Friday, May 18, 2012

Organizing Instruments

My first year teaching, I had organized all the instruments in a wall full of lockers, and put sticky mailing labels on the outside of the lockers to show where they should go. The problem: most kids couldn't read the labels or they didn't know the real name of the instrument anyway. So, I ended up having to put every instrument away. The students would bring them to me one group at a time, but I was still doing the major lifting during clean-up.

That summer, I decided that I needed picture labels. I decided to use real pictures instead of clip art so that the picture looked exactly like my instruments. Many of the images were found on West Music. If I could not find the specific picture of my instrument I used a Google image search. Since then, our school has been renovated and I no longer have skinny student lockers to store my instruments. I have nice, deep, wooden cabinets. They are fabulous! Below you can see a few picture of the outside of my cabinets.

Here is a close-up of two section of cabinets that I use the most. They contain mostly unpitched percussion. The labels are placed  in front of where the instrument actually belongs. 

The left cabinet contains mostly cultural instruments. The cabinet to the right is the one used most often. Since the right cabinet contains mostly small handheld percussion, I have to use boxes, plastic dishpans, and whatever I can find to help keep instruments properly separated. In the picture below, you can see that I also have labels for the boxes and plastic containers as well as the outside door of the cabinet.

The top row is lacking some labels (that is on my summer to-do list). The second shelf also has one miscellaneous drawer with a ratchet, vibraslap, flexatone, slapstick, etc. I need to make smaller labels for this drawer as well. Students are always asking me where those instruments go. However, most of the students have no trouble being self-sufficient during clean-up time. I always ask one instrument group at a time to go put their instruments away so they are not so crowded. Other than calling the next groups, I have to do very little monitoring of instrument clean-up. I can spend my time recording discipline issues in my grade book and preparing myself for next class.

Also note: in order for your students to be self-sufficient in instrument clean-up, they must be able to reach the instruments. I have placed most of the basic percussion instruments used with Kindergarten and 1st grade on the lowest shelves. The more obscure percussion instruments that are used less often are placed on the higher shelves because they are used mainly with older, taller intermediate students. (I learned this mistake the hard way. My first year teaching I placed the Lollipop drums on the top shelf of the lockers. After several months helping kindergartners reach the top shelf, I finally had my "ah-ha" moment!)

More details and pictures showing the inside of the left cabinet can be found on a previous post regarding Boomwhacker storage.

As I have already stated, these labels allow for students to be self-sufficient and we have a quicker clean-up time. Also, the picture labels on the front of the cabinets are nice visuals when students are given freedom to be creative during a lesson like brainstorming sound effects to accompany a story.

So that you do not have to reinvent the wheel, I am sharing my files! Now you may quickly print most of the instruments labels you may need.  If you have instruments that I do not have labels for, you can do a Google image search and copy/paste into a word document.

***Please note, I do think it is important to print in color, if possible. The color helps the students identify and locate an instrument more quickly. I also laminated my labels so that I could move them to a different location without ripping them if I got the urge to rearrange the storage. My first set of labels lasted about 3 years before the edges of many labels started to curl up where kids had brushed against the lockers during movement activities. When I got my new wooden cabinets 3 years ago, I decided to print new labels. (It would be a sin to put those old curled up labels on these beautiful wooden cabinets!) Instead of throwing my old labels away, they became the inside labels for the storage boxes and bins.


  1. Your link to the labels goes to your school page, but I cannot find the labels. I would LOVE to have these! I've been meaning to get the exact same organization accomplished in my classroom. I'll be starting my 3rd year and have been slowly getting things to the way I want them and finding what works. I'll be coming back to your blog---come see mine!

  2. Thank you for letting me know. I think I fixed the problem. Try it now.

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  4. What a wonderful idea. I too would like to use your labels this summer, but had difficulty accessing it like Mrs. R above. Thank you.

  5. I put the links directly on this page. I had made the page private so that my students didn't stumble upon it. Perhaps that is why you couldn't view them. I really wish you could upload documents to Blogger. Please let me know if you are still having trouble and I will try to come up with another solution.

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  7. Ok, I changed the page to public instead of private. Hopefully this will solve the problem.

  8. Thanks so much for these labels! I have forwarded your post to my friends, and they are excited to use them, too. Awesome!

  9. Nice Blog! Awesome idea for arrange instruments .Thanks for sharing