Students Find their Rhythm with Homemade Instruments

Homemade music kits help students keep the beat while staying safe and healthy

As the live performance in teacher Krista Mueller’s music class drew to its finale, student teacher Spencer Hawkins plucked out the last notes on his bass guitar, accompanied by students playing – filled plastic eggs and stadium cups?

“Very good!” the Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary teacher cheered as she tapped along with thin wooden dowel rods. “Be sure to scrape your pool noodles slowly to sustain the last sound.”

Students at Breckinridge-Franklin using their homemade musical instruments

Homemade musical instruments such as these are filling an important role now that schools have reopened with safety precautions due to COVID-19.

“It allows them to explore different musical sounds,” Mueller said, “and that allows them to take their learning home, where they might not have a xylophone or drum, but they probably have some type of plastic cup.”


Thanks to assistance from Louisville Metro Councilwoman Nicole George and Louisville Public Media, more than 1,800 students across seven elementary schools are finding their rhythm with the homemade music kits.

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Schools usually have one set of instruments used by multiple classes, according to Paul Robinson, JCPS music instructional lead. As students returned to in-person learning, having individual instrument kits became a high priority. Many elementary music teachers are also traveling to students’ homeroom classrooms, instead of the students coming to a music room, making it difficult to transport instruments, even if they could be sanitized between use.

Robinson identified household items that Louisville Public Media purchased in bulk online.  He and several JCPS music teachers then assembled the homemade instrument packs, which were distributed to classes for Semple, Layne, Breckinridge-Franklin, Zachary Taylor, Indian Trail, Kennedy Montessori and Waller-Williams elementary schools.

The music kits look significantly different from what students are used to having in music class: dowel rods wrapped with duct tape serve as rhythm sticks, and plastic stadium cups double as drums.  Plastic eggs filled with popcorn are now shakers, and sections of foam pool noodles, sliced in half, are scraped together to create long and short sounds.

Some of the items in the kits aren’t innately musical: the kits contain scarves so students can respond to the music through movement; sheet protectors and dry erase markers for reusable work sheets; and animal figurines, so students can create a story with figurines, and then create music to tell that story.

In a recent music class, students could choose what ‘instrument’ to play.  Some drummed on plastic cups with dowel rods, while others shook plastic filled eggs to a beat.

“They are really enjoying making music with all these different sounds,” Mueller said. “Definitely the different percussion is a favorite because it allows them to play along and make the music themselves, even when they don’t have the regular instruments to play on.”

“It’s actually more fun, in my opinion,” said fifth-grader Bella, as she scraped two sections of a pool noodle together.  “I never thought that you could make music with things around the house, but Ms. Mueller taught us that you can make music with just about anything.”

Regardless of what tools they use to make music, students benefit from musical instruction, Robinson said.

“I always say, ‘music is the most important class,’ and I really believe that,” Robinson said. “These are experiences where students connect with a deep part of themselves and they share that with the rest of their class, and it gets to our humanity.  I don’t think any other class can do that quite the way music can.”