Make Your Own Musical Instruments

(Published on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 in The Daily Citizen newspaper, Dalton, GA.)

Make your own music shakers or maracas with materials typically found in recycling bins, like the plastic bottles pictured above. 

Make your own music shakers or maracas with materials typically found in recycling bins, like the plastic bottles pictured above. 

Enjoy the sweet sound of music any time by making your very own musical instruments from the materials typically found in recycling bins. Making their own instrument is a great way for children to get involved in reusing which is one of the three R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle. Once they have several different instruments they invite friends to play in their eco-friendly band. Here are instructions to make your own instruments like music shakers or maracas.

• Water Bottle Music Shaker: You’ll need a plastic water or soda bottle with a lid, dry beans, rice or pasta shells like elbows, and glue. Wash the plastic bottle and lid, remove the label on the outside of the container, and then set aside to dry thoroughly. Place at least ten dry uncooked beans inside the bottle. In addition to the dry beans, you can add uncooked rice or lentils, small pasta noodles, or small metal or plastic toys. What is inside the bottle will change the sounds made when the bottle is shaken.  

Place a thin line of glue on the inside edges of the bottle cap and carefully screw the lid back onto the opening of the bottle.  Set the bottle aside to dry so that glue will not fall onto the contents. Decorate the outside of the bottle with paint, tissue paper, or stickers to give it a festive look.  Tie ribbons around the neck of the bottle and curl the ends for a pop of color.  When dry shake the bottle and listen to the unique sound of your upcycled instrument.

• Maracas: Using the same instructions above, make a music shaker with a plastic bottle.  Add a handle to transform the shaker into a maraca, which may be easier for smaller children to hold. Make a handle by attaching two spoons with tape, one on each side, to the neck of the bottle. The handle of the spoons will become the handle for the maracas.  Wrap both handles with tape and decorate in the same style as the bottle. You could also attach a paperboard tube, a wooden dowel, or anything else that is lightweight yet long enough to be a handle. The Maracas typically come in pairs, so make two with a similar color scheme to complete your set.

• Balloon Bongo: Make a mini bongo for small hands to bang on with a clean tin can, balloon, and rubber bands. You’ll need a tin or bi-metal can that are typically used for soups, fruits, and veggies. Cut the lid completely off the can, preferably with a safe edge can-opener, and remove the label. Wash and dry the can to remove any food residue. Cut off the edge of the balloon where the opening is and stretch it over the top of the can. Secure the balloon onto the can with several rubber bands to finish the bongo. For extra noises from the same bongo put some rice on the inside of the can or provide your child with chopsticks to rub the outside ridges of the can.

• Outdoor Music Station: Add an entertaining music-making space to the backyard by stringing together and hanging metal cans, lids, and washers. Choose an area where items can be strung up safely and at the reach of small children. Depending on the age of the children, they may be able to participate in assembling the music station. Along with several lightweight metal objects will need thin string, twine, or rope that is appropriate for outdoor use, and a hammer and nail to make holes in the cans. If desired, paint the cans and other metal objects with outdoor grade acrylic paint and seal with Mod Podge Outdoor Finish.

To prepare the area outside tie string in a horizontal direction that will serve as the base to hold up the group of cans. The string can be tied from tree to tree or from one deck post to another. When using a wood deck or fence area small eye hooks can be installed instead. Using a hammer and nail punch a hole in the bottom center of any cans you may have. The cans will be displayed upside down. Run a string thru the hole and secure it by tying a knot on one end that will stay inside the can.  Tie the opposite end to the horizontal string and adjust the height as needed. 

Continue to add cans and more to increase the variety of sounds. Additional objects to add are large washers, mason jar mouth lids for canning, metal measuring cups, miss-matched pots, and old muffin tins. Since these items will be outside, arrange them in a way that they won’t collect rainwater. Replace the string as objects as needed. Children will enjoy banging on the outdoor music station with sticks or old large wooden spoons from the kitchen whenever they go outside. 

Liz Swafford is the Recycling and Education Program Coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority.  Have a recycling question?  Contact her at 706-278-5001, or e-mail