Elementary students love learning about different instruments! Whether you’re teaching in person, hybrid, or online, here are some great resources for teaching timbre and the instruments families of the orchestra.
If you’re planning a teaching unit on the instrument families, be sure to bookmark this page for quick access to all the links and ideas!
Instrument Families Lesson Plan Ideas & Activities
Elements of Music – Teaching about the orchestra instruments is so much more than just being able to identify the instruments by sight. There are many aspects of the instruments of the orchestra that will help students learn other aspects of music:
- Timbre – Learning to identify different instruments by their sound.
- Sound Production – Identifying how instruments are grouped based on how their sound is actually produced
- Pitch – Identifying the correlation between the size of an instrument and the range of notes that it plays
Teach Conducting – Conducting is a wonderful skill that ties learning about tempo, dynamics, and steady beat into your families of the orchestra lessons for a more complete music unit.
Use video of orchestras playing – Elementary students love watching the instruments in action. There are tons of amazing orchestras with surprisingly full YouTube channels, many with performances geared especially to children. A quick search will find you tons of great examples.
Try using movie scores – If you’re looking for some trendier music samples to listen to, try looking up movie scores. Kids love playing “name that movie”.
Links for your Instrument Family Lessons
Symphony Storytime – These adorable 10-min episodes are perfect as either an introduction or ending to your music class – they’d also be great as edutainment during snack time. Each one shares a story featuring accompaniment by an instrument from the orchestra, followed by a Q&A with the instrumentalist and a demonstration. My primary classes love them and they have sparked some great conversations about different instruments.
Carnegie Hall Listening Adventures – The Young Person’s Guide To the Orchestra – This online game features the entire Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten and teaches lots of great details about different instruments and the instrument families. It works great as a class activity on the smartboard, or can be assigned to individual students as a center activity or while working remotely.
Videos for Teaching Instruments of the Orchestra
Backstage with Bleeckie – This video is so silly but also adorable and primary students just love it. It also ties in nicely with the Carnegie Hall Listening Adventures (see above) because it uses the same piece of music. I love how Bleeckie asks the kinds of questions that a kindergartener would totally ask.
The Remarkable Farkle McBride
The Remarkable Farkle McBride is a fantastic book by actor, singer, and Broadway performer John Lithgow. It tells the story of a young musical prodigy who cannot decide which instrument he would like to play. After trying out an instrument from every family of the orchestra, he realizes that what he really loves most is the sound of all the instruments of the orchestra playing together – and so he becomes a conductor. In addition to the book itself, which has beautiful illustrations and fantastic language to describe the sounds of each instrument, there is also a recorded version, narrated by Lithgow himself, which uses original music to accompany the story.
George Meets The Orchestra
This little video from Australia is an adorable complement to the Remarkable Farkle book – a young boy named George visits a youth orchestra to learn about all the different instruments. Just like Farkle McBride, he discovers that what he really loves best is conducting.
Instruments of the Orchestra Grade Level Connections
In the Ontario curriculum, timbre (sound quality associated with different instruments) is addressed in each grade. While the instruments of the orchestra are most directly apply in grades 2, 3, and 4, you can see how they could also be applied in the other grades:
Grade 1 – vocal quality, body percussion, non-pitched and pitched percussion, environmental and found sounds
Grade 2 – classification of instruments by listening to their sound (wind, stringed, electronic, membrane, pitched percussion instruments)
Grade 3 – classification of instruments by means of sound production (strumming, striking, shaking, blowing)
Grade 4 – homogeneous sound of ensemble instruments (eg individual instruments of the orchestra or other performing ensemble)
Grade 5 – tone colour for particular purposes (eg use of trumpets for a fanfare, flutes for depicting birds, various instruments for creating specific moods)
Grade 6 – electronic sounds, orff ensemble (xylophone, recorder, pitched and non-pitched percussion), other ensemble sonorities (drum line, choir, guitar, marching band)
Instruments of the Orchestra Lesson Plans
These ready-made, printable music lesson plans instruments of the orchestra are available in my teacher shop. Each 4-lesson pack includes:
- easy to use lesson plans
- Powerpoint presentation files
These lessons are designed for non-specialists, so that you can teach music effectively even if you have no background in it. Click each unit cover for more information.
detailed lesson plan about musical instruments
Grade 5 Music Lesson Plans for April – Tone Colour$3.49
Grade 3 Music Lesson Plans for April – Timbre – Tone Colour and Instrument Families$3.89
Grade 2 Music Lesson Plans for April – Timbre – Instrument Families and Tone Colours$3.89
Grade 1 Music Lesson Plans for April – Timbre – Percussion and Vocal Quality$3.89