Monday, January 23, 2012

Rhythm Instruments

Welcome to WEEK 2 of "Montessori Music Week(s)" here at What DID We Do All Day? !

In Friday's post, Rhythm Instruments NOT to Buy, I posted about rhythm band instruments for home or classroom.  I talked about kits, such as the one in the picture above (example set from Cascio) that run between  $90-140.  One of my readers (thanks Mel!) let me know about a Hohner 6 Piece Rhythm Instrument Set that is available on Amazon for about $30 which, if you have your heart set on those types of instruments, is a really good price and a good-sized set for home use. I'm just not that excited about what's in it.  Many other sets are 15-piece sets (read:  filled in with extra rhythms sticks and many ways to jingle).  However, if you read my post on Friday, you know that I think that the instruments included in these kits are generally not fun or sturdy choices.

Today I would like to show you what I chose to put on our music shelf in our home classroom for two children.  My own kids have a "10-piece" set if you like to look at it that way.   If you are trying to outfit a larger classroom I would recommend that you double or triple the set accordingly.  I would also recommend outfitting the whole class with rhythm sticks which, at about $1.30 a pair, are very economical.

My mixed bag of life experiences includes several years in charge of purchasing and using these types of instruments with large groups of adults and children.  The recommendations I am making are for specific brands and instruments that I really liked, the children really liked, and that I found both economical and superior to other choices.

Here is some photos of our rhythm instrument basket:

Hmmm...the professional photographer at the instrument company managed to photograph the tiny instruments in their kits so that they look huge.  I've managed to photograph my large instruments so that they look small :(

I thought it might be nice if there was one concise description in one place in this post that lists what it contains:  One great tambourine, two-pair of rhythm sticks, one pair of 7" cymbals, one excellent guiro, two inexpensive but great triangles, and a couple pair of maracas.  I also recommend buying a good drum.  We have two on loan from friends.  Based on the specific instruments I will recommend, not counting the drum, you can outfit yourself with a similar collection for about $35...WITH the drum, $65.  That is a lot better than the $90 set pictured at the top of this post and you'll have great instruments that kids and adults will love.

The most expensive parts of a kit like this (not including the drum) are the tambourine and the cymbals.  There seems to be an unwritten rule that states "tambourines must cost a minimum of $20."  The tambourine the boys use is identical one I used in the classroom for years and was superior to all of the other 20 tambourines I had.  I splurged on it ($18) because of the combination of great sound and fun shape:

However, I also strongly recommend this tambourine:

I've used it, it sounds great, and it is a steal at only $10.

I think cymbals may be so expensive because they are brass.  Kids like BIG cymbals.  7" are a good size for the classroom.  My favorite economical choice are this pair by Rhythm Band.

They have a pretty good sound.  They are the best I've found. If you are expecting a big beautiful splash like in a Sousa march, you might be disappointed. You would need larger and/or more expensive cymbals for that.  (At least $60 for a 14" pair, a couple hundred for a GOOD 14" pair.)  In contrast, you can often find really great pairs of finger cymbals (little 2" cymbals) that have a great sound.  I used a few great pairs and some duds in the past.  I've never purchased any though, so I would recommend trying some out at the music store. Little girls like to choose finger cymbals sometimes.  Little boys always seem to angle for the biggest cymbals they can get.

There are some variations on these:  smooth or fluted, color, and length.  I like each pair to have one smooth and one fluted so the child can run the smooth stick along the fluted to represent longer notes.  I think the 8" and 10" sticks feel too short (although they may be good for very young children) but think the 12" and 14" feel great.  As I said before, I recommend getting enough of these for everybody.  They are fun when everyone has them, but not as fun when the kid next to you has the cymbals.

 For children, one usually finds the highly-breakable handled guiros like I talked about on Friday.  Otherwise, another common one is a big wooden fish (my students broke three of those over the years).   You can find some really cute ones shaped like frogs, grasshoppers or turtles starting at about $10 (price increases as size increases, the small ones are always smaller than you think they will be.  Oh, and F.Y.I., the grasshopper gets the best sound).  The benefit of those is that they can work double duty along with some continent work.

I thought I was going to get the boys a large grasshopper until I found this guiro:

I LOVE this guiro!  In my experience, this is a very unusual guiro.   It is made of sturdy plastic and shaped like the traditional fish guiros.  It has indentations on the bottom to encourage children to hold it properly.  At 8", it is a great size.  Unlike most guiros this size, it has three different ribbed sections each in a different size and spacing of ribs.  You can get a LOT of different sounds on this thing.  AND, it has an area where it can be hit rather than scraped so it can double as a wood block (now you can cross "wood block" off your list).  I also like that the mallet/scrapper is a little bit flexible which will prevent breakage somewhat (thin, rigid scrapers can be very brittle).

You can pick up a triangle just about anywhere. It is hard to mess up a triangle.  My favorite ones have a round ball hanger like in the picture.  I picked up triangles for the boys for $2 each at the craft store, they sound great, and they even came with extra ball holders.  If you lose your holders, you can order new ones online, or just use a rubber band or loop of yarn. Our $2 triangles are six-inch triangles.  As with all things, I find that if given a choice of different-sized children will always choose the very biggest one they can find.

If you insist on some kind of "jingle bell" instrument (I admit, they CAN be fun around Christmas), I like the jingle "cluster" version the best.

The wrist loops are cheaper than the cluster bells.  If you are choosing a wrist loop, get the nylon rather than the plastic because the plastic gets brittle and breaks.  None of the wrist loops are adjustable, even though you would think they would be.

We have a few choices of maracas at our house.  One is a large wooden handmade pair that are a souvenir from a trip that a family member took. They work really well.  We also have a couple of small plastic pair that I found for $1 a pair cheaply at a craft store.  Whenever I'm in a craft or toy store I try the various sets of maracas. 99% of the time they are duds, but every once in a while you'll find a THICK plastic pair (watch out for cheap, separating seams) that has a good sound.  It is a little more expensive to set out to buy a pair on purpose.  But, if you do, these maracas by Nino are really durable and have a great quality, loud sound:

The egg shaker version is just as good (although kids seem to feel more grown up and authentic with a handled pair), and more economical for a crowd because you get 4 pieces altogether:

The Remo fruit or vegetable shakes are great also, but more expensive.  They look super realistic (like food) are durable, and have great sounds.  They are usually sold  online in big sets, but you can usually find individuals for sale at a music store.  You can buy an individual online, but they are often $10 apiece that way.

That covers everything that I chose for our basket!   There is one item that is not pictured because it was backordered and I'm still waiting.  I wouldn't consider it a "staple" but I wanted us to give it a try. It is a pair of claves:

I've used claves successfully in upper elementary, but haven't tried them in lower.  I'll let you know how it goes.

There is one item that is on my wishlist for the future (I don't need everything right away!), just in case you are curious...a mini afuche/cabasa.  They are easy for kids to play, particularly in this smaller size.

I know I didn't get into the interesting topic of good drums.  This post was getting too long as it was.  I have written a separate post about drums and will try to get that up soon!

If you are looking for the rest of my series on Montessori Music, there is a tab at the top of my blog under the header, or they can be found here!

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  1. When I was teaching Iused a pair of chop-sticks per child. The advantage pf these is that the child can really get the rhythm side of things sorted out and, with more than one child playing, there is no instrument envy! I wouldn't use chopsticks for anything loud or impressive but as a good rythm instrument they are great (and quiet, and each child can decorate them with felt tip pens)

  2. Thanks you so much! This is a really handy guide. Now I must see whether I can source similar instruments in the UK.

  3. Thanks so much! I've been going through and adding things to our Amazon wish list, you should get commission from them! Any chance you're planning a post about some of the music activities you do with your boys...? hint, hint :)

    Do you know if those maracas in your picture are the Hohner mexican wood maracas? They are about $15 on Amazon and I've had them on our list for a while wondering if they were worth the extra... Link just likes maracas and I thought the look of them would be more appealing than the plastic ones.

  4. Thanks so much! I need to buy some more musical instruments. Do you have a good recommendation for a harmonica or a tin whistle?

  5. Mel,

    The maracas are from a roadside stand in Hawaii, or so I've been told. They don't sound nearly as good as our plastic ones or the plastic Nino ones I've used in the past. Sorry :(


    I can't really help you on that.
    I own a tin whistle that I use myself. It's just a cheap one, and as I flutist I think it's fine. My FIL brought it to me from Ireland though.

    Kids and harmonicas give me the creeps. They seem to just hold it in their mouths and breath in and out with little purpose. Also, they become such an incubator for germs I prefer not to think about it. I might feel differently if I had ever been able to figure out how to play a harmonica myself, but I'm hopeless.

    I have lots of advice about recorders however, and will post about that some time in the future. (No rush, kids really should be 8 or 9 before playing the recorder or their fingers will be too short.)

    1. Do you play the tin whistle? Oh, my childhood!

      I learned to read music on the recorder.
      Reading all your music posts I preparation. Thanks for so much great info.

    2. Oh yes, but not often! Part of my flute training was becoming proficient on baroque flute and several different types of recorders. The tin whistle is so similar to all of that it goes right in the mix. I have no interest in listening to a whole classroom of tin whistles at once though. Yikes. I don't know how the CC classes take it. When I taught classes of 30 to play the recorder I had VERY STRICT RULES about squeaking.

    3. Ah yes the squeaking! That was horrible. And a class of tin whistles, well I couldn't imagine. I usually heard them with a small band that also had accordion and fiddle and the like, so there wasn't a bunch of terribleness. :)

  6. Thanks! I've read a Waldorf blog advocating the tin whistle so I've given it a thought, but maybe I'll just stick to the recorder and buy some time!

    The germ factor is so true with harmonicas. Is there not a way to disinfect them? Anyway, love, love all your music posts!

  7. Becky,

    LOL! You are right, there probably is a good way to disinfect them (I picture dropping it in a bucket of rubbing alcohol like the combs at the barber).