Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option...until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.

adas violin.jpg

design challenge


How can we design instruments that we can control/change the pitch and volume? 

Students should engage in a Driving Question Board to elicit ideas and ask questions about what they need to know to answer this question and solve the problem. 



It is important to consider the musician who would be playing the instrument. There are certain ergonomics that are taken into consideration when holding the instrument (i.e. the curve of a cello or guitar, chin rest for violin, grooves on a drum)

​Simply Suggestions:

  • Recyclable containers

  • Tin cans / Pop cans

  • TP / Paper towel rolls

  • Rubber bands (various thicknesses and sizes)

  • String

  • Yarn

  • Fishing line

  • Popsicle sticks

  • Spoons

  • Straws

  • Balloons


Your Choice: 

  • Change the pitch and explain how

  • Change the volume and explain how

  • Optional: Can it be played multiple ways

  • Optional: Cost or limitation of materials 


As a class, brainstorm various instruments and help students to understand the ways in which pitch and volume can change. In discussing instruments, students should look for patterns between them (those that have strings, objects that are struck, blown, shaking, etc.) In doing this, they will have a plethora of ideas to pull from. Encourage them to make something new and unique, not just another version of a regular drum, guitar, or flute. Really push for innovation. 

PE aligned

Including, but not limited to: 

  • Sound


Typically it is best for them to plan in smaller groups, like pairs, so that they can practice playing the instrument. The plan needs to indicate the materials they are selecting with specifics. These should be detailed diagrams. Push students to write sentences as to how they plan to control the pitch and volume, and what design choices they made to meet this goal. 

Teacher Tip: Be prepared, students will want to keep these. Some consider having students make their own instrument independently. 


Students will work together to create their design according to their plan. They should not make changes just yet. Some students who may have missed something in their plan will have a chance to iterate later, but encourage them to think creatively if they feel they made a "mistake." 


To test, you may have small groups pair up and play their instrument for the other group. They should demonstrate a change in pitch and volume, while explaining the design choices they made. You can then have these groups pair up and "present" again. Another consideration may be to have them "perform" for you to hear the change in pitch and volume, while having them explain the choices and considerations they made. If taking this approach, students could write a song about sound to be performed on their instrument, encourage them to choose a tune/rhythm they know (i.e. jingle bells, bingo, mary had a little lamb, etc.) and write the words. 


Students may need to adjust their instrument, especially if "strings" are not pull taught or if something is not well secured. They should not completely change their design or switch the instrument inscription they selected. This is minor tuning to meet the constraints. 

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