instrument storage

Making It Work: Instrument Storage and Organization 2

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

Drue M. Bullington

Part 2 of 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. (Read Part 1 here)

instrument storage

Un-tuned Percussion


All of the “kleines schlagwerk,” or little percussion instruments in my classroom, are stored in labeled plastic bins. These are mostly stored in the top shelf along the back wall of my classroom. They are about 3.5 feet off of the ground– tall enough that the little hands aren’t tempted, but short enough that most first graders through 6th graders can easily access the bins to find and put away instruments as needed. The instruments are sorted by “Ring,” “Scrape,” “Click,” “Shake,” “Special” and “Skin.” Our hand drum collection is rather large, so I store them in cabinets on the sides of the room.

instrument storage


In younger grades, I get the whole basket down and either pass out the instruments or have students choose one at a time. In older grades, they are more accustomed to a gentle, orderly approach and are trusted to choose instruments on their own. The rule is that once an instrument is chosen, there are “No tradesies!” This prevents the constant visiting of the instrument “store” for returns and exchanges. Putting them away is an independent task for older students entirely but for younger students they return them to the bins, and I put it away on the shelf.


The student recorders are stored in a cabinet along the sidewall of my classroom, which I also built. There are cubbies for each class in the school grades 3-6. Each cubby holds a plastic bin with the class’s recorders.

instrument storage

The recorders in the bins are owned by the individual student, or are on loan from the school. (Everyone has their own recorder assigned to them to use and I keep a bucket of spare recorders available if students forget theirs for whatever reason. I gave up on trying to enforce the responsibility past 3rd grade.) Generally, the students would rather play their own recorder than use the loaners, so it works out pretty well. I have a 6th grade helper who takes the used recorders to the cafeteria for cleaning and sanitizing regularly. I figure if it’s getting the trays and flatware clean enough to eat from, it’s good enough for getting our recorders clean.


In each class there is a “Recorder Manager.” The students earn this meaningless title by having their “home spot” nearest the recorder shelves. (I usually try to plan ahead and assign the more responsible types to those seats.) These students listen for me to say something about needing recorders and then they swing into action by taking the recorder bin from the shelf and placing it in the middle of the floor. They take three recorders from the top and pass them out to the students in the class. While they are passing these out, the students in the home spots next to the manager’s spot go to the bin, and pass out three, and then the next person three, etc. I used to just have the kids use “common sense” and anyone in the room could get a recorder and hand it to its owner. There were two pitfalls here: 1. Common sense was fleeting because they would all go at one time.  Twenty kids would crowd around the same bin on the floor and four or five of them would bonk their heads together and then walk around dazed with their hands rubbing big goose eggs. 2. They would all look for their own instead of just taking a random one and giving it to its owner. As a result, we now pass them out three at a time going around the circle.


The World Music Drumming is a fantastic resource, and we are lucky enough to have acquired a lot of drums over the past few years to bring these possibilities to life. I store these drums on the side of the room under the recorders. I use the same colored floor tape around the bottoms of the drums to help the students see a color-coded difference in the drums, and to help them put them away in the correct area marked by a floor tape square. These colors are also helpful in projected visuals of large drums = blue, medium drums = red, and small drums = yellow.

instrument storage

When drumming, seating is an issue sometimes. I found these great stools for $4.99 each! They stack and take up little space in the room and are perfect for a student to sit upon behind a drum.



I have 30 ukuleles in my classroom. They all hang on rubber-coated garden tool hooks on the same long, open wall in the back of the room above the Orff and un-tuned percussion instrument shelves. These are placed about 4 feet from the ground so taller kids can easily get them and put them away. I never numbered these because it hasn’t ever mattered who gets what instrument because they are all the same.

instrument storageProcedures:

The students simply walk back and get a ukulele, and then we play them for class. When we’re done, they put it on an empty hook.

A quick note on tuning: I don’t do it! I teach a group of sixth grade students, usually members of the orchestra program, and they tune the ukuleles daily in exchange for one Jolly Rancher! I consider it money well spent!

When we need supplies:

Sometimes you need to get kids a lot of supplies quickly for an activity; a pencil, a paper, an eraser, a clipboard; dry erase markers, marker boards, and eraser, etc. When this need arises, I make a line of the supplies, and have the students follow the leader, buffet style, to pick things up. They circle around the room to their home spot with all of their “swag” and then we can get started. We put things away in reverse. It’s the fastest way I’ve found to efficiently manage getting and putting away these kinds of things.

instrument storage

Organizing the instruments and supplies and helping your students independently manage their use in your classroom is an effective way of maximizing the instructional time you have with your students.

This is a window into storage and management of instruments and supplies in our classroom. I know that it won’t be a perfect model somewhere else, but I hope it helped spark some of your creativity! I would invite you to share your ideas and pictures in posted comments below to keep the conversation going about what works in your world.

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.

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  1. Leann Runyanwood on May 24, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Here is another idea for recorders. In order to enable a class to get them more quickly, I divided them into 3 groups for each class; I used the colors red, blue, and yellow. Each class’s recorder were then divided among three coffee cans; red, blue and yellow (the cans were also color coded to each class) and I kept them in three different parts of the room. Then it took any class 1/3 of the time to get their own and they weren’t all crowded at one place. I also used those divisions for playing, as in, reds play the top part or let me hear just the blues.

    • Drue on May 25, 2017 at 9:30 am

      Great idea, Leann!
      I have used this idea with more advanced choral groups I’ve worked with. This was especially effective when there were pieces in our repertoire that used different voicings. At times there were SSA, SA, SSAA, SSSAA, and each required a different number of voices on each part for balance, blend, etc. (I learned this idea from Joy Hirokawa.) I devised a system that I understood and for used five or six different colors and each singer was assigned a color group. Then when we learned the pieces, I could just say “reds and pinks sing the top line, orange, yellow, green sing the second line.”

      I like the idea of using this in recorder work as well. I may just give everyone a strip of tape on their recorder like you suggested which will help with creating partners- “be a partner with someone who is not your color.” It could also help with creating small groups. If you used 5 or six colors of tape, this would automatically give you small groups for listening, etc. This idea has a lot of mileage to be explored! Thank you so much for the suggestion!

  2. Janine on May 24, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Long time no see, Drue! I was so excited to see your post in my Teaching With Orff email! I knew my co-op teacher was amazing, and this just adds to the list of reasons why! Thanks for sharing all of this – I’ve stolen quite a few of your ideas 🙂 and I love the little stools for student seating – cheap, effective, and easy to store!

    • Drue on May 25, 2017 at 9:20 am

      Hello, Janine! I’m always glad to hear from former student teachers! Yes– it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other! I’m glad you like the ideas, and your time at our school is still bringing value to your professional life! The stools are great, they have some wear and tear issues if you let the kids abuse them, but I’ve found that if they are just used mainly for drumming and chorus, they are holding up really nicely. Hope to see you soon!

  3. Janice Smith on May 24, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    last weeks post suggested using fabric coated elastic for securing the bars on xylophones. I had a bunch of Chinese jump ropes and they worked out great!

    • Drue on May 25, 2017 at 9:15 am

      Hi, Janice. You’re right, I used Chinese jump ropes as well and these do work really well as an option. The black elastic is very small and could work as well. Thanks for the feedback!

  4. Deborah on May 24, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    “takes the used recorders to the cafeteria for cleaning and sanitizing regularly. I figure if it’s getting the trays and flatware clean enough to eat from, it’s good enough for getting our recorders clean.” I used to do this too, until food service said they could no longer do it because it wasn’t a foodservice item. Now we keep them in separate plastic bags (there goes the environment) and at the end of the school year I take them all home and run them in my own dishwasher, which takes forever with 6 sections of classes and the fact they don’t fit in my dishwasher in one piece! ARGH!!!!!

    • Debby on February 28, 2019 at 2:51 pm

      At the end of the year, I clean my classroom sets of recorders with hot soap water and bleach. Obviously I wear gloves. The department of health confirms bleach water to be a good disinfectant. I then rinse them well. I just do this in my classroom sink and have a good drainer to leave them in overnight. I’ve done this for years.

  5. Drue on May 25, 2017 at 9:12 am

    Hi, Deborah,

    Your frustration is completely understandable! All of my students have their own recorder which they either own, or borrow from the music room for the year. We keep them in cases in their class bins- this addresses the sanitizing concerns on an individual basis. The number of recorders that I loan is rather small. I could easily wash these in my classroom sink– more likely I would have a student helper do this for me– and use some kind of sterilizing solution as part of the process. My idea is to try to minimize the need for recorder cleaning to be a part of my life! I’m sorry the food service piece doesn’t work for you, I wonder what other creative ideas people have for solving this problem?

  6. Jake on October 25, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Wow, Drue. As a new teacher with a lot less in my room – this makes me very excited for the future! Thank you for posting some great procedures. It’s stuff that they should teach in college when we’re studying to be music teachers: the actually “doing” of the job.

    Thank you.

  7. Molly McLaughlin on May 24, 2021 at 11:27 am

    I am a new teacher and I need to figure out the best way to store my barred instrument bars over the Summer. How do you store your Xylophone, Metallophones? I do not have a storage room in my room and I am trying to figure out the best way to store them to keep them from damage? I would love your thoughts.

  8. Drue Bullington on May 27, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    Hello, Molly!

    Being a new teacher this year had to be one of the great challenges of your life! Congrats for making it to the end of the year in one piece.

    As for your instruments, the best way to store them is to first vacuum them out, then clean them with Murphey’s Oil Soap, and then oil the bars and wooden resonator boxes with English Oil. Here is a link for more information: (Gentle detergent soap for the metallophones works just fine, make sure it’s all wiped off and dried.

    When you store these instruments for the summer, I would recommend that they are placed up off the floor if possible, perhaps on counters, or on shelves and no matter what, protect the wooden bars and cases from being in direct sunlight. Sunlight is the biggest detriment-causing factor to these instruments. Cover them up to keep dust off of them. Simple old bed sheets will work fine, some dollar store table cloths will also do the trick.

    Leave a note on the top of them for your custodial staff about the instruments and how to handle them, that the bars come off easily when they are handled, etc. This way when they deep clean your room in the summer (if they do this) there will not be a horror story when you return in August.

    Generally, try to be proactive. If there is a space in your school that will be climate controlled all summer (if your classroom is not) ask about storing the instruments there for the summer. For years I would move the piano and the barred instruments to the conference room because they kept the air on in that space all summer and it was easier on the instruments. Now our school is climate controlled all year round (after a lovely experience with mold growing as a result of a wet hot summer and a subsequent month long mold mitigation experience), and we no longer have to move instruments.

    Those are my initial thoughts. I hope they help! All the best for a wonderful, restful, rejuvenating summer!

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