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3-5: Exploring the Families of Instruments

by Leslie Cothern, Learn NC

Students will learn about the families of instruments and conclude the lesson by constructing a model instrument from one of the families studied.

A lesson plan for Grades 3–4 Music Education

Learning outcomes

The students should learn how each of the four (Five counting keyboards) families of instruments make or create the family specific sounds. Students will also make a drum, and play the instruments as a group activity

Time required for lesson: 3 Hours


Teachers will need: Instrument Charts, construction materials such as cups, papers, and tape.

Students will need materials based on how complex they wish to make their project. If this unit is done entirely in class, than the teacher would need to make sure that the students had the same materials. I have allowed my students to construct their drums as a homework assignment, which gives the students more flexibility in regards to material choices for construction.

Technology resources

Computer with projection unit or TV Adapter and sufficient speaker capacity for the presentation area. Microsoft Musical Instruments CD-ROM (or other software that displays and plays samples from each of the major families of instruments)


Students should be asked to write a short paragraph describing their favorite musical instrument. After writing the paragraph, the students should draw a representation of the instrument.

The Teacher should provide individual handheld examples of instruments relative to their desired outcome, i.e. just instruments of the Symphony Orchestra, or any instrument. Classroom charts may also be used to allow for student movement and exploration.


Step One:

Review the students activity concerning musical instruments. Demonstrate how most of the students choices had similarities.

Step Two:

1. Using the computer and projection device, run Microsoft Musical Instruments.

2. Explain to the students that you are demonstrating how to find information about specific instruments. Choose the Family button, and you will be presented with five icons representing each family: Strings, Brass, Woodwinds, Keyboards, & Percussion. Choose a family, and proceed to narrow the field of instruments until you have only one instrument on the screen.

3. As you proceed to the single instrument, comment on how many instruments share the same characteristics. Click on the Speaker Icon next to the instrument name to have the computer pronounce the name of the instrument, click on Speaker picture in the frame to have the program play an example of the instrument being played. Explore the other choices, as some instruments have sub-catagories that show the flexibility of the instrument in various styles of music. After exploring the single instrument, click on Contents to return to the main screen.

4. Ask for a student to name aninstrument, and then find it using the A-Z Icon. Depending upon how familiar your students are with computers, you could demonstrate other ways to find an instrument, such as using the Index button.

5. After you have demonstrated every option (such as printing, etc.) Proceed to the individual exporation faze of the lesson.

Step Three:

1. Divide your class into small groups dependent on the number of computers to which you have access. (7 computers divided by 21 students equal 3 students to a team).

2. Have each student find an instrument of their choice, and print the information/picture page. (For my purposes, I normally have the students choose one instrument from each family).

3. Have the students answer simple questions such as “What materials are used in the building of the instrument you have chosen? Examples such as Wood, Brass, Strings, etc.”

4. Have the team members compare their instruments and write a list containing what parts are the same and what parts or differnt. A Venn Diagram works wonderfully for this exercise. (Depending upon your class schedule, you will have to divide the steps into multiple days to accomplish all the activities)

Step Four:

From the information collected by the students create bar graphs representing the most popular family of instruments for your class. For example, you might 11 guitars, 4 trumpets and 1 timpani, which would translate into a bar graph indicating that string instruments are the most popular instrument for your class. Divide the class into small groups and have the students repeat the exercise for the instruments in their group. Allow them to label and color the graphs as they choose, and then present their findings to the class.

Step Five:

1. Explain that the construction of one of the families of instruments is relatively simple, and that you are going to teach them how to make a simple percussion instrument (drum).

  • Take a cup.
  • Place a sheet of paper over the cup.
  • Fasten the paper to the cup using tape or a rubber band.
  • Tap a simple rhythm on the drum.

2. Provide materials to your class and ask each to create a drum using the materials provided. Have the students decorate their drum to suit their own personalities. (You may also choose to have the students create a drum at home. You will end up with a much wider varity of instruments. Some will obviously be parent assisted, but all will function. This allows your more creative students to make drums with string sides, or multi-colored drawings, etc.)

3. After everyone has a drum, have the class participate in a call and response drum pattern. Allow each student to create their own pattern, and have the class play back each pattern.

Step Six:

Review the families of instruments. Make sure to highlight the main identifing characteristics of each family. Drum the class out the door!

Step Seven:



The students will have met their goals if they have successfully created a Venn Diagram, Bar Graph, and Drum. The drum will obviously be most remembered part of the lesson, but it will also allow for individual music creativity.

Supplemental information

Microsoft Musical Instruments is a product of Microsoft. Microsoft no longer manufactures this program. The software can be found at: .There is not a lab version, each cd-rom is individual.

Related websites


Every year the North Carolina Symphony comes to Whiteville. Most of my kids don’t hear classical music in their homes, and truly don’t recognize most of the instruments in the orchestra. They do recognize those used in marching band, and in popular music, i.e. drums, guitars, keyboards. I wanted to create an activity that allowed my students to explore the families of instruments in such as way as to find instruments that they were NOT familiar with, even if they were not orchestral instruments. I have had students who brought forth instruments such as the ocarina (which a former student of mine now creates as a hobby) from their exploration. This unit will also work (And take less time) with one computer with the teacher as facilitator for the exploration. Your bar chart becomes shorter, and the small group unit is eliminated. Additionally, the teacher will have to remember to allow the students some control over the choice of instruments, or they will likely have only “classical” examples.

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