Let's make some noise!

Music is controlled sound, and musical instruments are ways to create controlled sound. Try building these soundmakers, or invent your own.

Bottle-cap castanets

You will need: two metal bottle caps; an old glove; craft glue.

Cut the index finger and the thumb off an old glove. (Ask permission first!) Put a few drops of glue on the inside of each bottle cap. Put your finger and thumb into the glove pieces and press the glued part of the bottle caps onto the glove ends. Hold the caps there for about 20 seconds, so the glue can set. Take off the glove pieces and set them down carefully. Let the glue dry completely.

To play: Slip your finger and thumb into the glove pieces. Click them together!

(Note: We've adapted these instruments from various Web sites. See the end of this article for sources and further information.)

Paper-tube trombone

You will need: Two cardboard tubes - one must be able to slide inside the other (try a paper-towel tube and an empty tube from plastic wrap); a thick piece of paper (construction paper or an old file folder); masking tape or duct tape. Optional: the top of a plastic soda bottle (the neck) or milk jug can serve as a mouthpiece. (Ask an adult to cut the bottle.)

Bend the paper into a funnel shape. Make the small end just big enough for the larger tube to fit into. Tape the paper cone onto the tube. Slide the smaller tube into the larger. It should slide smoothly. It it's too loose, you won't get the trombone slide effect. Wrap the smaller tube with tape for a tighter fit. (Don't wrap the whole tube. Just put a few turns of tape around the end that will stay inside the larger tube.)

To play: Press your lips to the open end of the small tube and buzz your lips. Practice sliding the tube in and out while buzzing to make higher and lower sounds. For a better mouthpiece, tape the neck of a soda bottle or milk jug to the open end of the small tube.

Mbira, or thumb piano

You will need: Three large bobby pins; pliers; a heavy-duty staple gun with 3/8-in. staples; a 6-by-6 in. piece of 1/2-in. plywood; a hammer.

Break the bobby pins by squeezing the bent end with pliers. When you pry the rubber-tipped ends apart, the pins will break in two. You'll have six pieces.

Ask a grownup to staple the six wires to the plywood. Start on the left. Attach one pin to the plywood with two staples close to the sharp end of the pin. (You'll "play" the rubber-tipped ends.) Hammer the staples all the way into the plywood.

Now bend up the rubber-tipped end a little so it is in the air and can vibrate. Staple the other pins into the wood, putting the staples closer and closer to the rubber-tipped end. The longer the pin, the lower the tone. As the bent pins get shorter, they will make higher tones.

The last, shortest pin will be stapled right in the middle.

Play by pushing down on a rubber tip with one finger and sliding your finger off. This causes the pin to vibrate. Each pin will vibrate at a different rate. The shorter the wire, the faster it will vibrate. The faster it vibrates, the higher the pitch.

Try putting the plywood base of your mbira on a cardboard box that's open at one end. The vibrating bobby pins will cause the air inside the box to vibrate, too, increasing the volume and changing the tone.

Box guitar

You will need: a sturdy metal loaf pan or shoebox (a shoebox-size corrugated box is better); and rubber bands. Optional: a paper-towel tube, sturdy tape.

The box must have an open top. Stretch the rubber bands around the box or loaf pan one at a time, using a variety of sizes. Space them out. Tape on a paper-towel-tube "neck" if you like.

Play by plucking the rubber-band "strings." Notice how the box or pan vibrates when the rubber band vibrates. Tune your guitar by making the strings tighter or looser across the open top.


You will need: Two or three paper-towel tubes; a box of round toothpicks; masking tape; plastic wrap; rubber bands; Popsicle sticks; a push pin; one cup of lentils or other dried bean.

Tape tubes together, end to end, to make a long tube. Reinforce the joint by taping a few Popsicle sticks around the outside. Decorate with markers, paint, glitter, etc., if you like. Cover one end of the tube with plastic wrap held in place with rubber bands. Use the push pin to poke holes carefully in the tube. Start at one end and space holes 1/2 to 1 inch apart. Spiral the holes to the other end. Blunt the end of a toothpick by pushing it on a hard surface. Put the pointed end into each hole, pressing it into the tube as far as it will go.

Pour the uncooked lentils or beans into the tube and cover the open end with plastic wrap and secure with rubber bands.

Play the stick by tipping the tube and letting the lentils "rain" down through the toothpicks. Be careful of the toothpicks!

Musicmaking resources

The castanets are adopted from Highlights for Children and are used with permission of Highlights for Children, Inc. These instruments were adapted from the following Web sites:


The "Bash the Trash" site sponsored by John Bertles is the source of the paper-tube trombone and mbira. Lots of ideas for other, simpler instruments are here.


This Girl Scouts of America "ideas exchange" site has a version of the box guitar. More for parents and kids to do here.


The site for STOMP, a percussion-oriented musical stage show, has instructions for the rainstick. More ideas for performance and discussion.


This is the site for the commercially sponsored In Harmony With Education Program for schools.

*Questions? Ideas? Comments? Please write: Kidspace, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115. Or e-mail: kidspace@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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