Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ The Magic of Objects 4

Magic Music-makers

The strangest sound-maker in my Storytelling Bag is what I call my Magic Music-maker. I put a lot of reliance on it: it can draw intrigued attention from adults as well as children, watching eyes as well as listening ears.

Ten-pence worth of magic

My original Magic Music-maker – a bendy, double-ended, pink plastic pipe – was bought for ten-pence from a box of sales items outside a Paper Chase shop at Waterloo Station. With caricature faces at either end, I think it might have been a Mr Men product. Whatever made me pick it up and blow into one end I have no idea. As soon as I did, I realised what interesting sounds it might make with a bit of experimentation. I took it home and the cat went wild as I practised, gradually extending the range of sound I could get. Eventually when I brought it into my storytelling, it got people sitting up and taking notice as soon as I began to blow.

Then one day in Cardiff, after a TES conference where I was giving talks and workshops, I discovered that I’d lost my precious pink Magic Music-maker. What on earth was I going to do to replace it? Finally on the Internet I located a supplier in Ireland that sold aids to help disabled children develop oral motor skills. Whistling Straws was the name of the product.  I bought a pack but when I received it I quickly realised that the individual straws were too short to make the kinds of sound I was used to. I decided to try fixing two straws together end-to-end with a piece of gaffer tape to join them. Hey presto! With one pink straw joined to one orange straw to make an item that totalled 17 inches in length, Magic Music was in business again.

Using the Magic Music-maker

What a great item for using in a storytelling workshop session with adults. It’s an immediate attention-getter, the sound gently cutting through the sounds of talk. What a great addition in a storytelling performance, the pink plastic pipe looking so incongruously contemporary yet producing so haunting a sound.

What a fantastic instrument for using with children of all ages, Early Years, Primary and Secondary. The comments it evokes come in a very wide range: ‘Where d’you get that thing?’ the thirteen-year-olds are inclined to ask. ‘Blow into the orange end now,’ the ten-year olds demand if I’ve started pink side first. ‘That’s Egypt music, that is,’ comments a boy in a playgroup. ‘That’s a bird, that is,’ says a  Reception-age girl, thus out of nowhere prompting an  improvised story in which the whole group of us listened to the call of the bird, flew with it through the school window, ended up at the seaside in Brighton and made a sandcastle in which we could all stay the night. I personally knew the magic of this story was working when one child then made the comment, ‘Ugh, I’ve got sand in my hair.’

Resourcing your Magic Music-maker or Other Unusual Instruments

Magic Music can come in all kinds of shapes and forms. This is a very fortunate thing, for now I must confess to a problem. Quite a few years have gone by since I created my second Magic Music-maker with the two Whistling Straws and gaffer tape. I am currently trying – and failing – to identify a new source from which to obtain the particular type of plastic concertina-d straw which did the job for me. If and when I succeed, I’ll let you know the link to use. And if you see one, please let me know.

But meantime, what’s the problem? There are so many other sound-making instruments you could be choosing and using.

What about the type of hand-drum pictured here to the left? It, too, cuts through the sounds of chatter, creating anything from a  gentle rattle to a demanding drum-roll of sound. Sometimes when I’m showing it round, I talk about it as if it was the face of a person, a face with appended ear-rings dangling down from its ear-lobes. And that’s what made one listener say in response, ‘Those are not ear-rings, those are milk-bottles, those are.’

This also led to an interesting fantasy – that there might be storytellers going round schools with milk-bottles hanging from their ears so they need never go thirsty.

Or what about an ocarina, a tin-whistle or tambourine, a guitar or a brass bowl that can act as a kind of gong? The last of these is regularly employed by some of the storytellers I know, the resonance creating a lovely sense of grounding story, teller and audience in the timeless time of legend.

The value of Magic Music

Brought into a storytelling situation, sound-making instruments can create a wholly new effect. Consider not only what you might select to make your Magic Music but also what different effects it might help to create.

  • It may be valuable as an opener, an attention-getter as described above.
  • It may provide a few moments’ welcome respite, an interlude between two different stories.
  • It may be useful for creating arresting sound-effects during the course of a story. For instance, what I call my bull-roarer (see right), bought at the sea-side on a Tenerife holiday, makes wonderfully scary noises suitable for ghosts or monsters, a roaring lion or tiger or a terrible storm or, equally, for the frightened atmosphere in which you might anticipate these.


A Storytelling Chant

Your Magic Music instruments could also be used in this Storytelling Chant of mine which I’ve used hundreds and hundreds of times to good effect with Early Years children and Primary pupils up to the ages of 8 or 9. I’ve also used it to good effect with groups of Special Needs adults.

“It’s Storytime! It’s Storytime!



What’s going on?”

The keys to success with this chant are as follows:

  • tone of voice (liveliness and expression of voice are essential for encouraging participation)
  • actions (knee-tapping in line 1, finger to mouth in line 2, hand behind ear in line 3, arms raised questioningly in line 4)
  • repetition (although the chant begins quietly with the storyteller, it can enjoyably continue until just about everyone is participating)
  • surprise (when your audience is thoroughly engaged in the chant, you can add a new element of interest by bringing in one or more of your Magic Music instruments – Shh! Listen! Here’s something special.

A thought to end with:

The wonderful Burmese storyteller, Beulah Candappa, once described storytelling as ‘the art of time and silence’. It’s a great description. Stories are much, much more than words. They are also journeys of feeling in which sounds can punctuate silence and thereby help create a much-needed and deeper new sense of time.


You can also read occasional blogs by me on the Early Learning HQ website: Early Learning HQ offers hundreds of free downloadable foundation stage and key stage one teaching resources. It also has an extensive blog section with contributions from a wide range of early years professionals, consultants and storytellers.

Next week:

The verbal clue – ‘it’s broken sunshine’

And a visual clue –

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