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Plan: Sonic Sketching: Painting Pictures With Found Sounds

Subject: Music/ Language Arts

Grade Level: 4-8

Estimated Time of Completion: four to five fifty minute class periods

I. Summary

Students will learn that music has the ability to paint visual images and emotional representations. That the elements of music are to the composer as the paint pallet is to the artist. Students will use the Sound Lounge activity Sonic Daydreams as a vehicle to gain insight into the programmatic potential of music. This lesson will culminate in the creation of a found sounds ensemble, with four or more students composing their own Sonic Daydream.

II. Objectives

  • Students will practice improvisational skills while composing an ensemble piece.
  • Students will improve their listening skills through Sound Lounge activities, and ensemble rehearsal and performance.
  • Students will listen to, analyze, and describe music.
  • Students will evaluate music and music performance.
  • Students will notate their composition.
  • Students will understand relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
  • Students will sculpt an artistic representation of their composition.
  • Students will use the Internet for further study and exploration.

III. Materials Needed

  • Every day household items that are able to produce a pleasing or effective musical sound
  • Recording device - (could be any of the following: tape deck, writable CD player, Digital Disk Recorder, Keyboard sequencer).
  • Staff paper and pencil
  • Computers with Internet access will be helpful in further study for website search.
  • Play Dough

IV. Procedure

    1. Introduce the lesson by having students work through the various exercises below that correspond with the Sonic Daydreams Sound Lounge:
    • For each phrase that you listen to, list the instruments that you hear.
    • Try the various phrase combinations and the combination you like best. After listening to a combination of three phrases, change one phrase and listen to the differences in the sonic images.
    • For each phrase, describe how the musical elements are used to portray the image listed. Does the instrumentation also reflect the image?
    • What other instruments or sounds could have been used to create a similar image?
    • How does the melody change with the various combinations?
    • Which combinations create your favorite melody?
    • Create a Sonic Image combination with a fast tempo.
    • Create a Sonic Image combination with a slow tempo.
    • What changes in the choices provided could you make to create a more clear melodic line?
    • What combinations create a Sonic Image with a steadier beat?
    • What combination creates a Sonic Image with less steady beat?


    2. Students will create a Sonic Daydream using everyday household items or found sounds. This collection of found "junk yard" percussion instruments will be used to create a composition. Students may go through their kitchen, or garage, and experiment with different objects striking them for sound production. The student assignment should center on finding enough "musical" objects for each student to have an "instrument." Students grouped in an ensemble of four to six students would be preferable.

    Hint - items could include:

      • Rubber/plastic trash barrels for bass drum sounds
      • Pots and pans hit with wood spoons
      • A whisk on a cheese grater
      • A box of matches as shakers
      • Blowing over the top of plastic pop bottles.
    3. After scavenging for items, bring the items together and experiment with each items to listen for the full spectrum of potential sounds. Let each performer have individual time with their found object during the creative process. Students will then come up with a theme for the sonic daydream to lead the programmatic image that they will compose around, such as:
    • A rainforest thunderstorm
    • Rush hour in L.A.
    • A junk yard safari for hidden treasures
    • A warm prairie wind dancing through Nebraska wheat

    Students will decide if the composition will have a steady beat, a defined melody, form, specific duration etc.

    4. Students will record their musical phrases during the creative process on through the final modifications. The playback of the recordings will act as a means of assessment and guidance in the editing process.

    5. When the composition is complete, the students will each transcribe their own part agreeing upon meter, tempo, and note values.

    6. With Play Dough, each ensemble member will depict his or her musical part of the ensemble in linear form, with each player’s visual image lining-up in a time line one below the other on a flat surface. The music may be portrayed using shape, color, the presence or absence of play dough etc. In other words, the Play Dough will be shaped in a long line or string, which represents the length and duration of the musical composition. One end represents the beginning of the music and the other the end of the music. As the melodic line becomes higher, so would the Play Dough move up the table surface. If the music is loud, the Play Dough could become thicker in the line or string. Students can experiment with the visual color of the Play Dough and matching that color to the tone color of the music. If the music rests, the Play Dough string could separate in two for an equal ratio of distance. See if an independent observer is able to associate the correct sculpting with the musical ensemble part.

    7. Students will perform their composition in a public setting for parents and community.

V. Classroom Assessment

  • Students should have completed all assignments, and actively participated in all discussions.
  • Students should be able to identify how different timbre and the elements of music are able to paint a musical image or create programmatic music.
  • Following the performance of the student composition, audience members will validate the authentic assessment process through verbal feedback to the performers.
  • Students will evaluate through discussion their success at creating a composition that truly depicts the Sonic Image that was intended.

VI. Extensions and Adaptations

    • Students could take three musical themes from the Sound Lounge, and write a poem that responds to the sounds that they hear.
    • Students could create a dance that corresponds to the Sonic Image from the Sound Lounge that has a steady beat and a strong melody.
    • Students could draw, paint, or sketch a representation of their composition to be used as a Compact Disc cover for their recording.


VII. Relevant National Standards


    • Content Standard #2: Demonstrates competence in performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
    • Content Standard #3: Demonstrates competence in improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments
    • Content Standard #4: Demonstrates competence in composing and arranging music within specified guidelines
    • Content Standard #5: Demonstrates competence in reading and notating music
    • Content Standard #6: Demonstrates competence in listening to, analyzing, and describing music
    • Content Standard #7: Demonstrates competence in evaluating music and music performances
    • Content Standard #8: Demonstrates competence in understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

Language Arts

  • Demonstrates competence in speaking and listening as tools for learning


  • Knows the characteristics and uses of computer software programs including the Internet


Information about the author

Brett Smith’s sixteen years of teaching classroom, vocal, and instrumental music, have been broad and varied including each grade level of K-12 students as well as College instruction. Teaching assignments have included suburban and rural settings, with his present duties focusing on elementary classroom music in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. Brett received his B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College and his M.A. in Music Education from the University of Minnesota.

In October of ’99, Brett was named the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, and went on to become one of the four finalists for the 2000 National Teacher of the Year. He is the President-elect of the Minnesota Music Educators Association, and on the American Composers Forum Advisory Committee for the development of the New Band Horizons Project, (pursuing collaborations with great composers to write music for second year band). He is a past Board Representative of the Minnesota Band Directors Association, past Board vice-president of the Mahtomedi Area Education Foundation, and the Treasurer and Negotiator for his local Education Association. While at Mahtomedi, he has developed, implemented and marketed the Master Musician Program: nine sequential interdisciplinary units incorporating music theory, music history, and the study of other cultures into the performance classroom. He performs on drum-set with the Century College Jazz Ensemble, the St. Louis Park Community Jazz Ensemble, and voice and drum-set with the variety group "A Touch of Class".

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