Creating New Timbres

timbresOf course, there are really no new ideas, only new combinations (or arrangements) of existing ideas. So learning to combine and arrange ideas in new ways is an essential part of creative thinking. When young children have learned the concept of timbre and heard many different examples, they can “create” their own timbres using familiar instruments, objects and materials in new ways. The resulting timbres may not truly be brand-new, but they’ll be “brand-new” to their young ears.

Through developing the skill of creative music-making, children experience the excitement and empowerment of using their own creativity. 

joyful music

You can help your students “invent” new timbres in activities where you bring in a wide variety of instruments (sturdy, kid-friendly ones), objects like pots, plastic containers and wooden blocks, and materials like foil, sandpaper, and the rough side of Velcro tape. Then in small groups, or taking turns around the circle, invite children to try their hand at making new and interesting timbres.

To start them off, or to help re-charge their thinking if they get stuck, you can demonstrate a few of these ideas. Remember to model a playful, exploratory attitude, saying things like, “Hmm. I wonder what would happen if I did this?” Children are more likely to go out on a limb and try something new if the atmosphere is relaxed and unpressured. 

Here are some ideas for making “new” timbres out of familiar objects:

  • Put the object on the floor or another hard surface and play it
  • Cover it with soft fabric, then play it
  • Tap on it with a wooden mallet
  • Use a rubber mallet
  • Use a cloth-covered soft malletcloth mallet

  • Scratch the object with your fingernails
  • Rub it on the hard floor or carpet
  • Rub it with your fingers, or with your whole hand
  • Blow on the object, or into it
  • Brush it with a clean new toothbrush
  • Play it while letting it dangle from a string
  • Put it in a box, close the box, and shake it
  • Put it in a plastic container and shake it
  • Play it “backwards” (hit mallet with drum, hit striker with triangle)
  • Rub foil on it
  • Rub crumpled newspaper on it
  • Rub it with a styrofoam egg carton
  • Play it on a table while putting your ear on the table next to it (adds the  
    vibrations from the table and the bones in your head)
  • Tap the object with a metal, plastic, or wooden spoon

    This is a small sampling of the ideas my young students have come up with to create new timbres. Every week, sometimes every day, a child will play a sound in a way I’ve never seen or heard before, and I’ve been doing musical improvisation with young children for more than twenty years! Their endless, exuberant creativity continually inspires me.




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