{{ credit }}

The DSO Music Toolbox

music education gets an upgrade with engagement resource

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra launched a music toolbox project that offers creative ways for early childhood educators to bring music into their classrooms and diverse learning environments.  

Accompanying the project is a series of six videos that demonstrate how to use instruments found in the box and how to make your own instruments at home. It also teaches fundamental music concepts along with movement exercises. The videos are available for free on the DSO’s YouTube channel playlist. 

“People naturally make music when they’re with children: they’re singing, chanting, drumming,” exclaims Karisa Antonio, DSO Senior Director of Social Innovation and Learning. “We want to affirm the inherent musicality in these educators and their students."

DSO teaching artists (who work alongside educators in a variety of settings) tapped into networks from homes to childcare centers and asked, ‘How do you use music in your classroom and what would be helpful to you?’ Through those conversations and collaborations, the Music Toolbox was born. 

Educators and caregivers can interact with the videos in various ways to support childhood development in the classroom and at home: (1) as an ‘in the moment’ practice for adults and children, (2) as a guide for the use of the DSO Music Toolbox, and (3) videos can be used to support everyday materials used as strategies to promote exploration, connection, and expression.

The decorative box—which also serves as a drum—is a rich green with touches of gold and elements that suggest a magical forest. An embossed DSO logo swirls out like roots of a tree, inviting imaginative play. Inside, more magic unfolds with instruments from egg shakers to chimes, colorful scarves to imitate swishing of the wind, and a frog-shaped guiro—a percussion instrument with an open-ended hollow guard that makes a ratchet sound by rubbing a stick or tines along the notches. 


Together, students and educators explore themes like rhythm and sound; breath and movement. The music box also represents a shift from traditional teaching methods and encourages the fusion of music into everyday curriculum.  

For Sarah Schmitz’s early childhood education class at The Gifted Tree, the beginning of the week means a new book to read, and student participation includes them collecting props that go along with the story. It’s an activity Schmitz says has increased engagement and attention in the classroom. Their new approach to story time was introduced by award-winning vocalist and DSO teaching artist Audra Kabut, who worked with The Gifted Tree and Schmitz for 12 weeks to illustrate use of the music toolbox.  

“Audra showed us that instead of reading through the whole book, because with this age group, they're done with the book after a couple of minutes; it’s okay to just show them one page and connect with them through that,” Schmitz shares. “From that one page in the book, we were able to sing a song and that turned into a movement activity. So, showing them one page of a book, and getting all of this (engagement and activity) from that blew my mind.”

Schmitz also credits the time with Audra and working with the music toolbox as a personal confidence-builder.

“Growing up, I was never exposed to music the way Audra taught us to expose the children to it. I was limited in my skills, confidence, and comfortability in it. For us, we're so set on 'this is how you teach it. ' With music, there are so many ways to teach, and I was so set on how I was taught music; but Audra made it fun for us.” 

And the effect is rubbing off on the students quite well. Schmitz shares that students’ imaginations are expanding as they bring in items from home and around the classroom to add to their music box. There’s also more singing happening at home because of the songs created with props in the classroom and movement activities that relate to the story of the week.

“It’s allowing me to engage my kids so much more and keep them connected a lot longer. We’ve always had instruments in our classroom, but since Audra, they’ll go up and bring out the instruments and because I’m teaching it in a way that’s more appropriate for them, they want to learn more about it. So not only does it help with those transitions and different things we’re doing many times throughout the day, but I also see their love for music growing too.”  


*The DSO Music Toolbox is sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation


DSO Musical Toolbox Series: "Exploring Instruments" with Audra Kubat

Your gift to the DSO Impact Campaign supports music education

Give Today

Related articles