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Classroom Activity: Make Instruments from Recycled Objects for Earth Day

April 20, 2018

Classroom Activity: Make Instruments from Recycled Objects for Earth Day

In observance of Earth Day, explore ways for you and your students to build your own musical instruments in the classroom or at home—using recycled objects from your surroundings! Learn how you can turn those plastic water bottles and empty buckets into instruments.

Craft: Make an Ocean Drum

What You Need:

  • Clear plastic round food container with a ridged lid—the larger the container, the better
  • Small colored beads, rice, tiny shells, small beans or seeds
  • Colorful electrical or masking tape
  • Paper and paint or markers
  • Glue or tape
  • 2 Pencils or chopsticks for mallets


  • Cut the paper the same size and shape as the bottom of the container.
  • Paint or color a design or picture on the paper.
  • Glue or tape the paper to the inside bottom of the container.
  • Fill with ¼ cup of tiny beads, rice, seeds or beans.
  • Place the lid on the container.
  • Tape the container shut using the colorful tape.

Ways to Play

  • Ocean sounds: Slowly tip drum from side to side.
  • Shaker: Move the ocean drum up and down or side to side, or any combination of these.
  • Drum: Use two chopsticks or pencils to play on the top of the lid.
  • Guiro (pronounced w?-r?): Use a chopstick or pencil to play the ridges on the side of the lid.


Activity: Build A Bucket Drum

1. The 5-Gallon Bucket

The heart of a junkyard percussion ensemble is the 5-gallon bucket. A versatile, nearly indestructible instrument, the bucket serves as the lead drum in the junkyard ensemble. The bucket is also a logical instrument: inexpensive, readily available, and durable. In a way, the bucket is to rhythm training what the recorder is to tonal training. Both are hardy, simple, and fun to play.

Musically, the bucket can provide a steady beat, articulate unison rhythms, or create a foundation for a group groove. Functioning like a hand drum in a world drumming ensemble, the bucket is versatile and can be played with hands, sticks, or mallets. Using buckets, a great percussion ensemble can be built for a fraction of the cost of other percussion ensembles.

Buckets are available at most home improvement and hardware stores for a few dollars each. School cafeterias and local restaurants are other sources. Condiments and other foodstuffs are often stored in 5-gallon buckets, which usually just need to be washed to eliminate any lingering stains or smells. Buckets will often have plastic or aluminum handles that should be removed with a simple, wedge-like lever (try using a wooden doorstop), screwdriver, or just elbow grease.

2. Constructing Drum Sticks and Mallets

Sticks can be made inexpensively out of half-inch wooden dowels. They are available in pre-cut 12-inch lengths from craft or hobby stores, or in longer lengths that can then be cut down. Make sure to sand any rough edges to avoid splinters. Prevent damage and injury by wrapping the sticks with duct tape or electrical tape. Start at one end and gradually wrap the tape around the stick, slightly overlapping each edge. To increase durability and prevent shards from flying off the stick, add a second layer of tape, or decorate with colored tape.

Mallets can be used to create a different timbre and can be made in several different ways. Using a dowel, wrap several layers of electrical or duct tape around the end of the stick until it is thick enough to create a low, bass tone. Alternatively, layer in folded paper towels with the duct tape to create a slightly softer mallet. Lastly, a cylindrical piece of foam, such as pipe insulation, can be duct-taped to the end of a stick. Avoid using masking tape, as it will easily break and tear.

There are other options to round out your junkyard percussion ensemble. The goal is to gather intriguing sounds that create great music. When any object can be considered an instrument, finding a place to begin can be overwhelming.

The following instruments can also work well as a core ensemble:

  • Shaker: Plastic bottles, soup or soda cans, and cardboard tubes and fill with uncooked beans: navy, split peas, and pinto; soup mix; rice, beads, and pebbles
  • Scratcher: A scratcher can be built out of any sturdy object that has ridges. Aluminum cans with deep ridges work especially well. You will need an aluminum can, a wooden craft stick or dowel, and duct or electrical tape
  • Glass bottle: Almost any empty glass bottle will do. Glass juice or soda bottles are preferable because they are light and easy for smaller hands to hold. Wine bottles work as well, and square olive oil bottles provide a different sound and feel. Glass bottles rarely break when played appropriately with a wooden stick. However, glass can break easily if it’s dropped—reinforce the bottle by wrapping several layers of duct tape around it.

Have ideas for other instruments you can make from recycled materials? Share with us in the comments below!

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