I am fortunate to teach in a school district with a strong music program, and supportive administrators at all levels. Even so, when it comes to purchasing materials for my classroom, money is scarce, so I have to make a very few dollars go as far as possible. In truth, I really don’t need a lot, and with Internet resources, I can more than manage on fewer funds than used to be possible. Here are some money-saving ways I have used to acquire resources for my classroom.
In my district, there is an approved list of vendors. If I need something, I have a much better chance of having the purchase approved if I order from the list. Vendors specifically in business to sell music products are not on the list, so I have to find vendors I wouldn’t ordinarily think of who have music supplies. For example, teachers order their classroom pencils, paper, dry erase markers and so forth from SchoolSpecialty.com. I order my office supplies from them too, but I also order music products. In addition to standard office and classroom supplies, they offer an inventory of music products, including classroom instruments, music stands, music chairs, blank audio CDs, recordings, audio equipment, and books. My music supplies are conveniently ordered as school supplies with my pencils, markers and masking tape; and no, I’m not receiving a commission or fee from them.
For recorded music, you just can’t do better than YouTube music videos. Searching YouTube music videos, I can find pretty much any piece of music I want to include in a lesson. With the YouTube App on my phone, I can play the audio of the videos directly to my Bluetooth speaker, and have total control of the playback from anywhere in the room. YouTube also puts music at my immediate disposal that I hadn’t planned on using, but that comes up during class. Having so much music immediately accessible makes illustrating points with additional examples convenient, and it also allows students to select music that they want to bring into a lesson. Before YouTube, those kinds of additions had to wait until the next class when the student or I could retrieve a CD and bring it to class. Of course, I have to be savvy about what I allow to be played in class, what with so many songs with inappropriate lyrics. Nevertheless, YouTube is free, has an extensive collection of music and is an effective classroom resource.
If you use boomwhackers in your general music class, you can save money by making your own. For very little money and about an hour of your time, you can have a complete diatonic set for a fraction of the cost of authentic ones. You can find directions here on how to make them. I have found that the tubes that go over florescent light tubes work well and cost even less than PVC pipe. Various other kinds of idiophones, including woodblocks, and xylophones can also be made. Having students make instruments is a great way to teach them how they work and principles of acoustics; it is just the sort of authentic, hands-on learning activity that is needed in today’s classrooms. For example, I like to teach students how a membranophone works, and then leave it up to them to collect and assemble an instrument that works on the same principles: it must have a frame that will also serve as a resonator, a membrane to hit that will vibrate enough to make sound, and it must have a way of holding the membrane tightly on the frame. Students must solve the problem of what materials to use and how to put it together. An empty oatmeal box is not acceptable, because it does not have a membrane, but an empty oatmeal box with the bottom cut out and a cloth or balloon stretched across one of the open ends and secured there will earn a student top grade.
Making instruments from what is available isn’t just an educationally sound project, nor is it just economical; it’s also a great cultural lesson. Music shops stocked with manufactured instruments made from synthetic materials have spoiled many of us. Authentic instruments such as rattles, drums and xylophones are made locally out of whatever resources are available, not in factories on assembly lines. Showing a child how to make a musical instrument, having him or her make it at home with parents as a family project, and then letting the child play his or own handmade instrument is better than sticking a mas produced one in his or her hand. The homemade instrument is fun for the child to play and show to friends, is a better representation of how most of the world really makes music, and is a source of pride for the child. Personally, I think there is already too much pre-fabrication in our classrooms. Photocopied pages too frequently have replaced hand-written work. There is something about taking your own notes, writing your own questions from the board, and yes making your own musical instruments that personalizes education, giving it more relevance. We need more of that; so much the better when it saves us money too.