Making It Work: Instrument Storage and Organization

instrument storage

The Active Music and Movement Classroom: So Much Fun “in Store!”

Drue M. Bullington

A glimpse into one teacher’s answer to the challenges of having students manage the use and storage of a variety of instruments in an active elemental music and movement classroom.

instrument storage

One of the best things about being a classroom music teacher has to be all of the great instruments and learning “things” we use in our lessons and are able to share with our students. One of the challenges is managing their use in our classes effectively during instruction and storing them in an organized way when not in use.

After 15 years of trial and error—and I mean a lot of trial and error—I have come up with some approaches to solve a number of problems classroom music teachers face once they acquire instruments and begin to incorporate them into their lesson plans. One thing I learned very early on is that things never work in the real classroom like they do at a workshop when the presenter says, “everyone find an instrument…” The bedlam that ensued after such a suggestion I made in my classroom many years ago is where this journey began.

First let’s consider a few non-negotiable parameters most classroom music teachers are facing. The main consideration is a high number of classes, often of differing grade levels with little or no time in between classes. A second issue is a low, or non-existent amount of planning and preparation time. There is so much to do, and so little time to “get ready” for the doing! These two factors were the reasons my approach to managing the “things” in my classroom came to be almost entirely student-centered. It seemed more beneficial to everyone if I spent my time planning and preparing for instruction in the role of director and the students took on the role of stage managers.

In as many ways, and as early as possible, I strive to give the responsibility of getting out and putting away instruments to my students. This requires that the teacher prepares the learning space in such a way that the instruments can be stored, accessed, and put away easily and consistently. Secondly, it requires that the teacher clearly communicate and reinforce procedures for how students will go about getting out and putting instruments away in a safe and orderly way.

Let’s take look at the physical spaces that have been prepared for instruments to be stored, and the procedures used by students to get them out and put them away.

Orff Instruments

Soprano and Alto Xylophones and Metallophones

Storage:

After years of having the instruments “out” on the floor in “ready-to-use” position, I realized that we really needed the space for movement. So, I built two shelves on the long open wall in the back of my classroom. (I am pretty good at wood working having spent a lot of time as a kid with my dad in his wood shop.) I had some really great maintenance guys at my school put them up for me. This provides a space on the floor along the wall for the alto xylophones and metallophones, which are a bit heavier, to sit on the floor, and a space above these for the sopranos, which are lighter, to sit on the first shelf. This reduced the space which these instruments took up in my classroom from about 150 square feet to about 24 square feet!

instrument storage

Each instrument has a little piece of floor tape (The P.E. teacher at my school uses this on her gym floor, and shares with me. It can be removed without any residue remaining.) in the bottom corner or the player side of the instrument. On the tape, a number is written in silver sharpie. On the shelf, or on the floor, the same tape and the same number are written and placed in such a way that they line up with each other- I tell the students that they should line up like a shadow.

The soprano xylophones are numbered 1-7, and the soprano metallophones numbered 8-10; the alto xylophones are 11-17, and the metallophones 18-20. Basses are labeled 21-25.

Procedures:

Individual students or partners can quickly be assigned an instrument number by me and they can go get it from the shelf. I ask them to pick up the mallets, which always lay on top of the instrument, and put them in their crab claw, which is just to hold the mallet by pinching them between the thumb and palm, and carry the instrument out into the space and set it down.

When the students take the bars off, in order to keep the space orderly, I ask them to put the bars they remove on the floor in order from largest to smallest on the left side of the instrument. When doing partner work, this helps students to slide the instrument back and forth in front of them, rather than have the students moving around all of the time.

After we’re done with whatever we’ve been doing, the students put the bars back on the instrument, carry it back to the shelf, line up the numbers on the two pieces of tape and put the mallets back on top of the bars.

With this approach it is possible that students can get 20+ instruments and be playing as a group in less than 3 minutes. They can put them away and be ready for the next activity in even less time.

Bass Xylophones and Metallophones

The bass xylophones and metallophones in my classroom are also numbered and on wheels. I often assign them by numbers as well, although less often than the alto and soprano instruments. The wheeled stands have a number on them, as well as a corresponding number on the floor, so that they can be wheeled away from and returned easily to their place.

instrument storage

One thing I did add to these instruments is a place to store several bars that are not being used. I found that the plastic sleeves that the adjustable wooden statues I got from IKEA are shipped in are the perfect size to hold several of these bars or accidentals.

instrument storage

I model a lot on my “teacher” bass xylophone, and in order to help with transfer, I have written the note name on the ends of the bars so that students can visually see when seated in front of me, what notes are being played and the set ups for various pentatonic, hexatonic, diatonic, etc., scales.

Procedure:

This is the same as above using numbers. These instruments are moved around a lot less given their size. However, when being used in the performance space and then returned, I don’t have to manage or move the instruments around, they just get back to their homes automatically because the students are used to the numbering system.

Accidental Bags

Each Orff instrument has a custom-made pouch for storing the accidental bars. (These are prototypes as we experiment with how they work in the classroom) They are fitted so they can hang on the wider side of the instrument during transport around the room, to the stage, etc., and are numbered to be stored with the corresponding instruments. The budget money I’ve spent on lost accidental bars is withering to think about. They are like socks! These, along with the glockenspiel accidental bar pouches were hand made by our family friend, Wanda.

instrument storage

The portable accidental pouches will help keep a large instrumentarium orderly during the whirlwind of performance when a lot of shuffling has to happen in a short amount of time.

She also made some fantastic covers, which protect the rosewood bars from light damage over time. One great addition we added in the design of these are the pouches in the cover which will hold up to 4 sets of mallets. We will happily share some information about how to acquire these accessories if you’d like a set of pouches or covers for your classroom. The covers prevent people from tampering with your instruments when they are in public spaces at times like before and after concerts when you can’t really watch them.

instrument storage

Both the pouches and the dust covers are in the design and development stages. We’d love to hear some feedback on what you like, or what you’d wish for in something like this in your classroom.

A trick that Wanda came up with while we were figuring out the pouches and the dust covers was an answer to my problem of bars falling off when kids are carrying the instruments around, or when they are loaded on carts, etc. She suggested (and it is pure genius!) to take some elastic and tie a length of it in a knot, and hook it under the handles of the Orff instrument at both ends. This effectively clamps the bars down to a degree that keeps them from falling off when the instrument tips over, or is tilted.

instrument storage

Of course, you can’t turn them upside down, but it does really help when the instrument is in transport. I’m excited to use this trick in the future. I don’t know about you, but I loathe the sound of xylophone and metallophone bars crashing to the floor!

Contra Bass Bars

Storage:

I keep my bass bars on the side counter and on a table in the back corner of my classroom.

instrument storage

Procedure:

This is one instrument that requires that I at least help get them out and put them away in most classes. My 5th and 6th graders are pretty good at it so I tend to have a 6th grade helper get these instruments down in the morning, we use them in classes, and sit them to the side until the end of the day and then have a 6th grade helper put them away at the end of the day.

If we are doing some performing where the bass bars need to be mobile, I use the bottom level of an old AV cart with a yoga mat on it, put the bass bars we need on there and then the instruments are ready for their time on and off stage as needed. Kids can handle moving these pretty easily now, and there is no worry on my part about them being dropped or damaged.

Glockenspiels

Storage:

Our classroom has 12 glockenspiels- 6 sopranos and 6 altos. Using my woodworking skills, I built a cabinet where each of these instruments slides neatly into a “garage” designed specifically for this purpose. These instruments are numbered as well to help students get the instruments back onto the correct garage when class is over.

instrument storage

The mallets are stored in the garage with the instruments, as well as a little pouch with a corresponding number, which help keep the accidental bars from getting lost. The students put the instruments on top of plastic baskets from the dollar store. They turn them upside down and place the glockenspiel on top to give more height. I found that student posture, playing technique and musicality of the sound is so much better with the instruments up off of the floor.

instrument storage

Procedure:

The teacher gives students a number or they are just supposed to get “a glockenspiel” and mallets. First, they get a basket and place these where they plan to set themselves up for our class activity. Next, they bring their instrument and mallets and place it down on the basket and set up their bars as needed. If they are working in partners, one partner gets the instrument and mallets and the other partner gets the basket. Bars that were removed are still always placed on the floor to the left. This allows the instrument on the basket to slide back and forth easily as we take turns.

Next week we’ll bring you Part 2 of Drue’s instrument storage and organization solutions. For now, please share your favorite storage hacks in the comments. Your idea may be just the thing to help another teacher make it work!


About Drue Bullington

Drue Bullington

Drue Bullington teaches elemental music and movement at Brownstown Elementary School in Conestoga Valley School District in Lancaster, PA. Bullington is twice a graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania where he received a B.S. in Music Education and a M.M. in Music Education with a certification in Orff Schulwerk. Drue holds a second master’s degree from Wilkes University in Online Teaching and Learning with an Online Educator’s Certificate of Endorsement from the state of Pennsylvania. He has also participated in advanced Orff Schulwerk studies and an apprenticeship program in Orff Schulwerk at George Mason University. Drue has taught in several Orff Schulwerk Levels Certification programs around the U.S. and offers numerous professional development and workshop sessions on elemental music and movement through the Orff Schulwerk Approach, elemental music and movement applications in the classroom, incorporating technology, and integrating the soprano ukulele into the K-12 music classroom. Drue and his wife, Elise, live in Lititz, PA. They enjoy an active life filled with travelling, culinary adventures and volunteering in their community.

48 Comments

Cincere Fazekas

I am intrigued by the idea of placing the glockenspiels on top of the baskets. Currently, our glocks are on top of tubano drums. It works very well, but once in a while there are a few challenges. I would like to try placing them on the baskets, and see what happens. Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to the next article.

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Drue

These dollar store baskets have been with me since year 1 (2002-2003) at my school. They work really well. If I had ever found some that the glocks would actually fit inside, I would get those, especially if there was a lid. This would be awesome for transporting them outside the music room.

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Denise M

Hi Drue,

Thank you for your ideas!

For my glockenspiels, I was able to get a local store to donate soda bottle caddies (the ones that hold six 1- or 2 liter bottles). They’re plenty long enough, and raise the height of the instrument approximately 6″. Just another option. 🙂

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Maureen

A music teacher in my school stores the glocks in plastic bins with a cover and the students take the glocks out and use the container with the lid as the base. It prevents glock “spills” during transport, keeps it dust-free during storage, and provides the “lift” for good posture.

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Drue

Hi, Maureen!
I’m wondering where these bins come from?! Maybe you could help us all by finding out from your colleague where we could get these bins and post it here! We’d be grateful! Thanks!

Drue

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Nancy Beutler

I tried to include a picture, but it won’t let me put it. I used plastic drawers from Walmart. They were big enough that I also keep a basket for the extra bars and mallets. They stack for easy storage and easy to travel. When we play them, they are a nice height for all students to sit behind.

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Elise Bjordammen

Does anyone know what brand the bass xylophone stands are?

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Drue Bullington

The stands are Studio 49 Brand stands. These are available through a variety of merchants who partner to sell the Studio 49 Brand. You can check any of those listed here for more information: https://mmbmusic.com/dealers/

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dawn pratson

What useful solutions and recommendations!!! Does Drue do consultations with challenging music room layouts?

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Drue

Hi, Dawn!
I’d be happy to help you! Let’s see what we can do! Drop me a line with what you’re struggling with, and we’ll do our best!

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Bryant

Do you have any recommendation on how to store Orff Instrument sets? We are looking into purchasing a 15 piece Orff Set (Studio 49/Sonor Brand). We are borrowing classroom teachers at some sites and we wanted to have a storage solution that can also be mobile to travel from classroom to the next as needed.

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Katie Jones

Great ideas, Drue! Thank you for the terrific photos as well! One question; with the elastic bands around the bars to keep them secure during movement, what’s your procedure for getting students to remove the elastic when it’s time to play and to put it back in place at the end of class?

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David Reynolds Jr

Definitely love Drue’s ideas. Another friend of mine uses this concept as well. I don’t want to answer for Drue, but I’m guessing that he doesn’t have the students remove them. They actually stay on while the student plays. I’ve built a number of marimbas for my group, so I’ve studied the physical properties of bars more than I would want to! That being said, the elastic rests very close to the nodes of the bar (physical location where the bar doesn’t resonate/vibrate). So, having something resting there has little effect on the sound or resonance of each bar (that’s why these are also the locations where the hole for the peg and the resting point on the box are). Hope this helps.

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Drue

Hi, Katie,
To be one hundred percent honest, this is something that I haven’t experimented with that much as it was something we just stumbled upon while figuring out the covers with Wanda. I agree with David Reynolds, who has EXTENSIVE experience with instrument construction as he mentioned. It is highly possible to play these instruments with those elastic bands over the bars with minimal impacts to the sound of the bars. For me, I would most likely take them off because there would be one less thing for students to pick at, or fuss with and pull their attention away from instruction or ensemble listening, etc. The win for me with this idea is when I imagine our big rolling cart filled with instruments three or four high. I can imagine that this will keep the random instrument or bar from working loose, and rattling around and possible getting lost. A big learning experience for me occurred in helping to move instruments for the AOSA convention in the past few years in this regard. It made me start to think about being more intentional about how I organize instrument transport within and outside of my school. I’m thinking that a cheap and easy solution to this is to use Chinese jump ropes that are cut down to smaller lengths. Just an idea. Let me know what works for you, and please share it here with our community! Thanks for both of your great insights!

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Jeanna Cervantes-Hickman

This is AWESOME! Thank You. Does you friend Wanda have a pattern for the storage bag and covers? I would be willing to pay her for it…. 🙂

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Drue

Hi, Jeanna,

I’m thinking there are possibilities for these covers in the future. Wanda might have a pattern, or maybe she might want to make these for you! Let’s talk more. Please send me an e-mail and we’ll connect you with Wanda! Thanks for your interest!

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Jean Harasym

May I have Wanda’s pattern, please? I measured all twelve of my Orff instruments. Most are different sizes. I was going to make my own patterns, but Wanda’s pattern would be such a help. I plan on making all twelve covers with pockets this summer for a independent study for college credit. I am trying to re-organize my classroom and your ideas are fantastic!

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Cindy P Brown

Thank-you
I have 2 questions if I am not good with wood and do not have a lot of wall space, I could use your suggestions.
I have 23 guitars in stands which are not easy for students to get, although they do get them. I have1 bass x, 2 alto x, 1 sop x,1 alto metalaphone, 1 alto glock and 3 sop glocks my classes are usually 20-24 . I use round robin technique… I just never seem to get to palying the different parts simultaneously, ensemble and or harmony. The students get off task if they have to wait for the parts. I teach 2 parts… Bust of course it is hard for them to unite… We are 90% at risk kids.

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Kathy

Hello Cindy!
One suggestion for your guitars is a “slat wall” ( similar to the one in Dure’s pics for the ukes). However, no building necessary and pretty inexpensive. The slat wall piece for the hook to sit in is only about $60 (about 9 feet long – holds 15 guitars). The hooks are a little pricey ( about $10 ea.) One of my colleagues and I share the guitars so we also decided to share the hooks. We each got our own slat wall, but when we send the guitars to one another we send the hooks as well.
The nice thing about this is that we have the ability to take out the hooks and switch them for uke hooks when we do our uke unit!! Again, we share the uke hooks too!!

Here is a link to some pics in my room:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MUE83kwFELi_Zxumi291f68q222Mfj0sR1ZnF0MAjHQ/edit?usp=sharing

Here is a link to the company I bought the slat wall from: http://diamondlifegear.com/slatwallstrip.html

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Drue

Hi, Cindy,

Wow! There is a lot packed into your comment above! The 23 guitars– first, I would recommend only using enough for half of the class. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have gotten so many ukuleles– just enough for half. But they’re here now and we’ve learned how to use them all at once or at half capacity. I would use half in your classroom, and then see if you can set up some kind of opportunity for older, responsible kids to maybe borrow them overnight, or in the case of our school, they check ukuleles out of the library for 4 days just like a book. I can tell you more about how to work a system that can handle that process that doesn’t all fall on you. Also, the instruments and parts, etc. I find it can be a lot easier to get a lot of students playing a lot of different parts if they also work in partners at barred instruments. There are two wins here: 1. Less sound! 2. Someone to help you watch and correct technique and accuracy. They can also switch, and then alternate through the instruments. Sometimes it can be interesting to experiment with un-pitched percussion stations as well where improvisation can happen around more structured parts. As for storage and how to set up procedures going to and from the instruments, etc, that is trickier until I know more about the space and the ways it is used and how comfortable your students are with certain responsibilities, etc. I’m happy to hear more about it and hope I can help!

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Denise M

Hi Cindy,

I have an idea you may like, to keep all your students on task and practicing the instrument parts when you don’t have enough barred instruments for each one to play simultaneously. You could give the students who don’t have an instrument “instrument sized” keyboard “layouts”, which are on laminated card stock. (I’m not sure who makes or made them, but you may be able to even find the image to print online.) If you can give each student a pair of mallets, all the students can learn and practice the parts together.

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Nancy. Glazier

Great ideas and photos!!! I to would like a patern for the bag and covers:)

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Drue

Hi, Nancy!
Thanks for your interest in the instrument covers. Wanda is currently working out of town on a project. I’ll connect with her in a few weeks and we’ll take a look at what possibilities we have for sharing these great covers! Hopefully we’ll have some ideas in a few weeks. Sorry for the delay, we’ll be in touch when we connect and figure it out together soon!

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Drue

Hi, Katie,
To be one hundred percent honest, this is something that I haven’t experimented with that much as it was something we just stumbled upon while figuring out the covers with Wanda. I agree with David Reynolds, who has EXTENSIVE experience with instrument construction as he mentioned. It is highly possible to play these instruments with those elastic bands over the bars with minimal impacts to the sound of the bars. For me, I would most likely take them off because there would be one less thing for students to pick at, or fuss with and pull their attention away from instruction or ensemble listening, etc. The win for me with this idea is when I imagine our big rolling cart filled with instruments three or four high. I can imagine that this will keep the random instrument or bar from working loose, and rattling around and possible getting lost. A big learning experience for me occurred in helping to move instruments for the AOSA convention in the past few years in this regard. It made me start to think about being more intentional about how I organize instrument transport within and outside of my school. I’m thinking that a cheap and easy solution to this is to use Chinese jump ropes that are cut down to smaller lengths. Just an idea. Let me know what works for you, and please share it here with our community! Thanks for both of your great insights!

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Donna Fleetwood

Great solutions, Drue! All that trial and error paid off for you, and now for others!

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Sarah

This is perfect timing. We just got a grant to order four new instruments, and two new djembes, and while I am wildly excited, my next thought was… where am I going to put these?!? This got my spatial planning back on track. Thanks so much!

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Jane Nicholas

Hi Drue
I am with WAOSA – western Australian Orff Schulwerk Association. Imove your article on Orff instrument storage. Would it be possible for us to reprint the article (crediting you for your work of course) in our quarterly newsletter? Thanks. Jane

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Drue

Jane,
I think we’ve taken care of this over e-mail. I think we can work something out though for reprints in general. If anyone else is interested in a reprint, please contact me via e-mail. Thanks!

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Michele

Drue, I am very interested in the pouch and covers. Will Wanda market them for sale or sell the patterns?

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Eileen Freedman

Hi Drue, great information! I appreciate the inspiration and hope to adapt some of your ideas in my classroom. If you are able to contact me via email, I would like to ask you a few questions that can help me get started. Thanks! I wish my room was not such a dust collector, as it’s in a very old and beautiful Hogwarts – style building, so I have to cover and hid everything.

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Drue

Hello, Eileen!

Your room sounds and looks like an inviting place to learn and play. Since it is a small space, I’d want to maximize the floor space. It looks like you have a really high ceiling. Maybe you’d be able to put a bar on pulley’s up to hang things from around the outside so that they are out of the way, but can be lowered for kids to get things from, and then lifted out of the way of the floor. The angle of the roof lines in those old “Hogwarts” style upper floor classroom spaces create a possibility here that might be both visually appealing and also very utilitarian. I can see the ukuleles being stored this way pretty easily. You could get ropes that would have some tension brakes on them so that they aren’t just “flying freely” and take hand pressure to actually move them up and down– think about how certain higher end blinds work, etc.

Let me know what you think of this possibility.

Drue

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Kerrie Moyer

How is your storage for the ukuleles made? I teach double classes, so I would love to be able to store 30 without taking up floor space. I don’t have any real walls in my room but I have a very large 40-50 foot long bulletin board that I was thinking might work.

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Drue

Hi, Kerrie!

Holy cow! A 40-50 foot long bulletin board! That is A LOT of space! Around my room, I have a few bulletin boards and I installed a 2×4 along the top of them, and in one case, midway down the bulletin board. Into these 2x4s I put the garden tool hangers from the hardware store– like Home Depot, or Lowes, etc.,– and then I hang the ukuleles on these hangers. This is also very effective for hand drums with a different kind of hanger, etc. With a wall like that, I’d probably hang a bunch of instruments, and label them into groupings to help the students sort out what kinds of sounds they make. Great question!

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Lindsey

Hi Drue,

I’m curious about the stands that you are using for your bass instruments. Did you build them (and add the blocks to the basses), or did you order them? They look like a perfect storage/movement solution for my classroom.

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Drue

Hello, Lindsey,

These stands were made by Studio 49 and were purchased. I don’t think I could have made something that is this stout, or would hold up to the wear and tear that these get when they are being moved around. Each brand of barred instruments seems to have a rolling stand answer for their lines. There are also some manufacturers of stands that are not connected to any specific brand or line of instruments. Feel free to reach out to me via e-mail to talk specifics of your situation and I’ll do my best to guide you toward what might work best for you and your space. Thanks for this great question! I’m sure a lot of people are wondering the same kinds of things!

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Lindsey

Also, if you would connect me with Wanda, I would love to pay her for the pattern or pick her brain about construction!

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Drue

Hello, Lindsey,

We are in the midst of working on a way to share the covers and patterns in the near future. Please stay tuned for more information about that soon! Best, Drue

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Jenni Olges

Drue, I have a percussion ensemble (xylophones, djembes, hand held percussion) that is beginning to travel more frequently, so I would love more information on the covers and pouches. Would you or Wanda mind sharing?

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Drue

Hi, Jenni!
Thanks for your interest in the instrument covers. Wanda is currently working out of town on a project. I’ll connect with her in a few weeks and we’ll take a look at what possibilities we have for sharing these great covers! Hopefully we’ll have some ideas in a few weeks. Sorry for the delay, we’ll be in touch when we connect and figure it out together soon!

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Anne Hancock

Drue, I love your ideas. My main problem are my accidental bars. Yes, they are like socks! They just go missing. I have tried many different storage ideas but still they go “walkabout”. I would be interested in purchasing some of Wanda’s pouches. Please email me with details.
Anne

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Drue

Hello, Anne,

We are in the midst of working on a way to share the covers and patterns in the near future. Please stay tuned for more information about that soon! Best, Drue

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Katie

Hi Drue,
Amazing article! I would also love to get the pattern for the covers and pouches! Any further details regarding those?

Thank you,

Katie

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Drue

Hi, Katie! Thank you so much for your kind words! I am talking with Wanda to create a plan for how to help people get these covers. Stay tuned, updates are coming!

Best,

Drue

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LISA Mandelstein

Hi Drue, Love your articles and looking and relooking at everything! What is happening with sharing the patterns or ordering the covers Wanda made? I think she has a great business opportunity! Also, I really, really hope that you are working on a Part 3, to address teaching resources/materials (books, files, folders, computer files, etc.). This is an area where I am really struggling after my many years of collecting and teaching!

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Steven Fackenthall

Hi Drew, I searched orff instrument storage and your post was the first hit. Not surprising at all! I am curious if you could elaborate more on the building of the shelves. I currently have tables, but they take up more space than I’d like. Any help you could provide in that regard would be awesome.

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Larry Shudra

Drue. Great ideas and thanks for sharing. What brand of bass xylos do you have? What brand of Contra Xylos do you have? What contra xylos would you start with if you could only get 4? In other words, which ones do you really use a lot?
Are the boxes for the bass xylos something you built?

I appreciate you help!

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