Brianne Gidcumb | May 2015

Integrating Visual Art into Instrument Design

Today, we’re discussing integrating visual art into instrument design.

One of my favorite projects, and a favorite among my general music students, is the Junkyard Band project. Every spring, 2nd graders make the trek to school carrying an incredible assortment of homemade instruments to share with their classmates. The amount of creativity, critical thinking, and heart and soul that went into each instrument is evident as they carefully carry their treasures into the music room.

It’s a great arts integrated project seen in many classrooms. But, there’s another content that we can invite to the party: visual arts. There are so many natural connections already in the Visual Arts National Core Arts Standards. That is, if you look at it from a design standpoint, and if you stress the importance of making the instrument visually appealing.

Integrating Visual Art into Instrument Design

 The following standards are already naturally-aligning:

  • Cr1.1.2a: Brainstorm collaboratively multiple approaches to an art or design problem.
  • Cr2.3.2a: Repurpose objects to make something new.
  • Cr3.1.2a: Discuss and reflect with peers about choices made in creating artwork.

If you’re looking at it from this design standpoint, you are already standards-aligned. Additionally, you could use a design rubric to assess your students from a visual arts perspective.

Another option would be to look at the presentation standards from the Core Arts Standards. You could talk about how best to display works of art, create artist statements, and create a museum exhibit of students’ invented instruments. (See my article on “Creating Classroom Exhibits” for some more specific ideas.) While it’s not an art-making experience, it is a natural, authentic tie-in that is related to the Presenting strand of standards.

  • Pr4.1.2a: Categorize artwork based on a theme or concept for an exhibition.

  • Pr5.1.3a: Identify exhibit space and prepare works of art including artists’ statements, for presentation.

Finally, if you wanted students to  create a piece of art related to their instrument design, you could have them create a composition in the style of Kandinsky. Or, have them draw a still life of their instrument. Outline specific elements of visual art for students to explore, and simply use the instrument as a vehicle for this exploration. This allows you to assess children on whatever visual arts elements you see fit. Or, whatever naturally aligns with your curriculum.

Even if none of those ideas will work for your classroom, I hope it might spark something that WILL work authentically for you to bring visual art to instrument design!

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: