Big Outdoor Musical Instruments

16 January 2011 · 7 comments

in Art & Music Outdoors, Developing School Grounds & Outdoor Spaces

Big outdoor musical instruments are a lot of fun. It’s possible to buy or make tunes and untuned percussion instruments. If you are buying an instrument, ask to hear a recording of the sound it makes when played. Do not purchase instruments that have an irritating sound, unless there is a distant corner of the playground where they can be tucked away.

This is an aesthetically pleasing and beautifully sonorous instrument at the Cowgate U5 Centre, Edinburgh

Consider where to site the instruments. Near a performance space often works well because the music can enhance any outdoor performances. Some instruments work better under a canopy or in a sheltered space, depending on the acoustics. Also think about their use all year round. Materials expand and contract depending on the temperature and/or water that seeps into the wood or joints. This can affect the tone and sound produced.

Check that the price includes installation (Thanks Kirsty Robertson for this photo)
Remember that additional instruments can be brought outside so that a whole class or large group can work together. Consider the best location too. Sometimes right outside a classroom can be quite disruptive for a class working inside, but very handy for a music room to have an outdoor extension.

Here’s a teacher taking a piano outside to do some outdoor music!
In the photo below, the glockenspiel in the background can be played as a duet! The four fixed drums also allow for cooperative play, but they are also solid and strong enough for little children to climb on and use as open-ended structures in different types of play.

Ensure there is space for a homemade music or sound wall near by. Washing lines for hanging up items to tap or a tree from where objects can dangle are helpful too. Have a look at the music wall video on the Filth Wizardry blog. It’s been made from unwanted items. Teacher Tom has also designed a very practical sound structure for similar purposes. A really helpful blog post comes from Amy at Child Central Station which has a step-by-step guide to the homemade instruments in her back garden which teachers or parents will find interesting.

There are many sculptors and artists who can make bespoke musical instruments at a similar price to playground equipment suppliers. Designing and inventing musical instruments makes for an interesting interdisciplinary design project.

This is the xylophone at Inverary Primary School
Bodgers are green woodworkers. They can come and set up a working lathe on-site and help create some natural wooden instruments. For more information have a look at the Green Woodworkers website. This can involve children and the result are instruments that blend into a natural space quite easily.

This musical turtle is hidden in the forest for children to find during a Nature Nurture session
I’d be interested to know your thoughts and ideas about music outdoors and what works for you.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jenny January 18, 2011 at 12:59

This is one area we are sorely lacking in in our outdoor area. We have a banging post we made by nailing pots and pans to a post, but that is it. I’m not sure what else would work – or what we could afford to add. I love the big instruments in your photos but am thinking they would all be pretty expensive.


child central station January 18, 2011 at 14:04

Thanks for linking up to our blog. I always love the continued inspiration you give for improving our outdoor space!


Juliet Robertson January 19, 2011 at 18:03

Hi Jenny

I think experimenting with cheap homemade instruments from different loose parts is the way to go.

All the examples in the blog posts of the big instruments were paid for through fund raising, accessing grants or through ring-fenced funding rather than a school’s “Per capita” or “equipment” budget.

My own preference is to hire an artist, sculptor or talented craftsperson who works with children to create a bespoke product that is a source of interest and beauty as well as sound.


Peter February 16, 2011 at 05:08

Hi such a nice post i have some great thought about music want to share with you


Juliet Robertson February 16, 2011 at 19:36

Hi Peter – Get in touch via my website


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