Tuneful trash

Introducing the concept of STEM as a way of authentically teaching musical concepts in the classroom in combination with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Tuneful trash is broken up into 4 parts:

  • Part 1 Introduction: Creating tuneful trash
  • Part 2 Introduction to organising sound
  • Part 3 Listening and performing
  • Part 4 Musical concepts explained.

Part 1 Introduction: Creating tuneful trash


  • are engaged in using 'junk' found around their school to create their own instruments
  • investigate the potential sounds of found materials and experiment with different techniques of putting them together and playing to create a variety of instrumental tone colours (timbres).

With teacher guidance and research, many improvements are made as part of this journey.

'Introduction: Creating tuneful trash' video (duration 4:42 minutes) commences the journey of creating Tuneful Trash by creating musical instruments and organising sound at Chittaway Bay Public School.


Watch Introduction: Creating tuneful trash (4:43).

Looking at ways to engage in all sorts of areas regularly and strategically when they're teaching children in the classroom..


Ruth Goodwin

At Chittaway Bay Public School we have a very strong creative arts program and students who are involved in that program show positive outcomes in all of their learning. So, music in the classroom doesn't have to be formal or it doesn't have to be about performances, it's about teachers looking at ways to engage in all sorts of areas regularly and strategically when they're teaching children in the classroom.

Julia Brennan

I've come today to Chittaway Bay Public School because we're working with a fantastic teacher there called Jade Myers. And Jade, I've been watching because she's been working with her students on incorporating science into music and mathematics and those sorts of things.

She's got the students looking at junk that she's found in the playground or that they've brought in, they're designing and making their own instruments. Then, they? re using that to create a fantastic music unit and it looks at all the concepts that are in music as well as looking through the experiences of organising sound or creating their own compositions, they?re performing and they?re listening to each other.

She's also been helped by a local community member, Phil Rees, and they've just done some amazing things with just using recycled and found sounds.

The STEAM process is looking at science and technology, engineering and mathematics but now we're adding in an 'a' for the arts. We've got students making instruments, they're being creative, using visual arts to make their instruments look beautiful as well as using music throughout the whole project, it's a very exciting process.

Student 1

We can put more in. Maybe it makes the pitch higher or lower. I think it might be higher.

Student 2

Or we could write our names on the sticky tape?

Student 3

The metal pole and this metal pole would sound like a gong if we put it together.

Student 4

We could use this black scraper and?

Jade Myers

Well, the performance actually allows the students to learn about the musical concepts as well as learning to write their own music and be familiarised with the music of other people. And it?s also great because all ages can get involved.

Now, they look like they're all filled up to different levels with water. Is that right?


Yeah, can we have a listen to how they sound? They all sound a bit different, some are higher and some are lower, well done, Coco.

Looks like you've got a little flute there. Can we have a listen, Carla?

Wow, it makes the sounds higher the more fingers you lift up.


I tried to make a guitar with a box and tried to put rubber bands but that wasn't loud enough and we thought that we could get a bucket and put a piece of wood underneath so the sound could come out and if we can pluck it like that.

Julia Brennan

Why does that drum make it louder than the tissue box do you think?


Because it's bigger.

Jade Myers

And have you got any way of changing the sound? Wow, as you shorten that string, does the sound get higher or lower?



Jade Myers

It's higher.

What have we made there, Bradley?

Bradley (student)

A horn.

Jade Myers A horn. Can we hear it?


I used a hose, half a bottle and duct tape and a mouthpiece. This one gave me out of breath and then we tried the trumpet mouthpiece and then the skipping rope handle and the skipping rope handle worked.


[End of transcript]

Part 2 Introduction to organising sound

In this video Phil Rees OAM listens to the instruments the students have made and begins to construct a story based upon the tone colours of the student-created instruments. Discussions centre around the way sounds are produced and familiar aspects within the students? experiences.
These instrumental timbres begin to start a story in motion that will guide the organising sound or compositional process.


Watch Introducing to organising sound (02:42).

Developing our aural skills and our listening skills.

Philip Rees

It's by developing our aural skills and our listening skills that we're able to classify sounds, we're able to hear sounds, we're able to identify sounds, we're able to remember sounds just by developing these skills that we're able to perform.

I've had a listen to some of the instruments that you have made and created and they make terrific sounds. Now, we're looking at the sounds of our playground, aren't we? We would hear birds, boys and girls playing games. What sort of games would we play? Basketball.

Basketball, oh so let's have a listen. A basketball bouncing would be a rhythmical sound. So, what instrument we could use for a basketball could maybe be these balloons. Let's have a listen, like a basketball. Let's bounce the basketball while they're doing that.

Yeah, that's really good.

And also we'd have sounds of birds. And I heard this little flute. Oh, that's a bird call. Now, a bird call sings the same two notes, sometimes over and over again with a little bit of a gap between. Now, what about these ones here, let's have a listen to this. Oh, yeah. And there's another bird that goes doo whip, doo whip like a Whip Bird. Maybe we could try this for the Whip Bird. Oh, that's great. So, let's hear the birds. What about the lid?

Oh, yeah, we? re starting to get all these things.

Other sounds we might have on the playground with maybe boys and girls walking. And gradually we add this together. And also I heard these horns because I see there's a busy road outside and there's roadworks being done down the street. And sometimes you hear trucks that sound a bit angry. Yeah, now what we have to do now is we have to put

All these things together to create a piece of music that shows the different things that happen in our playground as well.


[End of transcript]

Part 3 Listening and performing

This video discusses ways of beginning the organising sound process.


  • are guided through a process of singing, saying, then playing using student-created sentences as chants.
  • reinforce these sentences as rhythms through movement
  • transfer these rhythms to their self-made instruments.
  • solidify their compositions by listening to each other and varying performances within their classroom
  • further explore the musical concept of dynamics (volume) as a way of enhancing their piece.


Watch listening and performing (02:18).

Singing and chanting to playing together.


Jade Myers

We normally start by singing, it’s something that all children can do and they’re not very intimidated by it. So, we always say it before we play it, then when we go onto our moving the kids generally move to the beat anyway and it’s a good way to get them in time and to get them used to playing together.

We’ve used certain little chants and some beatboxing in our actual performance piece.

So, the chants actually help the students to remember their little ostinato pattern that they repeat throughout the playground scene. One of them we used was I like cheese and I like chips and that really helped the students to remember what they were playing.

We also used a bit of beatboxing in there which the kids really, really enjoy.

We use some stomps, we can use some knee pats, clicks, claps to actually compose a piece of music without needing any resources.

It took a bit of encouraging and a bit of conversation with them about the dynamics. At first a lot of them were using the terms high and low which we had to reinforce that that was actually the pitch and that the dynamics meant how loud or soft the volume actually was.

So, the bucket drum piece was interesting to begin with, they all wanted to hit their bucket drums as loud as they could. They thought the louder, the better.

We worked through that and experimented with playing them a bit softer and how it actually added a bit of excitement in the louder parts if we didn’t just have it loud the whole way through.

So, that was something that we decided as a group that we would do throughout our performance. And I tried to indicate that to them by raising my hand or lowering my hand as to how loud or soft I wanted them to play throughout the performance.


[End of transcript]

Part 4 Musical concepts explained

Students are further engaged in enhancing their compositions through the learning experiences of listening, performing and organising sound in conjunction with the musical concepts of duration, pitch, dynamics, structure and tone colour. The flexibility of the process of organising sound through creating Tuneful Trash is reinforced throughout.

Tone colour (timbre) is reinforced as a musical concept through discussions of the instruments created, the sounds that they make and how the sounds are produced. The instruments are grouped according to the sounds they produce and their role in telling a part of the musical story in their class composition.

Structure is discussed as an informal way of putting the students? compositional ideas together to create a piece. It is important to note that at this stage it is not necessary to fit in with traditional and more formal musical structures, but to think of ways in which musical ideas can be put together.

Duration is introduced as the beat (pulse), the rhythm (patterns), the tempo (speed), silence (rests), repetition, and metres (grouping of the beats). The links to mathematics are clear and strong.

Pitch is the highness or lowness of the notes and the changes in between. Activities with students such as tracing the melodic contour with hands or objects such as a parachute are great ways to demonstrate the movement of pitch.

Graphic notation is discussed as a way for students to record their musical compositions. This can take the form of a score that shows symbols and timings etc. This can eventually lead to more formal and traditional musical scores.


Watch musical concepts explain (04:43).

Listening and performing in with the concepts of music.


Julia Brennan

Wouldn’t it be great to see teachers doing with music is using the ideas of organising sound to follow their own learning journey. So, using this as a unit starter but incorporating organising sound or composing, listening and performing in with the concepts of music.

So, we’ve got duration or keeping the beat, the tempo, that sort of thing mixed in with adding some pitch, adding dynamics, adding in some structure and looking at the tone colour as they’re working their way through a unit like this.

It’s not prescriptive, music’s not about that, it’s about using the concepts that are in the syllabus but adjusting them to what works for their own situation, for the ages and the abilities of the students in their classroom.

Jade Myers

The students brought a vast variety of different pieces of junk in and they experimented to find the different tone colours. They looked at the difference hitting the different materials with different mallets would make. We looked at rubber mallets. We looked at wooden mallets. We even used spoons and forks to see how that would sound on different instruments.

We also decided what would be used as different things within our playground based on how high or low, how loud or soft the instruments were that were created. So, for something say like the birds that were in our performance piece, we didn’t want them overpowering anything. So, we wanted a nice quiet sound and we also thought that the birds were quite high pitched. So, we chose instruments that were quite soft but also produced a high pitched sound. So, we decided on pipes for our little birdies and a flute.

Philip Rees

Well, for many people structure is very formalised, it’s very rigid, words like binary and ternary and rondo and song form. But that’s not necessary because what is really spectacular with youngsters is to develop a sense of contrasts of repeated patterns.

And it’s by doing this and listening to what’s happening around us we can get some really good and enjoyable compositions.

Julia Brennan

Well, duration’s a really big concept, duration’s something that starts right from early Stage 1 and goes all the way through. So, it encompasses everything from the beat, to the rhythm, to the tempo, to silence.

When they were playing there was a lot of repetition, there were lots of patterns, The beats were grouped together in what we call metres. So, there was four beats going and that was the metre. They had this constant beat keeping them together, so like a pulse. And that’s exactly how I explain it to the students. And they also had rhythms going over the top of that.

And what’s fabulous about that too is it’s a really natural link into mathematics. You can see that in maths there’s lots of patterns, just like there is in music. And that’s what the concept of duration is.

Well, pitch in the syllabus refers to the highs and the low sounds and the relative sounds in between. So, for example moving between high and low. With students some great activities that you can use are things like having a parachute or an elastic and moving it up and down according to the melodic contour or the way in which the melody moves. So, if it’s high your hands can go up higher and if it’s going down lower you can move your hands down lower.

Graphic notation occurs in the syllabus right from Stage 1. So, we encourage the students rather than using traditional notation to use graphic notation which is just using symbols to represent when rhythms should be played or when instruments should come in.

I’ll show you an example now. It’s got timings rather than bar lines or metres. It’s got symbols to show the students when to play and what to play. So, that’s graphic notation and it can lead into traditional notation later on, just like a standard unit of measure in mathematics.

Philip Rees

And in performance we’re able to listen to each other, we’re able to get the blend and the balance within it, we’re able to hear how our part relates to other people

And how their part relates to us. By listening to a wide variety of repertoire in music

We learn a lot about ourselves. We learn about other people and how it all fits together musically.


[End of transcript]


Please note:

Syllabus outcomes and content descriptors from Creative Arts K–6 Syllabus (2006) © NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) for and on behalf of the Crown in right of the State of New South Wales, 2017.

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