DIY Native American turtle rattle

Did you know that November is Native American Heritage Month?  To celebrate the wonderful diversity of the native people groups of North America, today’s guest post – from Daria at Daria Music — is a simple tutorial on how to create a turtle rattle.

Rattles play an important part in Native American music. They can be made from a variety of different materials such as gourds, bark, seeds, seashells, deer hooves and even modern containers such as metal salt and pepper shakers!

One of the most beautiful Native American rattles is made from a turtle’s shell. It’s gentle sound and beautiful appearance is a welcome part of quieter Native American songs and ceremonies. Since turtle shells are a rare find for most families, here’s a version of this craft that recycles the metal “take-out” containers instead of an actual turtle shell.

Get Your Supplies

To create this turtle rattle you’ll need a few simple supplies. Look for a cleaned take-out container, a piece of cardboard or poster board, glue or hot glue, pens and paint for decoration and about a handful of small items that can make the sound of your rattle. Smaller materials such as birdseed, tiny pasta, seed beads or Q-tips make a quiet sound. Larger items such as dried beans, macaroni, pebbles, larger beads or buttons make a louder sound.

Make Your Turtle

To make your turtle, place the larger side of the take-out container on the cardboard and trace the circle it makes. To that circle, add the head, tail, and fours feet of the turtle. Cut out the turtle shape and decorate by adding eyes, or other markings on the feet and tail.

Decorate the Shell

Next, turn your metal container upside down and paint or color the part that will be the shell. Many of these containers have geometric designs stamped into the metal that look like the scales or areas seen on a turtle’s back. Feel free to be creative with making your turtle’s shell unique and beautiful!

Make It Rattle!

Next, add the materials that will create the sound. Place them inside the take-out container and close the lid and shake. Do you like that sound? If not, try another material and keep going until you’ve gotten a perfect sound for the rattle you are making.

Put it All Together

When you’ve completed all this, place your shell onto the cardboard or poster board and glue it into place. Regular craft glue works for this instrument but hot glue creates a better seal for this project, if you have that available.

Time To Play!

Hold your completed turtle shell in one or two hands and gently shake. You can shake from side to side or up and down or let the materials “swoosh” inside the shell, creating different sounds. Make a beat and play along with a song you know or favorite music from a recording.

Create Your Own Turtle or Animal Song

Have you ever had a pet that you loved or a special type of animal that inspired you? You can shake your rattle and sing about that as well. Many Native songs are very simple. Just keep a steady beat on your rattle or a drum and you can create a wonderful song that tells about the animals you love and why they are meaningful to you.

Explore Native American Music and Culture

If you live in the USA, there may be a Native American museum created by a local tribe in your area. You can visit a pow-wow that is open to the public or look online at websites such as the NMAI (National Museum of the American Indian) or Native American tribes and indigenous peoples are incredibly diverse and have a rich cultural history. We invite you to respectfully learn more and share what you know with others!

Daria_AdToday’s post is written by Daria of Daria Music.  She is an award-winner folksinger, whose music is played around the world.  She holds a degree in ethomusicology and is active advocate with education, Native American and children’s issues.  You can find Daria’s music on itunes and amazon

Likewise, Daria hosts a monthly giveaway for ethnic instruments.  This month, you can with an authentic Native American turtle rattle!


  1. We are doing a year long Native American unit, and this is a great idea! Thanks :)

  2. Inspired Montessori and Arts says:

    For more good Native American Unit ideas I have many to share with you. Loved this post!


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