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Strategies for keeping instruments in socially distanced music classes

I have been teaching music on rotary – with my own music room – for 12 years. Unfortunately, just this week I was told that not only does my room need to be used to spread out classes better (😭), I will have to teach music by going room to room with a cart. (😭) With NO INSTRUMENTS (😰😭😭)

Well… not exactly no instruments. It turns out it is not the instruments themselves that are the issue – it is the sharing of instruments between students/classrooms.

Once I was (mostly) finished feeling sorry for myself, I started to get creative. If you, like me, are forced into changing the way you teach music due to COVID, here are some tips.

  1. Plan unit-based instrument use. If you have enough instruments for one class to use (whether individually or shared, depending on your restrictions) then assign them to a single classroom for a set period of time (6 weeks, 2 months). Use them only within that classroom until the unit is over, sanitize them and/or let them sit for a week, and then assign them to the next classroom.
  2. Get a LOT of mallets. If students have their own mallets, then they can share percussion instruments without risking shared germs. I’ve discovered that it’s actually pretty easy to make your own mallets using dowel, floral tape, and yarn.
  3. DIY some instruments. You probably can’t afford to make properly tuned copper xylophones – but there are tons of other ways to make instruments – and I’m NOT talking about rice in an easter egg or jingle bells on a pipe cleaner.
  4. Plastic cups. Yes I know you don’t want to hear the cup song again, but cups ARE a fun, engaging, and super-cheap way to teach rhythms.
  5. Teach them to conduct. Conducting covers many curriculum expectations – including many of those that you would typically play an instrument to demonstrate – without any instrument. Plus, it’s actually really fun!

I hope these ideas will inspire you to keep some instruments in your classroom – and music in your music class! – even in this time of social distance and contract tracing.