5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

When Miss 22 months first started getting mobile (~10 months), I Montessori-ed (and in doing so, child-proofed) my apartment. In the process, I figured that we had to find a new arrangement for my husband's electronic keyboard because my baby would topple the keyboard stand and stool over frequently when she pulled at them.

I had two options: installing a baby gate to keep the keyboard out of reach, or placing the keyboard on the floor so she could access it without putting herself in harm's way. I decided to try the latter, hoping to make keyboard playing an inclusive activity for the entire family. The downsides were that the right posture and hand positioning could no longer be achieved when the keyboard is placed at floor-level and keyboard pedal use was also affected. Despite the inconveniences and limitations, we decided to give this new arrangement a try for 2 weeks.

We observed that my baby gravitated towards the keyboard multiple times a day with this new arrangement. Her interest in exploring the keyboard and level of focus when we played the keyboard grew exponentially. We decided that encouraging the curiosity and nurturing her budding appreciation for music outweighed the negatives.

Soon after, I also placed my husband's ukulele on a low wall hook which my baby-turned-toddler could access and strum a few notes at her will.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

With time, I increased the variety of instruments by placing a small basket of DIY music makers in close proximity to the keyboard and ukulele. I rotate the music makers placed in the basket to keep them fresh and appealing. These music makers are intuitive to play and don't require formal presentations of how to use.

I love that this 'prepared environment' for music has gradually become a place where my baby could unwind and independently explore music on her own. At 22 months now, she can turn on the keyboard on her own, tinker with the keys while singing "do re mi" and hum a few songs I frequently sing during our music sessions.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

I love that this easy music corner setup doesn't require a lot of work, yet provides a ready and rich learning environment for my little one to be exposed to music. The Montessori Notebook shares many inspiring Montessori ways to instill the love of music in young children.

Music can touch us in a way that nothing else can. No better gift can we give to the children than to open this door for them.”
– Dr Montessori

For the music maker exploration basket, I DIY-ed 5 simple musical instruments from upcycled household materials to put on rotation. The nice part is that when these DIY music makers get worn out, I can easily replace with a new DIY one with minimal cost.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies!

1. Tambourine

The tambourine comes from the percussion family and is considered a drum when it is struck and a rattle when it is shaken. It is commonly used to teach music to young children and is a really easy music maker to DIY.

Babies can hold the tambourine in their hands and play by tapping or hitting it with lots of creative freedom.

Trying Out DIY Tambourine for Toddler Music Activity

This is how I made the DIY tambourine, with sensory elements to make the music maker more enticing to my baby.

Materials:

  • 2 paper plates
  • Staple, hot glue gun or tape
  • A handful of dry grains or beans
  • Hole puncher
  • Metal loop rings
  • Decorative materials (foam stickers, pom pom balls, coloured markers etc)

Steps:

  • I placed a handful of beans onto a paper plate and then placed another paper plate on top of it symmetrically
  • Taking care not to spill the beans, I stapled the paper plates together (you can also glue them with a hot glue gun, or stick using tape)
  • Use a hole puncher to punch holes around the perimeter of the paper plates with roughly the same distance from one another (number of holes should match the number of metal loop rings you have)
  • Put the metal loop rings into the holes

It makes a great musical bonding session to sing along to baby's tambourine shaking.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

2. Button Tapper

The idea to make this DIY button tapper came from "The Toddler Busy Book" by Trish Kuffner.

Trying Out Button Tapper DIY Music Maker

I used both a magnetic clasp and spare button from my sewing kit to an outgrown sock.

Trying Out Button Tapper DIY Music Maker

Then, I slipped the sock onto my hand and tapped against different materials (window pane, toy car, book etc) to create varying sounds. It was useful to demonstrate how sounds could be produced through tapping so she could learn through observation.

She subsequently imitated and tried tapping on various surfaces. I personally find this button tapper a good way to introduce and teach rhythm.

Note: Ensure the stitching is tight so the small items don't come off and become choking hazards. If you're uncertain of how strong the stitches are, close supervision is required.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

3. Simplified Elastic Band Harp

I was inspired by the Elastic Band Harp tutorial by Felt Magnet and attempted a simplified version without the harp bridge using 3 simple household items - elastic bands, empty plastic wet wipe container and painter's tape!

DIY Elastic Band Harp for Toddler Music Time

It turns out that this makeshift harp actually works to hold a tune. My husband (who's more musically inclined) spent 15 minutes 'tuning' (delicately adjusting the positioning of the elastic bands) the makeshift harp and managed to play a recognisable tune from it, 将军令 (Jiāng Jūn Lìng / A General's Order).

Steps to DIY this simplified elastic band harp:

  • Clean an empty wet wipe container
  • Space out and string a number of elastic rubber bands around the container
  • Tape the elastic rubber bands to the container so it's not easy for your little one to pull them off
  • Pluck the elastic rubber bands, listen to the different sounds created by each of the strings and do some fine-tuning if necessary

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

4. Drum Set

I made this drum following the tutorial from "The Toddler's Busy Book" by Trish Kuffner.

I love the author's clever idea of putting a pencil and thread wooden spool together to make a musical drum stick.

The drum itself is an empty metal food tin turned upside down.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

I took out all of my baby's books depicting a drum and pointed to them to reinforce the association between drum imagery in books and the drum she was exploring.

Trying Out DIY Musical Drum for Young Toddlers

Through this activity, I realised babies do know beats and rhythms instinctively. My baby also loved striking different parts of the drum to make varying sounds.

For Chinese New Year this year, I made a special occasion drum, the Chinese rattle (pellet) drum, for my little one. It's a fantastic way to introduce little ones to new traditions and cultures through music.

5. Sensory Music Shaker

I have made DIY music shakers for my baby ever since she learnt to hold things with her hands. I usually place expiring beans or rice in empty bottles to make those DIY music shakers.

I came across VOSS artesian plastic bottles one day and found the empty bottles a good candidate for making sensory bottles. They have sleek, cylindrical shapes and the quality of plastic doesn't tarnish or scratch easily in the hands of a baby, even with frequent falls to the floor.

DIY Nature Inspired Sensory Bottles for Toddlers

I used a VOSS plastic bottle to create a beautiful, nature-inspired sensory bottle which houses a small insect ecosystem. I like that this attractive sensory music shaker provides a stronger sensorial experience, engaging my little one's sense of sight in addition to hearing and touch.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

Chinese Phrases to Use During Music Exploration

When my little one is engrossed in self-motivated music exploration, I observe from afar and am mindful not to interrupt her train of thought. Only when she looks up for affirmation or seeks my participation do I join in.

I try to use Chinese in our conversation as we explore the music maker or create music together. I keep my language non-technical as I'm more keen in nurturing a love of music than teaching the technicalities at this age. Additionally, I try to encourage creative expression of music by refraining from being directive with how the music makers and instruments were used.

These are some of the Chinese phrases I used during our music exploration sessions:

- Introducing her to my husband's musical instruments

这是爸爸的电子琴
Zhè shì bà ba de diàn zǐ qín / This is Daddy's electronic keyboard

这是琴键, 有黑白两种颜色
Zhè shì qín jiàn yǒu hēi bái liǎng zhǒng yán sè / This is a key, there are two colors for the keys - black and white

这是电子琴踏板
Zhè shì diàn zǐ qín tà bǎn / This is the keyboard pedal

爸爸用手指弹奏
Bàba yòng shǒu zhǐ tán zòu / Daddy is playing the piano using his fingers

看!爸爸可以弹很多歌曲,您喜欢哪一首?
Kàn! Bà ba kě yǐ tàn hěn duō gē qǔ, nín xǐ huān nǎ yī shǒu? / Look! Daddy can play many songs, which one do you like?

这是爸爸的小吉他*
Zhè shì bà ba de xiǎo jí tā / This is Daddy's small guitar

这是琴頭
Zhè shì qín tóu / This is the guitar head

这是琴頸
Zhè shì qín jǐng / This is the guitar neck

这是琴身
Zhè shì qín shēn / This is the guitar body

爸爸用手指拨掠过琴弦
Bàba yòng shǒu zhǐ bō lüè guò qín xián / Daddy strums the strings using his fingers

*I refer to the ukulele as a small guitar when conversing with my little one because I feel that the Chinese name for ukulele is too much of a mouthful for me to use casually - 夏威夷四弦琴 (xiàwēiyí sì xián qín). As my little one grows in communication and memory retention ability, I would clarify and introduce the right term at a later time.

- Introducing her to the DIY music makers

用双手敲鼓
Yòng shuāng shǒu qiāo gǔ / Beat the drum with both hands

用鼓槌打鼓
Yòng gǔ chuí dǎ gǔ / Hit the drum with drum sticks

用手指弹奏竖琴弦
Yòng shǒu zhǐ tán zòu shù qín xián / Play the harp using fingers

摇铃鼓
Yáo líng gǔ / Shake the tambourine

敲打节拍乐器
Qiāo dǎ jié pāi yuè qì / Tap music beats using the button tapper

摇音乐瓶
Yáo yīn yuè píng / Shake the music sensory bottle

- Chinese descriptions I used in my conversation with my toddler as we explored the music shakers

哇,你是小小音乐家!
Wa, nǐ shì xiǎo xiǎo yīn yuè jiā / You're a budding little musician!

你很享受音乐!
Nǐ hěn xiǎng shòu yīn yuè / You are enjoying the music!

我感受到你的热忱!
Wǒ gǎn shòu dào nǐ de rè chén / I feel your enthusiasm!

听这朗朗上口的节奏!
Tīng! Zhè lǎng lǎng shàng kǒu de jié zòu / Listen to this catchy tune!

听这声音好优美!
Tīng zhè shēng yīn hǎo yōuměi / The music sounds so beautiful!

听这声音好宏亮!
Tīng zhè shēng yīn hǎo hóng liàng / The music sounds really loud!

听这声音好清脆!
Tīng zhè shēng yīn hǎo qīng cuì / The music sounds so crisp and clear!

听这抒情的音乐。。。
Tīng zhè shū qíng de yīn yuè / Listen to this lyrical music...

听这音乐富于变化!
Tīng zhè yīn yuè fù yú biàn huà / This music is full of tonal changes!

你能用力敲鼓吗?
Nǐ néng yòng lì qiāo gǔ ma / Can you hit the drum hard?

你可以轻柔地弹奏乐器吗?
Nǐ kě yǐ qīng róu de tán zòu yuè qì ma? / Can you play this music instrument gently?

你能快速弹奏那把乐器吗?
Nǐ néng kuài sù tán zòu nà bǎ yuè qì ma? / Can you play this music instrument fast?

音乐让我们心情愉快
Yīn yuè ràng wǒ men xīn qíng yú kuài / Music puts us in a happy mood

你边弹,妈妈边哼曲调。。。
Nǐ biān dàn, mā mā biān hēng qǔ diào... / Mama is going to hum the tune to the song you're playing

让我们一起玩音乐!
Ràng wǒ men yī qǐ wán yīn yuè / Let's play music together!

I found these two websites useful for researching and cross-referencing technical music terms in Chinese. This is the Chinese wikipedia page for the piano and a corresponding one for the guitar.

Benefits of Music for Babies

  • Emotional awareness is enhanced as babies can associate and regulate their emotions to music.
  • Motor planning and control are improved as babies refine movements to produce different sounds with music makers and dance to music.
  • Cause and effect learning is reinforced through exploration of music makers (i.e. when the drum is struck with the drum stick, a thud is produced).
  • Language development is boosted when music-making is accompanied by singing.
  • Music provides a great outlet for self-expression and creativity.
  • Caregiver and child bonding is strengthened through dancing and singing to music together. When music is learnt in a group setting, social skills are built when babies explore musical instruments alongside other children, observe others in music-making or take turns to try musical instruments.

I wish you a wonderful music-making time with your baby!

To follow our play adventures, check out @miraculove_sg (Instagram), save our pins or join A Montessori-inspired Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.

5 DIY Montessori Inspired Intuitive Music Makers for Babies

Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.

Hi! We are Yunnie & Limin and we used to design customised wedding invitations in Singapore. If you’re here for that, thank you but we no longer design and are sorry that we can’t be a part of your special day. But we welcome you to hang around if you have little people in your life whom you interact and play with. Miraculove is now an education website for caregivers to be inspired by our heart and handmade play ideas, so everyone can make learning fun and stimulating for babies and toddlers.