Step Right Up & Choose Your Instrument! Montessori Style Rhythm Band Activities


Photo from Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

Sometimes little children and rhythm instruments can turn into a lot of noisy chaos and even a migraine headache for the adult! Yet, Preschoolers seem to have such an attraction to exploring every musical instrument in sight. Not only is this exploration fun for the child; it is also important developmentally. Our music classes have been filled with lots of rhythm instruments in the past few weeks!

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

Experimentation with sounds is an important part of the development of auditory discrimination skills (distinguishing individual sounds in speech) that aid in language acquisition, reading, and later actually playing an instrument. Like for example, playing the french horn in the high school marching band! 

You can read a scholarly article about the importance of children's development of auditory discrimination skills at this link:  Chicago Journals: Elementary School Journal .

So, how do you as the adult, offer children fun experiences with a variety of instruments and still maintain a sense of "making music" rather than making chaos?

I always fall back to the Montessori method in just about every music class that I teach (and that is currently 30 classes a week and growing!) In "Montessori land", children are allowed freedom within the carefully prepared environment and this idea works really well when offering children activities with a variety of musical instruments.

In the beginning, there are lots of group times where all the children play the same instrument. That is, every child has a set of rhythm sticks, or their own tambourine to play. Everyone playing the same instrument doesn't usually sound chaotic. I also choose instrument sets that have a pleasing but also quieter sound. (Ex: wooden castanets are quieter than plastic ones and I always choose the nice quiet maracas that have something like sand inside rather than the harsh ones that are filled with something that is louder) You can read more about my favorite rhythm instruments, where to buy them, how to first introduce these to children, and a little classroom management at my past post by clicking this link: "Music Please!" Good Music & Good Manners Go Together.

After the children have had experience with a variety of rhythm instruments, then it is time for the next level of exploration: "Ensemble Playing!" In the music world, when people play different instruments together, such as in a band or orchestra, this is called an "ensemble." You can read more about ensemble playing using a fun cd from Frank Leto at this past post of mine: "Rhythm Band" with Children: Ding, Tap-tap, Click!

When its time to play a variety of instruments together in our music time, I first tell the children that I have 3..(or 4 ...or 5) different instruments today and they will CHOOSE the instrument they want to play. There are containers that I set out with the various rhythm instruments that the children can choose from and these are instruments that they have already had some experience with playing in earlier music times. 

Photo from Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

I first show the children the instruments one by one, and play it for them. Then, before we all begin to choose and play instruments, we play the "Listen and Tell Me What You Hear" song/game. This song is another of Frank Leto's fun activity songs from his Rhythm Band cd (available at Amazon or at Frank's website:

I play a variation of this game by lining up the instruments and then having the children all close their eyes (no peeking!) and then I play one of the instruments and sing the song...the children tell me which one they heard.
The instruments pictured above are: 

  • rhythm sticks
  • sand blocks
  • triangle
  • maracas
  • tambourine
* I don't include drums or cymbals in these first experiences with "ensemble playing" with children!

Next, it's time for the children to pick something to play. I set the baskets of instruments in the middle of the circle and  point to each basket and name the instrument as well as tell the children how many they can take. (ex: 2 rhythm sticks, or one tambourine, etc.) 

Then, I tell the children that I will come around and tap them on the head. When they get tapped, they go and choose the instrument they want to play. After they choose an instrument, they can walk carefully back to their place and "rest" their instruments until all the children have theirs. 

I tap several children at a time and try to move this along quickly without having a huge group of children hovering around the baskets. Also, I don't allow children to trade in their instrument once they have gone back to their place at the circle. This is something you can decide for yourself, but I stick to this rule and say, "You can remember to choose that instrument next time!" 

Now, the rhythm band plays! I have fun with the children by calling ourselves the "Daffodil Room Rhythm Band" or some name that is appropriate for their group. We begin by just all playing our favorite way and it usually sounds very lovely. 

Next, we practice playing our favorite rhythms together: 
ti-ti, ta, ti-ti, ta (repeat 4 or 8 times) 
ta, ti-ti, to-oe (repeat 4 or 8 times)
See more of this at my website: STUFF FOR KIDS video  "Rhythm Echoes" .

Then it is fun to play along to a song that you and your group like (from classical music or one of your favorites.)

As an added challenge, you can sing a song the children all know and play along. 

And, for more challenge, you can sing songs in which one instrument at a time is played. Two that I love from Frank Leto are: "Come On Everybody, Play Your...(tambourines)" and "We Are Fine Musicians" both from his Rhythm Band Jam cd  (link is in above text.) It's important that you prepare the children for these songs, by explaining what the songs will say and then asking the children, "Who will play when the song says 'tambourine'? Will everybody play, or just the people with tambourines?"

If the group is young or inexperienced, I have several music times in which everyone plays along, until they seem ready for the new challenges mentioned above.

We end our ensemble playing by putting the instruments away very carefully. I once again tap heads so that this is done in an orderly fashion a few children at at time.

Montessori folks like to have "shelf works" as a follow-up activity for presentations that occurred at the large group circle and so I do offer something for a follow-up to put on the music shelf for individual exploration at work time.


Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

I set up a basket with 4 or 5 rhythm instruments that the children have played and these can go along with 3 part cards so that the child can play the instrument and then find the card that matches. I often allow 2 children to work together with this activity. 

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

I also supply photocopies of line drawings of the instruments to color in so the child can create a little "Rhythm Instruments" booklet to take home.

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

I thought these little 3-part card sets were available from the Montessori supplier that I purchased them from a few years ago, but alas! they have been discontinued! So, this is another music activity on my list to create for future downloads. 

Photo by Jeri-Jo Idarius Photography from Carolyn's Archives

For now, it is possible to find line drawings of various rhythm instruments on google images and you could make your own DIY 3-part cards & booklets. This is a very popular activity that children love and it gives them more individualized experience with playing & identifying the names of instruments & the sounds they make.

The following photo is of a child in my class a few years ago who had autism and this game was one of her favorite work time activities!

Photo by Carolyn at Magical Movement Company

It is always exciting for me to have you read my posts and I hope you got some ideas for making music time an organized and very fun part of your day. I love to hear about your experiences, so don't hesitate to leave a comment in the section below!

Advertising Disclosure: Magical Movement Company may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on links posted on this website. Thanks for your support!
Next PostNewer Post Previous PostOlder Post Home