Mike Moxcey ©2001

Introduction to Stringed Instruments

For my first show of the year, I like to waddle in carrying a bag of small instruments along with a mandolin, guitar, banjo, and dobro.  Making a good entrance the first time really gets the kids excited. I  only play the banjo and harmonica well enough to get out and jam, but have learned one or two songs on other stringed instruments and learned how to make noises on various other instruments. You can, too.

I introduce myself and say I'm going to show them some stringed instruments.  Then I explain the three different families of instruments:

I demonstrate percussion instruments such as For wind instruments, there are I'll bet you've got a lot of these instruments around the house, at least enough (maracas, spoons, harmonica and kazoo) to demonstrate a little bit of the essence of percussion or wind.

I show the stringed instruments and their differences such as size, shape, number of strings, type of strings (the uke has nylon), and how they are plucked or strummed.  Count the strings with younger kids.  Demonstrate each idea on the instrument as you talk about it.

I start with the ukulele and play How Would You Like A Great Big Ice Cream which is just a two chord song that lets the kids move their arms "so high, so low, and so wide you can't get around it" and come up with other foods they want to sing about.  I don't play the ukulele, but it's only two chords so it's easy to figure out.

Then I get out the mandolin and talk about the doubled steel strings and flat pick ("hear the difference in the sound") and then play a lead to If You're Happy and You Know It.  Usually the kids can recognize this song.

We sing a couple verses, then I move on to the guitar (introducing it as 6 single strings but a lot bigger and louder (strum it then the mandolin) and still played with a flatpick) and finish the song.

Then I play half of She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain on the banjo (5 steel strings with finger picks)

and finish up the song on the dobro (a 6 string guitar body with a banjo resonator stuck inside played with banjo finger picks and this cool slide that makes it sound like a spooky Halloween instrument).

For a wrap-up, I review the three families of instruments and explain how we used them all on If You're Happy and You Know It

Then I briefly review the instruments I brought and explain the handout showing a musical equation (guitar + banjo = dobro) that they can take home and color, answer a few questions, and pack up.

The whole show takes 15 minutes and when I leave, the audience remembers I played all these instruments.  But what did I really have to do?  I just made sounds on the percussion and winds and learned one song apiece on 5 different stringed instruments.  For anyone who is moderately competent playing any stringed instrument, this isn't too hard to do.  The songs are simple, you play them reasonably slow, and any errors are drowned out by the singing.  You mainly have to keep a beat.

Here is the text of the handout.  On the other side I drew a musical equation of a
Guitar + Banjo = Dobro
and I also had small pictures of a ukulele, a mandolin, flatpick, slide, and fingerpicks.

Introduction to Stringed Instruments

I couldn't really think of any follow-up activities for home except for maybe singing the songs with the kids or pointing out stringed instruments when you hear them, so here is just a quick overview of what I did cover.

Introduced the three main groups of musical instruments (covered more in a later lesson).

The songs we sang were:

How Would You Like a Great Big Ice Cream, How would you like a great big ice cream,
How would you like a great big ice cream, How big should it be?
So high you can't get over it (lift hands above head)
So low you can't get under it (hands to floor)
So wide you can't get around it (spread arms)
That's how big it should be.  (then think of other things like pizza, cookie, ...)

If You're Happy and You Know It, clap your hands (pat your knees, shout hooray, do all three)

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes ("yee haw" wave a lariat)

At the end of each line, the kids shout "Yee Haw" and act like they're waving a lariat.
They do a different shout and movement for each verse and at the end of each verse they have to all the previous sayings and movements in reverse order.

...driving six white horses... ("Whoa back" pull on reins)
we'll all go out and meet her... ("Hi there" wave hello)
we'll kill the old red rooster... ("Hack hack" chopping motion)
we'll all have chicken and dumplings... ("Yum yum"  rub tummy)
she'll wear her pink pajamas... ("scratch scratch" scratch your shoulders)
She'll have to sleep with Grandma... ("Snuggle snuggle"  hug yourself)

Music Shows Home