Rhythm Instruments for Children: Benefits for Children with Autism


Rhythm or percussion instruments are any instruments that you can shake, hit, or strum to make noise.

These instruments require strength, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, which is why investing in rhythm instruments for children is so important. Playing musical instruments is great for developing fine motor skills and developing gross motor skills. For people with autism spectrum disorders, the development of these motor skills may be more delayed than in neurotypical children. This is why toys and instruments are very beneficial for developing these skills.

The various musical instruments listed are very beneficial for your autistic child to develop proper motor skills, hand-eye coordination, impulse control, musical ability, and social skills.

How do rhythm instruments support children with autism?

Percussion instruments are beneficial for children with autism because these specific instruments require certain skills to play. Percussion instruments such as bells, drums or xylophones allow the player to have control when playing. Your child can decide how much weight to put behind, kick or shake. This teaches them that hitting too hard will produce a loud sound and they can decide whether or not they like that sound. Not to mention that percussion instruments are great instruments for developing musical ability and they can be a great de-stresser used for mental health. Many percussion instruments are used during music therapy, and many schools offer classes to learn specific rhythm instruments. This would have the added benefit of increasing social interaction and improving social skills.

According to a study by music therapy graduates from Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea, on dyadic drumming and social skills: implications for rhythm-mediated intervention for children with of the autism spectrum: “With regard to the social skills of people with ASD, several musical interventions have been shown to generate favorable results in terms of social attention, social engagement, initiation of social interaction and/ or communicative behaviors, self-control and emotional reciprocity.

The instruments mentioned are fun to play, don’t have to be expensive, and develop fine and gross motor skills. That said, Autism Parenting Magazine is not affiliated with or endorses any of the products mentioned below.

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Percussion instruments to consider

Sound ShapesⓇ Circular Drums

Sound Shapes Circle Drums are colorful skins perfect for young children who want to create music. These drums make a high-pitched sound when struck and are easy to use. Sound Shape circular drums are available in different colors and sizes and take up less space than regular drums. These circular drums are lightweight and easy to move, making it fun for children with autism to play around the house. These drums are good for developing hand-eye coordination and impulse control.


Bells may seem like a nightmare to buy for a young child, but these instruments are very beneficial rhythm instruments. Keep in mind that bells come in different price ranges and can be quite expensive. Bells for children usually come in different colors and come in a set of 8. Bells are good for developing rhythm, physical coordination and listening skills.


A piano or keyboard are popular percussion instruments, but they can be quite expensive. That said, there are plenty of inexpensive alternatives, especially for kids. Many children’s keyboards have fun features, such as keys that light up and make different fun sounds. A keyboard is a good gateway instrument for your child if they want to play the piano when they are older. Keyboards are good for fine motor skills and encourage creativity.


The cabasa is available in different sizes and is a wooden pocket instrument. The sound of the cabasa comes from a string of cylindrical beads wrapped around wood which, when shaken, the rubbing of the beads against each other invokes a sound similar to shakers, or if you’ve ever made a DIY shaker , rice in a can of pringles. The cabasa is a fun instrument because the beads add sensation when rolled over the skin. The cabasa uses gross motor skills and strength to bring out the sound of the cabasa when shaken.

ocean drum

A sea drum is a favorite among children because of the sweet sound it makes. The ocean drum is aptly named because of the sound of the ocean it makes when beating the drum or slowly deflecting the pellets. The drum comes in different sizes, but the inches usually stay the same. The Ocean Drum is a double-sided frame drum allowing children to clap with their hands on both sides or use mallets. The pellets inside the drum mimic the sound of the ocean and crashing waves, creating a soothing sound of soft white noise.


Made of wood or plastic, the castanets rely on the fingers to exert pressure on the two shells so that they come together to create music. Castanets are fun, inexpensive little instruments that come in different fun colors or with pictures on them, and are easily portable. Castanets are great for supporting motor skills by isolating various finger movements. Castanets can be an excellent tool for self-regulation in people with autism.


A popular but expensive percussion instrument, as mentioned earlier, is the piano. If you’re not looking to shell out thousands of dollars, a melodica is a great children’s instrument that practices breath control and coordination. A melodica is a cross between a harmonica and a keyboard that produces fun sounds that kids will love. As children navigate the keyboard part of the melodica, it becomes a great instrument for practicing fine motor skills.


Xylophones are a fun and popular instrument among children. Made of wood, a children’s xylophone features a range of keys similar to a keyboard, except that each key is a different color. Instead of fingers, the xylophone relies on gross motor control of arm and wrist movements to strike the mallets on the keys, creating sound.

Percussion tubes

Percussion tubes or Boomwhackers are not widely used instruments, but they are extremely fun to play and benefit children and adults alike. Percussion tubes are hollow plastic color-coded tubes. Each tube emits a different note creating a musical sound when struck or tapped against something else, such as your leg or a table. Percussion tubes are a great instrument for judging a child’s energy and emotions without saying anything verbally. Percussion tubes can be a great tool to support gross motor development and self-regulation.

Honorable mentions


The ukulele is a great instrument for children with autism, for many reasons. The small size makes them easier to handle than a full size guitar, they can be played immediately instead of waiting to be tuned, and they come in many colors making them a desirable instrument for children . The ukulele is great for practicing hand-eye coordination, using fine motor skills when picking the string, and developing gross motor skills when using the full arm to strum.


The violin is one of the hardest musical instruments to learn, but the benefits are amazing. The violin is perfect for sensory development, improving coordination and increasing concentration. Many schools offer violin lessons for children, adding the benefit of increased social interaction. The violin can be difficult to learn, but once learned it can be incredibly rewarding and a great confidence booster.

To finish

The benefits of children with autism playing musical instruments are numerous. Rhythm instruments are popular among music therapists because many of them develop fine and gross motor skills. Percussion instruments are great for developing hand-eye coordination, self-regulation and increasing concentration in children with autism. They also have the added benefit of being fun, increasing the likelihood that whatever instrument you buy will be played until you as a parent can’t handle the noise anymore, haha.


Ga Yeul Yoo, Su Ji Kim, (2018) Dyadic Drumming and Social Skills: Implications for Rhythm-Mediated Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Music Therapy.


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