An Educator’s Favorite Lesson

Posted by Richard Kessler On March - 15 - 2011

Richard Kessler

Tim Mikulski, who organized this blog salon, suggested topics for us to consider for the salon and it got me to thinking that since I blog a lot about issues, I would love to post a lesson of all things.

So, here’s one that I carry around with me wherever I go, although I don’t get to use it very much these days.

I hope you won’t mind if I skip the alignment with standards and some of the other traditional formats for curricula. I have formal versions of this lesson somewhere or another, but for the salon, I did a quick write-up from memory. 

Instant Music Making

Grade Level: Kindergarten or First Grade (it can be adapted to any age).

Materials: Paper, pen/pencil/crayons, etc., various objects found around the room.

Classroom Set Up: Children sit in semi circle

Role of Teacher: Teacher participates with students and models when appropriate

Purpose: The purpose of this lesson is to engage the students and teacher in direct music making, including invented notation, sound production, sound memory, conducting, basic composition, and interpretation. The lesson will allow the students to create, notate, order and reorder, recognize and perform sounds via invented notations, and perform a finished piece of music, created jointly by the students. It does not matter whether or not the students have regular music study. But, if they do, it can be done in partnership with the music teacher, if there is one.

(The sequence below is without fixed timings. The lesson is often taught across multiple sessions, with extra attention giving to recapping the prior session’s work.)

1. Students and teacher sit in semi-circle.

2. Students and teacher are asked to listen to sounds outside of the classroom, in the hall or outside the building, during one minute of silence.

3. Question: What did you hear? Each student describes the sound they just heard.

4. Question: Who can make the sound, with either there voice, body, or with something in the room? Teacher models, by performing a sound. Each student performs their sound. Students and teacher are asked to listen to sounds inside the classroom, during one minute of silence.

5. Question: What did you hear? Each student and teacher describes the sound they just heard. Students are again asked to create/perform their sound, with voice, body, or with an object in the room. Students and teacher are asked to listen to sounds very close to them, during one minute of silence.

6. Question: What did you hear? Each student and teacher describes the sound they just heard. (Some hear breathing; others the beating of their heart; some have heard the ticking of my pocket watch, which I always wear when I teach this lesson; others hear the shuffling of my feet, as I walk around the classroom.) Students are again asked to create/perform their sound, with voice, body, or with an object in the room.

7. Next, we circulate paper, pens, crayons, etc. Students and teacher are asked to choose one of the sounds they selected and performed, and then to use the paper and writing instruments to draw their sound in order to make a picture of their sound. (I model the performance of my sound, then I show the drawing I made of the sound.) Each student shows their drawing and makes their sound.

8. Then we begin a process of selecting three “sound pictures,” where the entire class becomes skilled at making a uniform sound for each sound picture. We expand the sound picture group to six sounds. Next we place the sound pictures on the floor in a line from left to right.

9. Then we practice making the sounds as I point/conduct to the pictures, and as student comfort/skill develops, we begin a process of my conducting the sounds in different sequence, duration, volume, etc. The students each get a chance to reorder the “sound pictures”, and eventually we begin to perform two sound pictures at once, with the student experimenting with placing one sound picture partially over the other, to help establish relative volume of one sound picture to the other.

10. At a certain point, we conclude the work, with a final performance.

Questions for the Blog Reader:

•    What do you think is the value of such a lesson?
•    Do you think that any teacher or teaching artist could do this?
•    Don’t you want to try it?

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