Making Clay Musical Instruments: A joint lesson with the music teacher.

Satisfies Art Standards: 1, 5, 6

Satisfies Music Standards: 1, 3, 4, 8 + Science/Math (Acoustics)

This lesson can be done with nearly any age group from kindergarten to high school by eliminating certain elements, changing requirements/expectations etc.

Project objectives:

• Students will use clay to make musical instruments

• Students will perform/improvise/compose for clay instruments alone and in a group

Learning objectives:

• Students will learn and understand properties of clay such as shrinkage, temperature, and plasticity.

• Students will evaluate their own work and the work of their classmates practicing proper terminology and critique etiquette

• Students will become familiar with the timbre (sounds) produced by fired clay instruments

• Students will become familiar with properties of edgetone instruments (clay whistles)

• Students will become familiar with acoustical principles of instrument length in relation to frequency, including the difference in open pipe and closed pipe wavelengths

The Art Classroom

Materials needed: clay (low-fire is what I’ve used – high fire may result in a much different lesson), rolling pins and/or slabroller, extruder(optional) Kemper BAS tool, needle tools, wire cutoff tools, fettling knives, sponges, a variety of texturing/sgraffito tools, variety of cookie cutters, underglazes/glazes (optional), copy of Clay Whistles, by Janet Monoit, and Ceramic Windchimes. by John Conrad, string/wire/fishing line, clothes hangers (optional)

I. Examples/Demonstration

A. Windchimes – by far the easiest to make with the most opportunity for self expression.  Examples can be found in the book Ceramic Windchimes, by John Conrad.

1. Flat or 2 dimensional chimes

a. roll out clay with rolling pin or slabroller if available

b. cut with cookie cutters or freehand with fettling knife

c. make hole for the string to go through after firing

d. don’t forget to make a large top plate for hanging all the chime parts from

e. also possible to do geometric shapes by attaching 6 squares to form a cube etc.

2. tubular chimes

a. extrude clay through a hollow die

b. cut off at various lengths

c. make a hole through top of chime going all the way across (for string to go through after firing)

B. Whistles / Ocarenas – for this, it is imperative that you have a copy of

the book Clay Whistles, by Janet Monoit.  It provides lots of pictures and step by step instructions on how to make a clay whistle.  For older kids who want to go a step further, the book also includes ideas for turning the whistle into an animal.  For even more challenge, there are also specific instructions for making a clay whistle into an Ocarena for students that want to be able to play a full scale on their instrument

C. Udu Drums – This is also a possibility, however, I have not been able to locate a good source of pictures or instruction on how to make these clay drums.

D. Tools to be used – Make sure the students are familiar with all the tools to be used and how to use them properly

E. Clay Properties

1. Temperature / Firing

a. Cone 05

b. Cone 5

c. Cone 10

2. Shrinkage – approx. 12%

a. lay flat pieces between 2 sheets of drywall to prevent warping

b. to attach two parts, use only water, not slip.

3. Plasticity

II. Construction of instruments

Don’t forget to have students mark their pieces with their own name

III. Bisque fire instruments to Cone 03 and return to students

A. run string or fishing line through holes in windchimes

B. Critiques (can be put off until instruments are glaze fired if desired)

IV. Decoration with glazes/underglazes

V. Glaze fire and return – (If you do this step you will need assorted stilts for firing

A. Critiques

The Music Classroom

Materials needed: the fired instruments, variety of mallets (wood, metal, rubber, yarn), calculator, rulers, tuner/piano, copy of Musical Acoustics (mine is available for loan in the greater KC area) or a similar book.


I. Examples/Demonstration

A. Windchimes

1. flat chimes – vibrating body – size and mass of object determines frequency/pitch

2. tubular chimes – vibrating air column (Musical Acoustics p225-230)

a. open pipe frequency: f=v/2L (pipe is 1/2 wavelength)

b. closed pipe frequency: f=v/2L (pipe is 1/4 wavelength

B. Clay Whistles – edgetone vibration (Musical Acoustics p 45, 230-236)

C. Udu Drums – Resonance chamber (Musical Acoustics p33)

1. Helmholtz resonators

II. Experimentation time creating sound on fired instruments

III. Student demonstrations of their own instruments

IV. review and test of acoustical properties

A. Chimes – how does the timbre change based on what type of mallet head is striking the chime (tone onset/attack)

1. Flat chimes – predict the pitch based on weight, then test

2. Tubular windchimes – predict the pitch using formula for open pipe frequency.  Check with tuner or piano.  Is the sounding pitch what was expected?  (Note: it will NOT be as expected.  See if students can figure out why and how to compensate so that they can predict the pitch)

a. For further exploration – how will the pitch change if the chimes are glazed?

B. Clay Whistles

1. timbre/tone quality

edgetone vibration – compare one whistle to the next

2. pitch – relative to size?

C. Udu Drums

1. pitch relative to size.  How else can the performer change pitch using his/her hand?

V. Group performance on instruments – Improvisation

A. Students sit in a row or circle.

1. Teacher conducts a 4/4 pattern.

2. Each student is an eighth note

3. Student makes one sound on his/her instrument on his/her beat until circle is complete.  (should sound like a serial row a la Schoenberg)

4. Students are instructed to come up with a 4 beat rhythmic pattern.

5. Teacher again conducts 4/4 pattern

6. This time, students get a full measure in which to play their pattern.

7. Continue around circle until all students have played their rhythm.

8. Try putting the students in a different order, overlapping rhythms by two beats etc.  endless possibilities…

VI. Students write compositions for their instruments

VII. Perform compositions for class after instruments are glaze fired