CNMN > Projects > Stay at Home Symphony! Found Objects Orchestra & Conduction Activity

Meredith Bates

  • Open (def: scores for unspecified instrumentation)
  • Found objects or art supplies
  • Voice
  • Early childhood
  • 5 to 12 years of age
  • 13 to 18 years of age
  • Adults
  • Seniors
  • Intergenerational
  • Education
  • Community associations
  • Family

Stay at Home Symphony! Found Objects Orchestra & Conduction Activity


From find­ing objects around the house (the recy­cling and ‘junk draw­er’ are trea­sure troves!) to turn­ing them into musi­cal instru­ments and dec­o­rat­ing them, to com­pos­ing a sym­pho­ny, to con­duct­ing the final per­for­mance! Kids will find a huge amount of joy in lead­ing this activ­i­ty, stretch­ing their imag­i­na­tions, turn­ing up their ears, and explor­ing their sound art poten­tial. The instru­ments can be any sound mak­ing objects the imag­i­na­tion finds poten­tial in. The sym­pho­ny is a frame­work: a sto­ry­line with a begin­ning, mid­dle, and end, depict­ed in a graph­ic score. The chil­dren will cre­ate the work and adults sim­ply facil­i­tate as much or as lit­tle as is nec­es­sary, based on the child/children. The final per­for­mance con­sists of the child/children using basic hand sig­nals, cue cards, or words to cue the orches­tra of musi­cians pre­mier­ing the Stay at Home Sym­pho­ny on their new­ly mint­ed ‘found object’ instruments.

Step by Step Instructions:

  • Take a look around your home for ran­dom items you think might eas­i­ly be trans­formed into sound mak­ing machines. Toi­let paper tubes, tin­foil take out con­tain­ers, old keys, dry mac­a­roni, and emp­ty egg car­tons are some of the things we’ve collected.

  • Pull out your art sup­plies and get crafty! Try attach­ing objects togeth­er to cre­ate new instru­ments. You might also attach string to hang the instru­ment or make a han­dle out of tape to hold the instru­ment. Imag­ine how you might drum on some­thing, blow through some­thing, strum something…what cool sounds can your found objects make? Per­haps you hook elas­tic bands onto nails to cre­ate some­thing you can strum, cut or, alter­nate­ly, glue tubes togeth­er to cre­ate dif­fer­ent sound­ing ‘horns,’ or dan­gle old keys or tin­foil take-away con­tain­ers from strings to cre­ate chimes or cym­bals. Any­thing goes! Once you’ve adapt­ed your instru­ments into sound mak­ing machines, you can dec­o­rate them how­ev­er you like; with paint, sparkles, stick­ers, string, you name it! The more colour­ful, the better.

  • Next, you’ll need some coloured pen­cils and a big piece of paper to com­pose your graph­ic score. For this step, imag­ine the sounds you’d like to hear and what draw­ings might match up with those sounds. I’ve includ­ed some exam­ples below. You might give each found object instru­ment that you’ve cre­at­ed its own colour on the score, so that when the play­er of that instru­ment sees their colour, they know it’s their turn to play. Or, you might draw a bunch of dif­fer­ent shapes that can be inter­pret­ed by the musi­cians in your Stay at Home Sym­pho­ny as sounds. A lot of dots or short lines might mean real­ly per­cus­sive stac­ca­to (short) sounds on the instru­ments. Swirly cir­cles or long lines might mean more con­nect­ed sounds. You can use height in your draw­ing, too. High sounds could be indi­cat­ed with mark­ings high­er up on the page and low sounds could be low on the page. Dif­fer­ent colours could be used to tell the play­ers what kinds of sounds to play. Or, you could sim­ply draw an idea of what you want to hear and use hand sig­nals to point to the musi­cian you want to play and how you want them to make their instru­ment sound in that moment.

  • Last­ly, set up a space for your big con­cert! You’ll need at least one per­son to play your instru­ments, but, prefer­ably, you’ll gath­er your fam­i­ly or friends togeth­er and have one per­son play­ing each instru­ment. You’ll be the conductor!


A Per­son­al Experience:


I first taught this Found Objects Orches­tra and Con­duc­tion project to a day camp of preschool aged chil­dren at a music school where I used to work teach­ing most­ly vio­lin. I drew from my expe­ri­ence as an impro­vi­sor, my knowl­edge of graph­ic score com­po­si­tion, and my brief intro­duc­tion to John Zorn’s com­po­si­tion, Cobra, which uti­lizes a sys­tem of con­duc­tion hand sym­bols and cue cards. All of these things mixed with the play­ful­ness, zeal, and chaos that any room full of preschool­ers will bring came togeth­er to cre­ate a mag­i­cal per­for­mance built from the ground up, coop­er­a­tive­ly, by the chil­dren them­selves. In the end, our class­room resem­bled a fan­tas­ti­cal scene akin to some­thing out of a Dr. Zeuss book, with colour­ful home­made instru­ments hang­ing from the ceil­ing, stretched from wall to wall, and bal­anced on chairs. The per­form­ers were assigned an ini­tial sta­tion equipped with an instru­ment to make sound with and then each child rotat­ed through the sta­tions and took turns at the conductor’s “podi­um.” When at the helm, so to speak, the con­duc­tor could use any means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion they want­ed to con­vey the sounds they desired from the per­form­ers. All in all, we had a blast mak­ing impro­vised music in the moment and exer­cis­ing our cre­ative minds. The chil­dren gained so much from the expe­ri­ence and came away from their final per­for­mance glow­ing with excite­ment and a sense of accom­plish­ment as a group.

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