Art-Making Activity: Yardi Gras Music Makers

Musicians may come together on a stage or in the street to create a larger sound; the heartbeat of a celebration like Mardi Gras – or this year’s Yardi Gras! In this activity, we take inspiration from a handheld instrument called the mbira, found only in Africa and especially common in Liberia. The mbria is often referred to as a “thumb piano” or “finger xylophone,” reflecting the way in which its metal or bamboo keys are plucked by the musician to produce a sound. This mbira is carefully carved with decorative geometric patterns and a human-like head, expressing its player’s personality. 

Thumb Piano with Figurative Handle (Sansa), Dan Peoples, Liberia/Sierra Leone, wood, iron, brass tacks, hair calabash, caning, pigment, promised gift of Françoise Billion Richardson.

Using items found around the house, you’ll create your own shaker or maraca — an instrument common in Caribbean, South American, and Latin American cultures. Like the mbira, maracas are hand-held, perfect for carrying, dancing, and playing on-the-go! 

Materials for Yardi Gras Music Makers


  • Paper plate
  • Stapler
  • Glue
  • Decorative items – markers, ribbon, beads, stickers
  • Filler items – beans, beads, bottle caps 


(1) Fold your paper plate in half like a taco. 

(2) Decorate the outer sides of the plate with markers, decorative paper, stickers, and so on!

(3) Along the inside rim of the plate, glue or staple decorations like ribbon, bells, or paper fringe.


(4) Place a handful of beans, beads, or bottle caps in the center of the plate. Staple the plate closed. Be sure to seal the edge tight so none of the items fall out while shaking.

(5) Shake your instrument to create your own music!

Can you reuse other items in your home to invent your own instrument? Create multiple instruments to play with others and march in your own parade