African instruments for children to make

Updated July 20, 2017

Making crafts is a great activity for children. It helps them to develop their creative skills and to feel a sense of accomplishment. African instruments are particularly rewarding for children to make because they are fun to play with and offer an opportunity to learn about African culture. Children will enjoy decorating then and making music afterward. Drums and rattles are two very common African instruments that can be made using materials you might have on hand.


Most people associate African music with drums. There are many different types of drums used throughout Africa. Some are played with the hands, while others are played with sticks or a combination of stick and hand. Though real drums are usually made from wood and animal skin, your child can make toy drums out of a variety of materials.

To make a small, toy drum try using styrofoam cups or 907gr recycled plastic containers. Cut the bottom out of each cup and stack them on top of each other with the bottoms together. Wrap masking tape around the cups to secure the seam. The drum should have an hourglass shape. You can decorate the cup by painting it, or wrapping it with colourful string. Cover the top hole, or the playing surface with masking tape to resemble a drum head.

You can make drums out of heavy-duty materials such as buckets by simply turning them upside down and using the bottom as the playing surface. Coffee cans also make excellent drums. Simply empty and clean the can. Don't forget to decorate the final product using paint or fabric to make typical African designs--now it's ready to play!


Shakers include many different types of rattles. They can be made from gourds, cardboard tubes or jugs. Some have the rattling mechanism on the outside of the body, while some contain small objects that rattle inside the object. Gourds are commonly used in Africa to make rattles.

A shekere is a gourd that has a net of beads, or shells on the outside that click against the gourd to produce a sound. To make a shekere, take a large bottle gourd. Cut five or six pieces of 15-inch long twine. Tie the pieces together on one end. String each strand with plastic pony beads, knotting the string between beads if desired. Tie a shorter piece of string loosely around the neck of the gourd. Securely knot the end of each beaded string to the string around the neck. The beads should hit the gourd and produce a nice sound.

You can easily make a shaker with a cardboard tube from paper towels. Simply cover one end of the tube with masking or vinyl tape. Fill the tube with beans and cover the other end with tape. Decorate the outside of the tube with paint in an African pattern, or with stickers of African animals.

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About the Author

Otehlia Cassidy has been writing for 13 years. She has had her work published in various publications including the Yellow Springs News, and the East Emerson Neighborhood Association newsletter, and has a forthcoming article appearing in “Wisconsin Woman” (Feb. 2010). Otehlia received her master’s degree in Conservation Biology from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also writes about travel and culinary adventures in her food blog.