Functionality

Though built for a physically demanding location, an outdoor instrument should not compromise on sound quality. A good design will not only be robust and weatherproof, it will also be sufficiently resonant and accurately tuned to function as a usable musical instrument.


Some products tend to prioritise cosmetic appearance over acoustic performance. As well as depriving children of a valuable learning opportunity, these products can quickly loose their allure, while a well designed instrument, crafted from quality materials, can have a longer-lasting appeal.  

All outdoor instruments will be subject to pitch variations caused by changes in temperature and humidity: effects will be less pronounced in designs that use naturally resilient materials such as stainless steel and hardwoods. 

For optimum resonance, check that chimes and xylophone keys have been mounted at the node (approx. a quarter of the way in from the end) in a way that does not restrict their ability to vibrate freely. 

In our experience, chimes that are bolted to a frame through the front, i.e. playing face, do not resonate as well as those that are mounted sideways to the player. The same does not apply to xylophone keys.


Accessibility

If you are buying multiple instruments, make sure they are compatibly tuned to maximise opportunities for shared play and performance. 

Different musical scales will suit different age and ability ranges: a pentatonic scale sounds tuneful whichever notes are played. A diatonic scale has the eight notes that allow a more experienced player to perform many familiar tunes.

The playing position of an installation is important if players, particularly those with limited mobility, are to be able to engage spontaneously with the instrument. Choose products that are ergonomically designed and that have adjustable playing heights.

Consider how the instrument is sounded. Some designs such as drums can be played by hand, many require beaters. These can be loose, tethered or integrated into the instrument and require varying levels of dexterity and supervision. The weight and texture of a beater has a significant effect on tone and volume.


Durability

An outdoor musical instrument must be rugged enough to withstand sustained use as well as the extremes of the local climate. The choice of materials (and location of the instrument) will have a bearing on the longevity as well as the functionality of an installation. 

The availability and choice of beaters can affect the life expectancy of an instrument: if no beaters are provided, players may be tempted to use any objects that come to hand. Poorly maintained or inappropriate beaters can lead to permanently damaged equipment. 

In addition to being corrosion- and tamper-proof, components are best made from naturally durable materials that require less maintenance. For example, painted chimes are liable to chip when struck and can become unsightly, while a plain metal surface can be restored simply by polishing.  

We also recommend choosing products that use standard and reversible fixings so that components can be easily replaced or refurbished should it become necessary.