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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Abstract Music Listening Lesson for Young Students: Niko Draws a Feeling

I love having students draw as a response to music, but I've struggled to find ways to encourage young students to draw more abstract images to portray the mood of the music- in almost every case, students will either draw pictures of the instruments they hear, or some concrete object the music reminds them of, like elephants, volcanoes, or butterflies. Sometimes they will think of a feeling and draw a face showing that emotion, but even that is unusual. That's why, when I came across this book at the library recently, I couldn't wait to share my new lesson idea!

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The book (you can get it here on Amazon) is called Niko Draws a Feeling, by Bob Raczka, and it describes a boy who draws abstract pictures. When he tries to explain his drawings to others, they can't understand why he isn't drawing concrete objects.

So here's how I plan to use this book with my lower elementary students.

First, we read and discuss the story, and talk about whether any of them have ever drawn pictures that weren't specific "things they can see". On the board, I have individual students try drawing different feelings or ideas as I call them out: happy, the sound of a train whistle, the feeling of getting under a warm blanket in the wintertime... Then we listen to excerpts from a few pieces with contrasting moods- I like Jupiter from The Planets by Holst and Mozart's Symphony 39 mvt 4, but really you could use most any music for this- and talk about the feeling that the music communicates.

The next step is to connect abstract art and abstract music. To help students further understand the connection between the two, I show this video:

Now it's time to try drawing pictures to respond to music! I try to make sure they have several colors to choose from rather than just using a pencil for this kind of activity, because I know my brain associates different colors with different feelings, and I'm sure many of my students do as well. Again, any type of music would work for this activity, but I like Debussy's Arabesque No 1 or Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (unless they've already seen Fantasia- better not to use something that they already have connected to another visual representation).

What are some strategies you use to help students express the mood of abstract music? I think this is an important skill not just for understanding music and composer intent more deeply but also for developing emotional literacy (something we could all use more of!). Have you ever used this book in music class? I can't wait to try this lesson in the fall! If you're interested in more music lessons incorporating children's literature, click here to see all of my posts on the topic. For another great music lesson using a book that deals with emotional literacy, check out this post:

Looking for more lesson ideas to last all year? My full curriculum includes all the plans and materials you need for K-6 general music classes.

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  1. Hi! I just want to say quickly how helpful your blog has been to me as a first year teacher who found her elf teaching pre-K- 5th grade. Oh boy! I would like to know about what grade would you recommend this book for? I also tech private piano lessons and getting kids to think about the music has always been a struggle for me. So many times I ask what does the music make them think and they just tell me they don't think about anything. I would love to get their imaginations growing. Thank you!~Michelle~

    1. I've done this with K-2 and it has worked great! My daughter says the same thing to her violin teacher all the time so I know the struggle :) Thanks for reading, so glad to hear it has been helpful!