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How to Use Recycled Items to Make Musical Instruments for Children

written by: Tania Cowling•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 5/14/2010

Rhythm instruments appeal to children (and adults) who love to produce sounds. Read on for instructions on making musical instruments from recycled items that are simple to make, creative and eco-friendly.

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    thumbnail There are many good reasons for playing musical instruments; mostly to develop sensory-motor skills, such as eye/hand coordination, gross-motor strength, and auditory awareness to discriminate sounds. What better way than to get the children involved in making homemade musical instruments from recycled materials? By using recycled materials you are teaching children about the three R's - reduce, recycle and reuse. So dig into your recycle bin at home and start making musical instruments from recycled items. You and the kids will have a blast making these projects and when they tire of playing the music, these instruments can easily return to the recycle bin to promote an eco-friendly cause.

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    Making Maracas


    • Salad dressing bottles (either glass or plastic with lids)
    • Dried beans, pebbles, metal washers, paper clips, sand, rice, etc.
    • Glue
    • Stickers for decorating


    1. Wash and dry these salad bottles and lids.
    2. Add a handful of beans (or other small materials that will create a sound).
    3. Run a bead of glue inside the lid and screw on tight.
    4. Invite the children to decorate the bottle with colorful stickers.
    5. Encourage the kids to shake the maracas to make musical sounds.
    6. Make a couple sets using different materials and compare sounds.
    7. As a variation, think about using empty water bottles and follow the same procedure.

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    Crashing Cymbals


    • 2 aluminum pie tins
    • Empty toilet tissue tubes
    • 2 brad fasteners
    • Decorating materials, such as poster paints, permanent felt-tip markers, and/or stickers


    1. Carefully punch a hole in the center of each pie tin. This can be done by an adult with a nail or scissors.
    2. Invite the children to decorate the pie tins with permanent markers or stickers.
    3. Cut the toilet paper tubes in half and punch a hole in the middle of one side of the tube.
    4. Now, the children can paint the tubes that will become handles of the cymbals. Let dry.
    5. Attach each cardboard tube to a pie tin by inserting a brad fastener through the holes in the pie tin and tube.
    6. Encourage the kids to hold the cymbals by the tube handles and then hit the tins to make sounds.
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    Tin Can Bells

    Can you find some empty tin cans in the recycle bin? Gather a few of different sizes and make a unique bell instrument.


    • 3 different sizes of tin cans (such as tomato paste can, soup/vegetable can, coffee can)
    • 3 1-foot lengths of heavy cord
    • Wooden or metal spoon
    • Wooden board
    • Hammer
    • Nails


    1. Help the kids tie a large knot in one end of each length of heavy cord.
    2. Ask them to thread one cord through a hole made in the bottom of a tin can, leaving the knot on the inside. The knot must be large enough to not go through the can's hole. Follow the same process for the other cans.
    3. Have an adult nail the cord of each tin can bell securely to a board. Place the board on two chairs allowing the bells to hang between them.
    4. The kids can now tap the bells with a wooden or metal spoon.
    5. Ask the kids to predict which can will make the highest sound when struck.
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    Box Banjo


    • 2 shoebox lids that are the same size
    • Rubber bands of various widths
    • Glue
    • Crayons, markers, stickers
    • Scissors or craft knife (Adult use only)


    1. Help the children glue the edges of the shoebox lids together. Allow the glue to dry overnight.
    2. Invite them to decorate the lids as they wish with crayons, markers and/or stickers.
    3. Have an adult cut a 2-inch by 4-inch rectangle section from the center of one lid.
    4. Stretch at least four rubber bands of different widths across the longer opening of the lid.
    5. The children can pluck the rubber bands like strings on a banjo and create a variety of different sounds. Caution children to pluck the bands gently so they won't break.
    6. Help the children to discover that thin, tight bands produce high sounds and thick, loose bands produce lower sounds.

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    Challenge your kids to play lively tunes and enjoy musical sounds from making musical instruments from recycled items. They will enjoy being involved in every step - from collecting the recycled materials to performing in a homemade band.


    Shake, Tap and Play a Merry Tune by Tania K. Cowling [Fearon Teacher Aids, 1992]

    "Bash the Trash"

    Photo credit -