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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Instruments in General Music

There are few things more exciting and motivating for general music students (no matter the age) than instruments, and they are a great way to learn all sorts of musical skills and concepts. But managing the logistics of storing, handing out and collecting, and using the instruments with a class full of students without getting a headache can often be a challenge! From boomwhackers to recorders, ukuleles to drums, here are my top tips for organizing and teaching instruments in general music class.

The main over-arching expectation I enforce with instruments in my classroom is this:

"If you play before I say you'll make the instrument go away!"

I know this isn't an unusual rule to have in a music classroom, but I talk to so many music teachers who talk the talk but don't walk the walk when it comes to this expectation, and then they wonder why their students are always playing when they're not supposed to! I take away instruments (or move the student away from the instrument) pretty much every time they play out of turn, even if it's a tiny sound and even if it's clearly an honest mistake. The keys to making this expectation work without everyone getting frustrated and without allowing students to "get away with" anything:

1. Tell students from the beginning (and remind them often) that you're enforcing this rule whether it was a mistake or not, because you need them to be that careful with the instruments, then DO IT.

2. Always give students a chance to redeem themselves and try again- the whole point is for them to learn how to hold instruments and listen when they're not playing, so they need to have a chance to do so successfully. Sit them out for a turn then bring them back in.

Of course students will also learn procedures and proper playing technique if they have more opportunities to play, so don't be afraid to get them out early and often! I hear so many music teachers say their students "can't handle" instruments because of challenging behaviors, so they aren't going to even use them in class. I find the most challenging classes are the ones that benefit from instruments the most- it's a very clear and concrete way to enforce and practice expectations. You either played out of turn or you didn't. It may take a lot of back and forth initially, but I find it's the quickest way to get defiant students to experience success and build a positive relationship with students. Plus it's an accessible and motivating way for students to learn concepts they may otherwise struggle to grasp! So get them out and use them. 

I've shared a lot of teaching strategies, organizational and logistical tips, and more over the years with various specific instruments- click on each image below to read these specific posts, and check back for more posts in the future. I'll continue to add them to this compilation below as I write new articles. Have questions about teaching instruments? Leave a comment below! You can also get my full, detailed lesson plans for teaching all of these instruments in my curriculum sets here.


  1. Hello! I was wanting to email you a long story (but I'm sure you get lots of emails). Anyway, I was not formerly trained as a music teacher. I have a masters of arts in teaching, and certified as a music teacher. This is my 21st year and I work very hard to attend workshops and better myself. Well, I really feel I'm lacking in instruments. I teach K-12. What are some instruments that you think I really need, how many, and what kinds? I wrote a grant and received three octaves of boomwhackers, and I have some instruments I've accumulated through the years. Thanks!

    1. First of all, please feel free to email me any time! I love getting the chance to hear from and talk with other music teachers :) Second, I wrote a post on my recommendations for supplies (including instruments) that I want in an elementary music classroom in order of priority here:
      For the older students I would start with ukuleles and keyboards. I hope this helps- please email me if you want to talk more specifics!