Musical Instruments in the Nursery Group

Very simple ‘ sound-makers’ can be introduced during rhymes and songs, again using the technique of starting with a familiar favourite. A chime bar can be used for ‘The clock struck one’, then this can lead on to a conversation about what other sounds a clock makes and usually one or two children will mention the ticking noise. This can then progress from one of the adults making a tick-tock noise all through the song or clapping her hands, through the next stage of those children who wish to do so clapping instead of singing (quite often young children cannot do both at the same time). Extending this theme still further the adult can use rhythm sticks which later one or two children can use or, even better, two pieces of dowelling of different thickness which will give two different notes. Even then this simple progression is not exhausted. With reasonable care and supervision it ought to be possible to bring into the group for just one session different kinds of clocks, and if someone has a tape recorder they could reproduce the sound made by Big Ben or a local church clock. If we can then produce chime bars and imitate some of the sounds, the children will want to experiment for themselves and this is the point at which we can put relevant materials and instruments such as bells, chime bars and simple two- or three-note’xylophones’ on the ‘sound table’ .

We can also use stories to make children aware of sounds – a great favourite is a story about a parcel. Some kind of rattling object, perhaps beads, buttons or marbles in a tin, is wrapped in layers of several kinds of paper – newspaper, tissue paper, foil and stiff brown wrapping paper would be a suitable collection. As the story unfolds (an early Christmas present which must not be opened until Christmas Day) each child is allowed to shake the parcel and have a guess as to what might be inside. The child in the story cannot resist taking off just one wrapping each day – ‘… and she took off the brown wrapping paper which made a lovely crackly noise’, ‘….. and on the third day she took off the pink tissue paper which made a soft shushing noise’… and so on until the tin or box is revealed, when the children all have another little shake and a second guess as to what is inside… and when Christmas Day came she opened up the parcel and found —’. Quite often even the shyest child will be willing to open the parcel and if only the story-teller who made up the parcel knows what is inside all the adults in the group are just as intrigued as the children. Once the excitement is over and everyone has had a look the story-teller can suggest that all the paper is carefully collected for another day and again talk about the noise the paper makes.

The different wrappings can all be put on the ‘sound table’ with the suggestion that if the children look at home they might find some types of paper which make a different noise and they could bring those to put on the sound table tomorrow. The next day at ‘music’ time this could be followed up by having one or two tins or boxes with different objects in each. Tell the children that in one tin there is a marble, in another tin a toy car tyre and in another there is some rice. Shake the tins one at a time and see if they can guess. Choose tins which are easy to open so that they can check if they were right. The next stage might be three identical containers containing various quantities of sand or rice so that they make a different noise. Let the children see the contents and ask which they think will make the most/least/loudest/softest noise. Then put the lids on and see if they were right. These too can be put on the sound table so that the children can experiment. Some extra rice and perhaps two or three more containers will lead some of the children to experiment for themselves. Put the whole lot on a large, fairly deep tray or large baking tin to prevent too many spills.

A further extension would be to prepare a set of identical containers filled in pairs so that the noises match. At first, or for very young children, just three pairs of very dissimilar sounds are quite enough: perhaps one pair with a marble or pebble, a pair which contains nothing at all (so that even the youngest child can match these) and a pair with two or three paper clips in. This is quite a difficult thing to do – even adults find it takes a great deal of concentration to match six pairs. These follow-up games can be played with the whole group of children, or the materials put on the sound table so that an adult can play with a small group for a short time and then the children can experiment as they wish.

Another way of introducing sound instruments casually is to use them as sound effects in a story. These could be as simple as a spoon and metal egg-cup for ringing sounds, a shaker for rain noise, three different bells for Father Bear, Mother Bear Baby Bear or the Billy-Goats Gruff, an improvised drum for footsteps or coconut shells (yogurt pots make a good substitute) for horses’ hooves. For more ambitious story-tellers a glockenspiel or set of chime bars is useful.