Grade Levels: K-3

This page provides information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about percussion instruments. It is designed to complement the Percussion Instruments topic page on BrainPOP Jr.

Introduce different musical instruments to children and encourage them to create their own! This movie will explore different percussion instruments, including membranophones like snare drums and bongos, and idiophones like the triangle and xylophone. The movie will also explore percussion instruments from different cultures. We recommend listening to music together and explore beat and rhythm. You may want to screen the Pitch, Tone, and Beat movie to learn more or for review.

Review with children that a percussion instrument is a family of instruments that make sound when they are struck, shaken, or rubbed. Have children brainstorm different percussion instruments together. They may wish to draw pictures and write about how they sound. How are the percussion instruments played?

Explain that we use percussion instruments to create a rhythm or to keep a beat. In a band or orchestra, percussionists often keep the beat that other musicians follow. Watch videos of bands or orchestras together or listen to music and have children tap their feet along with the beat. What percussion instruments can they hear or see?

If possible, play a clip of a cartoon or a movie. Invite children to listen for percussion instruments in the soundtrack or in the sound effects. Explain that percussion instruments are often used to create sound effects, which are sounds that go along with performances to help bring them to life. If a character, such as Moby, falls on the floor, what percussion instrument can be used to bring the scene to life?

Remind children that some of the oldest instruments in the world are percussion instruments. In fact, anthropologists have found evidence of percussion instruments from about 25,000 years ago. Help children understand that for thousands of years, percussion instruments have been an important part of almost every culture. In parts of West Africa, people have used talking drums to communicate with each other. The musician drums a message or warning that can be heard in communities that are miles away. Many Native American communities hold drum circles to bring people together and share songs and stories. The drums are considered sacred and is a unifying power for the whole community.

Have children brainstorm percussion instruments that are struck with mallets or sticks. For example, the cowbell, wood block, and triangle are all played by striking them. Explain that when a person strikes the instrument, it vibrates back and forth to make a sound. Many drums have a hollow frame with a membrane that’s stretched across it. When the membrane is struck, it vibrates to make a sound. You may want to watch the Sound movie for review or further exploration. Talk about other percussion instruments that are struck when they are played, such as the steel drums (originally from Trinidad and Tobago) and the taiko drum, a traditional Japanese drum.

While exploring percussion instruments that are struck, ask children how they think the size of an instrument affects the pitch of the sound. Have children compare the sound of a bass drum to a snare drum. Which has the lower pitch? The bass drum’s pitch is very low because of its large size. In contrast, the snare drum’s pitch is much higher because it’s smaller. You can demonstrate this concept using a xylophone. The larger bars play lower pitches.

Invite children to think of percussion instruments that are struck with hands. The bongos are drums originally from Cuba. You slap and tap your palms and fingers in different areas of the membrane to make different sounds. There are two drums in the bongos, a small drum and a larger one. Have children predict which drum makes the higher sound. How do they know? Another percussion instrument struck with hands is the tabla from India. To change the pitch of the sound on a tabla, you press down with the heel of your hand and tap with your fingers. The darbuka is a traditional drum of Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East. Players can change the pitch of the sound by sticking their hand into the opening at the end. We encourage you to find samples of each instrument on the Internet and share them with children to introduce different world instruments and rhythms.

Have children brainstorm percussion instruments that are shaken or rubbed. A guiro is a percussion instrument originally from Puerto Rico. It has thick ridges and you rub a stick against them to make a sound. On some guiros, the ridges are of different sizes and vibrate differently. As a result, they play different pitches. The maracas, cabasa, and even the sleigh bells are all percussion instruments that are shaken to make sounds. The tambourine can be both shaken and struck to make sounds and create a rhythm. The West African shekere is a hollow gourd covered with beads or shells. You shake, twist, or strike the percussion instrument to create different rhythms.

Encourage children to create their own percussion instruments. They can use cans or jars filled with beans or tap different objects lightly with pencils to create a rhythm. If possible, start a percussion band with children! Listen to music together and invite children to drum along!