Dr. Mark Turner

Tips for Elementary Music Specialists
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Tips for Early Childhood Music
Building Music Centers

by Dr. Mark Turner
Associate Professor of Music
Early Childhood and Elementary Specialist
SFA School of Music
[email protected]


Here are some centers that can be easily made. Many of the supplies can be either purchased at a local hardware store or salvaged from items destined for the landfill. While I present center instruments that have been effective in my classroom, the possibilities and variations on a basic center theme, are endless. Be creative.

Building Chime Trees (see Chime Tree Figure)

Supplies Needed:
Chime Tree Figure

  • Closet clothes rod – 3’ to 4’ long
  • 10’ Steel conduit ½ to ¾ inch in diameter
  • Square or round piece of wood about 10” to 12” in diameter
  • 20-30lbs concrete
  • Five-gallon bucket
  • Wire clothesline (aluminum)
  • One 2” wood screw

Tools Needed:

  • Hack saw
  • Crosscut saw
  • Drill


  1. Cut closet clothes rod to desired length. This will serve as the center post for the chime tree.
  2. Cut the steel conduit with hack saw in varying lengths. Probably six chimes will be sufficient for the chime tree. You could have more or less depending on your preferences. I am not concerned with chimes that make a diatonic or pentatonic scale. If you would like more traditional sounding chimes, there are plenty of books and other resources (Internet) where you can find the exact measurements for a diatonic or pentatonic scale.
  3. Having cut the chimes, find the node of each chime. Hold middle of the chime between index finger and thumb, loosely. As you tap the chime, let it slip down, slowly. You will eventually find a spot on the chime where the sound is very bright and “pure.” This more resonant spot is called the node. This is where you will need to drill a hole. Make certain the hole is drilled through both sides of the chime.
  4. After you have cut the chimes and drilled a hole in each one, you can spray paint the chimes different colors. This will help the children remember what they played and will aid them when they compose.
  5. Next you will need to drill two holes in the 12” diameter piece of wood. This will serve as the top of the chime tree. Space the holes evenly. Once everything is assembled, you will thread the clothesline through the hole in the piece of wood, through the two sided hole in one chime and then back through the next hole in the piece of wood (see Figure).
  6. Next, drill a pilot hole in one end of the closet rod and a pilot hole through the center of the piece of wood. Using the wood screw and glue, join the closet rod and the piece of wood.
  7. The closet rod may come out of the concrete if there is nothing for the concrete to hold on to. On the opposite end of the closet rod, nail or screw six to eight nails or screws at various points at the bottom of the rod. Make certain they are perpendicular to the rod and that they concrete will cover them completely.
  8. Place dry concrete into bucket and add water, stirring with end of rod. Make certain the rod is centered and straight, and supported while the concrete dries (24-48 hours).
  9. Spray paint the rod and piece of wood at the top.
  10. Add chimes to tree by threading clothesline through the holes. Make certain there is enough clothesline for the chimes to swing freely.

Building a PVC Tube Center (see PVC Tubes figure)

Supplies Needed:PVC Tubes Figure

  • 10 ft of 3” PVC sewer pipe
  • Variety of connectors, as many different shapes as possible
  • Variety of brightly colored enamel spray paints, a different color for each different type of connector
  • Flip flop sandals

Tools Needed:

  • Hack saw or PVC cable cutting saw


  1. Cut the PVC sewer pipe into 6” or 12” lengths.
  2. Spray paint the different connectors different colors. Like connectors should be painted like colors. This will aid children in building the same type of musical instrument on a different day.

You can also build a bench to hold the tubes in place while the child plays them. (see PVC Tubes figure)

To play the tubes, the child first constructs a length of tubing by putting the various tubes and connectors together (similar to Legos). Once this is completed the child will strike the end with the sandal.


The Texas School Music Project is a source for ideas and information concerning pedagogical practices in the music classroom or rehearsal hall.
The TSMP is a service provided to all music specialists by the faculty of the School of Music at Stephen F. Austin State University.

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