I’ve always loved playing instruments that are new (to me). Give me an instrument I’ve never played before, and I’ll be in bliss for hours. It’s a natural interest, but I think it serves a useful purpose too. It reminds me what it’s like to be a beginning instrumentalist with zero muscle memory and nothing but my own determination to guide me.
For teachers in the states, now is a good time to look ahead to winter break and consider what music you can make just for fun. If you too would like a little challenge, and a reminder of what it’s like to start fresh, here are some of my favorite instruments to try.
I first became interested in ocarinas during a trip to Dragon Con a few years ago. I impulsively purchased one and wondered how it might be used in an elementary music classroom. The company that I purchased the ocarina from was kind enough to give me the name of a teacher who was doing just that! You can read that interview HERE. If you choose to try the ocarina in your classroom, be sure to check out my ocarina fingering charts HERE.
What I love: The purity of sound.
The Challenge: Keeping my pinky down!
I know that the ukulele continues to be all the rage right now, but I still prefer my acoustic guitar. The sound is rich, full, and soothing. I also find the guitar more comfortable to hold and play than my ukulele, but that’s entirely subjective. I mostly use the guitar as accompaniment while I sing, and most of the songs I use require only three or four chords. There are many websites offering chord charts; Chordie.com is one of my favorites. It offers a huge library (for both guitar and ukulele), you can transpose songs, and you can save your favorites to your songbook if you sign up for a free account.
What I love: It’s a simple accompaniment for my voice.
The Challenge: Switching to and from barre chords.
I’ve had a kalimba since my first year of teaching, but my husband bought me a new one this year, and I’ve loved having it in my collection. The Kalimba (also known as a thumb piano) is a westernized version of the mbira. It’s sound is similar to that of a music box. It’s also one of the more difficult instruments I’ve played because the metal tines are staggered in pitch, rather than moving step-wise like on a piano. In addition, I find the tabs baffling, so I mostly play by ear. I know how to pick my battles…
What I love: The timbre could put a classroom full of kinders asleep (not really, but it is beautiful).
The Challenge: Remembering that the tines are positioned differently than piano keys.
If you want to make your students laugh, you definitely need to try the nose harp! The nose harp is a plastic instrument, which fits under your nose and over your mouth. You blow air through your nose, which travels through the instrument creating a whistling sound. From there, you can adjust the pitch of the whistle with your mouth cavity. Here’s a fun video to show you how it looks and sounds.
What I Love: It’s hilarious.
The Challenge: Keeping each pitch perfectly in tune.
Now it’s your turn. What instruments do you love to play for fun? Let me know in the comments section!