Children’s voice – choosing new instruments

When the Pelican Primary School Choir sang at the Mayor’s Christmas event last week, we received a performance fee of $400, to put towards new instruments. There are lots of instruments I wanted to buy, and to have in the music room – and with the current excellent Christmas sales on at the moment, it seemed a perfect time to stock up on djembes for the school.

However, I was inspired by the half-day conference that I attended last Friday on Children’s Rights, and decided to let the Choir members decide how the money should be spent. These are not children who engage well in discussion (they tend to get fairly boisterous, fairly quickly), but I decided to give it a go.

Initially, I’d hoped to get a representative from the music shop to visit the school during choir time, with a van full of instruments for them to inspect and choose from. I’d imagined how I would prepare a kind of Preference Sheet for them, with pictures of the instruments, and price per unit, so that they could mark the ones they liked best and see if they could make their choices add up to $400. It would have been a nice integrated class for them, draing aupon an authentic task.

However, it was too close to the end of the year to organise something like this.

Part of me just wanted to order five djembes and be done with it. I know they will get used, I know the kids will like them…. I really had to wrestle with this side of myself, as I knew it was driven partly by convenience and simplicity.

In the end, I concocted the following plan:

  • I drew a list of 6 instrument options on the board (all things that I knew we didn’t have and could make great use of), and placed alongside each picture the instrument cost.
  • I told them they had $400 to spend.
  • We talked about how the small djembes were half the price of the big djembes, that the big ones might sound better, but that the small ones were a good size for the younger students and still sounded pretty good;
  • We talked about how we could buy a new xylophone or metallaphone, but that this would use up all of our money on one instrument (but that this was a very popular instrument for all the students).
  • We tried out some combinations of instruments and costs on the board as examples.
  • Then I gave each child a piece of paper, and asked them to list their three favourite instruments, numbered 1-3. They could propose how many of each instrument they would like to buy too.
  • I then placed a mark beside each instrument that was voted for. We looked at the most popular choices and worked out some possible combinations of instruments and quantities. We voted on our favourite and emerged with a clear winner.

The adding up proved too hard for most of them. But that didn’t matter. I am also not sure how many of them understood that they were being asked to choose the instruments because they had sung in a special concert and been paid. (Having said that some of them understood. They kept asking why they couldn’t just have the money).

In the end, they chose:

  • three small djembes
  • a vibraslap
  • a large cabassa
  • a pair of juju shakers (made from seed pods).

I think they were very money-conscious in their choices – most made a point of choosing the less expensive instruments. However, they all liked the idea of a new metallaphone – they just didn’t understand that this would use up all their budget.

It was a great exercise and I’m glad I asked for their input. It’s the right way to make these choices, I’m sure. Here are some examples of their ballot papers:

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3 comments so far

  1. Piano Teacher on

    Congrats! You have motivated your students and be able to bring out the best in them. Thanks for sharing this to your readers. You’ve got a very nice blog here – very interesting and useful. Your thoughts and ideas are good music teaching resources that most music educators can use today. The activity you shared above is really a good one; it can develop students’ creativity and allow them to practice independence as well as utilize their freedom of choice. These innovative and creative techniques and activities can surely be enjoyed and appreciated by our dear students. Thanks again and more power. Happy holidays!

    • musicwork on

      Many thanks for your comments! Sadly the instruments didn’t arrive at the school before the end of term. I hope that, when school starts back in Feb, the choir students will remember the instrument choosing process and see how their preferences were honoured. I hope to do more of this kind of exercise.

  2. Piano Teacher on

    Congrats and more power. Keep on sharing many great things about music, teaching and music teaching both as passion and a profession. Let’s teach music today. Enjoy!


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