Musical Instrument Design

By Mrs. Debbie Donovan, Director of Music

DSC_6040Last spring, middle school teachers met to discuss ways to provide a greater variety of electives for our middle school students.  Our goals were to encourage thinking across the curriculum, increase collaboration among departments, and provide additional opportunities for STEAM projects.

As a result, YCDS middle school students can now choose among Time-Based Media, Board Game Design, Book-Making, and Musical Instrument Design, in addition to Music, Visual Art, Theatre, and Robotics electives. One of the greatest benefits of developing a new class is the opportunity to mold it to fit our needs and interests. Mrs. Donovan’s inaugural class in instrument design is a great example of how student input can help create a curriculum that is relevant, meaningful, and fun.


The instrument design class began the quarter by learning about the basic principals of sound. Our first attempt at applying these principals was to fashion recorders out of carrots—a feat that looked perfectly simple on the YouTube video. We excitedly drilled, scraped, measured, and blew into 25 carrots. Not a single one made a sound like a recorder. It turns out the video left out the part about the crucial ratio between the diameter of the hole drilled in the carrot and the hole that vents out the top. But all was not lost; the students ate their would-be recorders.

The class has successfully made several ideophones (instruments you hit), chordophones (instruments you pluck), and aeropohones (instruments you blow into). Tomorrow, students will begin making microphones out of cardboard and the graphite from pencils.  We plan to build more instruments and amplify them for an assembly performance at the end of May. Once the class has chosen the instruments they will use, they will compose a piece to perform for their classmates.

Developing a new class is filled with rewards as well as challenges, but we focused on using each failed project as inspiration for our next success.  We learned that tongue depressor harmonicas sound nothing like real harmonicas. We learned that sound equipment does not have to be complicated, and that middle school students can be exceptionally creative and resourceful. Most importantly, we learned it is great to be part of a school that gives us the freedom to create our own learning opportunities!