Musical Instruments for Toddlers

Child banging drum. 19th century trade card. Boston Public Library Flickr collection

Child banging drum. 19th century trade card. Boston Public Library Flickr collection https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Among the many activities for toddlers you might try, making music together is one of the most precious gifts you can give to your children and their friends. It is a valuable part of early childhood education, which gives them a route to enjoyment and pleasure for the rest of their lives. Most important of all, making music is fun! Toddlers love to make a noise. Channelling that urge into music-making gives toddlers a way in which to release their energy and express their emotions. They can march, dance and sing to the music as well as play instruments. Read on for ideas to stimulate an enjoyment of music in your little one and ideas for products that may help.

Percussion instruments are an ideal start

We have all heard of highly gifted musicians who mastered difficult instruments while still tots. However, I believe that percussion is the best place to start in most cases to show your little one what enjoyment there is in music. Playing percussion instruments teaches children coordination and helps them to develop a sense of rhythm, which is fundamental to any type of music making.

Percussion playing probably started when primitive people clapped their hands and beat sticks together in time to their singing. You too can start by encouraging your children to clap in time to music, or getting them to beat saucepans with wooden or metal spoons. However, you can enhance your child’s enjoyment by providing a variety of  musical instruments, which can be shaken or beaten to produce all sorts of different sounds.

Percussion instruments to try with your toddler

Here are some suggestions for different percussion instruments, which can be enjoyed by very young children.

Instruments for shaking

You can make your own shakers at no cost from things you have in the house. Try putting dry beans, lentils, rice, sugar or pasta into metal, plastic or glass containers for different sounds. Be sure to tape up the container well so it cannot be opened by inquisitive little fingers.

There are also very many brightly coloured, child-safe and cheap musical instruments for shaking available to buy online. Choosing carefully means you can be sure that your child will have an instrument that is safe and gives a quality sound.

Maracas made the traditional way from gourds, such as the ones you may have brought back from holidays, are fragile and not at all suitable for toddlers.  The cheerful brightly colored Hohner maracitos are a much better choice for toddler percussion instruments and cost very little. They are smaller than standard maracas and thus the perfect size for tiny hands. Even little ones under the age of one year can have fun with these.


Egg shakers work on the same principle as maracas, but are even smaller and lighter and suitable for the smallest hands. To complete the plastic maracitas above, why not get some wooden egg shakers. The different sounds obtained with wood and plastic will help your toddler learn that different materials have different properties. Even better, the egg shakers shown below are fair trade products, so your purchase will be helping less advantaged communities in developing countries.

Tambourines with a membrane as well as jingles can be shaken or struck to give a variety of effects. Some toy tambourine are poor quality and make a ghastly sound. It is worth paying a bit more and getting a proper tambourine as used by stage performers. The Remo radiant/prismatic models have a membrane that changes colour under a light. This will add to your child’s interest and enjoyment.


However, tambourines are usually recommended for children aged 3 years and older. For a younger child, a jingle stick that just has the jingles used on tambourines might be a better choice, because it is much easier to control. Meinl are a quality brand and their sticks will last your children for years.


Instruments that are struck

The tambourines mentioned above have already introduced the concept of an instrument that can be struck, in this case with the hand. There are however many more instruments that are struck and in fact these types of instruments are usually what people think of when they hear the word percussion. Again, you can improvise with many things in your own home, for instance a saucepan banged with a spoon as mentioned in the introduction above. Even with that simple solution, the size and thickness of the pan, the metal it is made from and whether it is banged with a metal or wooden spoon will give your child different experiences with sound.

These explorations can be taken further with other types of struck instruments that you can purchase.

Simple struck instruments

Simple struck instruments are  either hit together or beaten with a stick. Distinctly different sounds are obtained, depending on whether the instrument is made of wood or metal.

A wooden crow sounder hit with a mallet gives a clear note that fades away rapidly.

A steel triangle hit with a steel rod produces a note that lingers unless it is dampened by touching the metal.

Wooden rhythm sticks come in pairs.  One stick is serrated to produce a rasping sound when the other stick is stroked along it. Alternatively, one stick is used to strike the other one.

Metal cow bells chime when struck.

This fabulous set contains twelve different high-quality instruments to strike or jingle, as well as a book of “Rhythms, Rhymes & Songs” to give inspiration. It’s described as a classroom resource but of course would be great at home, where you child could explore all the many different sounds. What is more, there are enough pieces in the set to use in group play with friends or in a home edders session. While the price for the set is a bit high, it works out as extremely good value per piece.

A big drum is the heart of any percussion group. Very large drums can be expensive and also difficult for small children to handle. A quality drum will cost significantly more than simpler percussion instruments, but it is worth spending a bit extra to get a durable drum with a decent sound. The Remo Kids Percussion, Floor Tom,  is a good size for smaller children and reasonably compact for storage. Nevertheless it makes a rich sound when played with hands, mallets or sticks. It has received many glowing reports from satisfied buyers.

Lastly, instruments such as xylophones or glockenspiels, are important because they form a bridge to learning even more about music. Since they are used to play a number of notes with different pitches, they give children an opportunity to explore the possibilities of arranging notes to form a tune and also of learning the first elements of harmony. However, even a small toddler will enjoy hitting the different note at random! For the smallest children aged from 12 months upwards, the xylophone/glockenspiel made by the Israeli company Halilit, and distributed by Hohner in the US, definitely tops the popularity stakes on both sides of the Atlantic. The design emphasizes safety, so the bars cannot fall off nor be pulled off, and the rounded corners mean there is no danger of cut and scratches. The mallet also features a child-safe design. However, the musical side is not forgotten either, because each bar is electronically tuned so as to provide a perfectly pitched note.

How to have fun with children’s percussion instruments

Spread the fun by inviting your children’s friends to come and join in the music making.

I f you sing or play a musical instrument, you can get the children to accompany you. Alternatively, play their favourite CDs, grab a percussion instrument yourself and show them how to follow the beat.

Have the children march round, beating out the timing of their steps.

Concentrate on the percussion instruments alone. Get the children to listen how different instruments sound when they are played together. As they gain skills and confidence, you might find you have a little samba school forming!

Investigate whether anyone offers regular musical activities for toddlers in your district. If you find you enjoy helping children make music, you might even consider setting up such a group yourself as a small business venture.

These early adventures with percussion will help your children to develop a love of music. Perhaps they will go on to play other musical instruments. Or perhaps you will find yourself with budding concert percussionists like these fabulous kids from the samba band of the M&M Music Academy in Cape Town



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