No Instruments, No Problem: Making Music In Quarantine

By Arianna Monge, MusicWorx Intern

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Theodore Roosevelt

In the midst of a pandemic, we find ourselves searching for some type of normalcy in our lives. With so much we cannot control, we must focus on what we CAN do. We did not create this situation, but we can take care of ourselves. We can play.

Between personal and professional responsibilities, adults can easily dismiss play. According to Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D, vice president for play studies at The Strong and editor of the American Journal of Play, “we don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up”. Play is essential to our wellbeing, productivity and creativity. We need play like we need oxygen. Psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, makes this comparison in his book, Play. Stuart writes, “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.”

I am grateful for the ability to sing, perform, songwrite, and play multiple instruments. As a budding music therapist, I get to use my talents to help others. Yet I struggle to do what I enjoy when I’m not working – make music. The thought of making music for myself oftentimes sounds laborious. Still, I find myself picking up the guitar and plucking out the chords to the song that’s stuck in my head or sharing my original music on a livestream open mic. In those moments, I’m reminded of the power of music when lost in the act of playing.

Playing an instrument is a rich and complex experience, as it integrates information from the senses of vision, hearing, and touch, along with fine movements, resulting in long-lasting changes in the brain. Not everyone may have access to an instrument during this time, nor have the time to pick it up and play. That doesn’t mean that playing with music is out of the question.

Now more than ever, we are reminded of the importance of playing music and having fun. One doesn’t need to be a music therapist in order to do that. Sometimes the biggest obstacle is getting out of our own way. Below are some ways we can all connect with music during quarantine, music therapists and non-musicians alike.

1. Create/Listen to Playlists

  • Using your favorite streaming platform, create a playlist for certain moods, themes, or genres.
  • Give your playlist a name
  • Share your playlists with others!

Some ideas for playlists:

  • “The extra-boost” playlist – to get you motivated or moving on your next workout or run. “Bap U” by Party Favor is just one EDM song that gets me hyped, and Kendrick Lamar’s music gets me going when I’m lifting weights.
  • Dance party playlist – don’t be afraid to turn it up and dance alone in your bedroom or invite your family members/roommates/pets to have some fun in the living room.
  • Just one of those days playlist – you know, when you’re not having it, throw on this mix to help you vent. “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against The Machine has been my go-to since my angsty middle school days. After listening to music that matches my current state, I almost always feel calmer.
  • Oldies but goodies – put together the jams from back in the day and enjoy the nostalgia with your parents, or grandparents when it’s finally safe to do so. We can all appreciate some Earth, Wind, and Fire, Bill Withers, The Temptations.
  • Songs to sing in the shower – because who doesn’t like to belt some Toto, Adele, or Queen in the shower?
  • In my feelings playlist – put together songs for when you’re in that place. “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves gives encouragement while validating the storms we all experience sometimes.
  • The Guilty Pleasure playlist – the mix that is saved for solo drives in the car, with pop hits from Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande.

Homemade Instruments

Learn to make an array of instruments with household items. Find videos of do-it-yourself instruments led by Resounding Joy Music Therapists on their facebook page.

  • Make a drum from containers covered with balloons in this video with Lindsay Zehren, MT-BC.
  • Allison Nocita, MT-BC, walks us through this DIY Tambourine
  • Make your own packing tape drum with this tutorial.
  • Lindsay Zehren, MT-BC shows us how to make a water xylophone.

3. Make music in your browser

Virtual Musical Instruments No piano? No drumset? No problem! Use your keyboard and mouse to play these virtual instruments. Online musical instruments include the virtual guitar, virtual piano, virtual drums, virtual bongos and the virtual pan flute.

The Dot Piano uses the letters on your keyboard to trigger the notes—and it’s also visually pleasing.

Learn about music from Zimbabwe and play traditional Shona songs on the mbira through this Google Doodle:

Chrome Music Lab has over a dozen different music making experiences. Try out the songmaker here.

4. Make Beats

Sampulator (808s) is a sequencer for your browser that turns your keyboard into a trigger pad for samples.

108: Described as a minimal beat machine, use your keyboard to trigger percussive elements along a short loop at 108 BPM, hence the name.

Beat Maker – Splice’s program allows you to select boxes on a grid to create your beat

5. Explore Ambient Music

Yume is an abstract, interactive music experience that takes you through different environments of sound.

Blokdust allows you to create synths, loops, effects and self-playing environments with geometric shapes. Based around simple connections and a stripped-down graphic interface, it makes the creation process accessible while still allowing for more complex and unique creations, and bringing sound creation to the web in a new way.

6. Try some synths

For a limited time, Moog and Korg made their digital synths available for free during Quarantine. Download them for your iOs or Google device.

With so many options for musical play, which one will you try? Share your favorites with us, your clients, and your loved ones!




Works Cited

Rampton, J. (2017, August 21). The Benefits of Playing Music Help Your Brain More Than Any Other Activity.

Tartakovsky, M. (2018, July 8). The Importance of Play for Adults. Psych Central


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