you for this! How would you modify this for a traveling teacher? Would you say to request this at all schools? I work at 3 different schools per day, and I take a lot from school to school.
    Also do you have a favorite rolling cart for all the things?

    1. Great question! First of all I would recommend checking out for cart recommendations especially, as well as lots of other great tips for lessons, organization, and all things teaching from a cart! If you have classrooms at some or all of your buildings, then yes, I would work in the same order of priority here for every building (so I would work to get #1 at all schools, then #2, etc). If you are on a cart, then I would still try to have #1-5 available in each building at least (along with some of the things I mention in the last paragraph)

  2. Thanks for the website recommendation! I just got my first teaching job, and I'll be going from room to room with a cart for each of my classes (K-8)! Also, I recently discovered your blog and I'm loving the content! :)

    1. Congratulations on your new job!! Teaching on a cart can be quite a challenge but I hope you have a fantastic school year full of wonderful musicking with your students :) And thank you so much for the note! I'm so glad you've found helpful content.

  3. I teach 4-6 band and kindergarten music...I love your site and example lesson plans with your planner on TPT. I teach K music to help out the general music teacher in my building (due to scheduling and her day is maxed). Do you have an option for purchase for just the kindergarten music curriculum?

    1. Yes, absolutely! You'll find links to each individual grade level on the page for the full set, or you can copy this link:

  4. Hi Elizabeth I am writing a grant for my school and need to know how much to ask for to start up a music class for my elementary school. We would be starting from scratch. Could you tell me how much you think I should ask for to get us well stocked with instruments? I am at a school of around 700 so the instruments would be used alot. Thank you for any help you can give me.

    1. More than the total population of the school, you would need to calculate how many of each item you need based on the largest single class you expect to have. If I don't know what class size could be I would aim for a class set of 30 so that I (hopefully) have a few extras even if the classes are large.

      That said, in terms of a specific price I would call a music store and get an estimate on everything I mentioned in my blog post, including an electric piano and speakers. Often with a larger order they have been able to get me a better price than what it would show up as online. I'm assuming furniture and more general items like projectors, white boards, student chairs etc would be separate from what you're looking for.

      I hope this helps- I know I didn't give you a number but I don't want to give you bad information! I would truly go down the list of all the items on my list based on your largest anticipated class size to truly outfit a decent music room. Those are all genuinely important, none of them are "frills". Let me know if you have other questions about this, I'm happy to help make sure your school music program gets off to a great start!!! 

  5. Thanks for this post :-)