Brianne Gidcumb | October 2014

Music as Text: A Closer Look

Music as Text: A Closer Look

It has been established that art serves as text to align to or interact with ELA standards. However, today I want to explore a little deeper what that might look like in an elementary music classroom.

Just as the Common Core departs from curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep” by requiring students to engage in curriculum on a much deeper level. The Core Arts Standards suggests studying artistic selections deeply with prolonged focus.

Arts educators make connections to the Common Core quite naturally on a daily basis. But, how can we make these ELA connections explicit, while still remaining focused on teaching musical concepts and processes through a prolonged study of a musical work?

Reading Music as Text with Listening Maps

I’m a big fan of listening maps (see my Pinterest board of resources). Listening maps provide visual representations of musical elements like melody, rhythm, dynamics, themes, form, tempo, and timbre. Experiences in guided listening, allow students to organize their understanding of the music as they are listening by associating a visual text with the musical text. I believe experiences with listening maps can be a vital piece of in-depth guided listening, both for music educators as well as for classroom teachers.

First, a few natural ELA alignments to some musical “big ideas”:

Rhythm– CCSS.ELA.RL.2.4: Describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song.

FormCCSS.ELA.RL.2.5: Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.

Tone ColorCCSS.ELA.RL.2.6: Acknowledge differences in the points of view of characters, including by speaking in a different voice for each character when reading dialogue aloud.

“In the Hall of the Mountain King”

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg is always a student favorite around this time of year. Melodic contour, tempo and dynamic changes, rhythm, minor tonality, and mood are just some of the musical concepts that can be addressed through guided listening of this piece.

For the purpose of this article, I’ll be focusing on 2nd grade standards, although these activities could be adapted for other grade levels, and the standards can be applied to other musical works.

1. Have students listen to the piece, asking them to make observations about musical elements.

Engage students in a discussion about what they noticed. Students may notice that the same melodic theme is repeated throughout the song. They may notice that the song gradually gets louder as the theme is repeated and that the tempo speeds up.

  •  Mu:Pr.4.3.2.a: Demonstrate understanding of expressive qualities (such as dynamics and tempo) and how creators use them to convey expressive intent.
  •  CCSS.ELA.SL.2.2: Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

2. Have students listen again to the piece, asking students to create a mental picture, a story, or a scene that they think the music sounds like.

After listening, students draw their picture or a scene from their story. This picture could serve as a writing prompt, with students writing a short statement about what they drew and what musical elements led them to this image, or they could write a narrative telling their story.

  • Mu:Re.7.2.2.a: Describe how specific concepts are used to support a specific purpose in music.
  • CCSS.ELA.RL.2.1: Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
  • CCSS.ELA.W.2.3: Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or a short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.

3. Have students listen to the piece while following a listening map.

Depending on the map you use, students can focus on particular elements in the music (see the list of free resources below). These musical concepts could then be further extended and practiced (i.e., having students clap or play the rhythmic motif).

  • Mu:Re.7.2.2.a: Describe how specific concepts are used to support a specific purpose in music.
  • CCSS.ELA.RL.2.7: Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.

4. Have students write a listening response.

Students should describe the musical elements they observed in the piece, respond to the music with thoughts, feelings, and questions, and share their opinion of the piece, supporting with musical details. There are many great resources for listening logs on, or you can create your own log based on the elements or concepts you are working on.

  • Mu:Re.8.1.2.a: Demonstrate knowledge of music concepts and how they support creators’/performers’ expressive intent.
  • Mu:Re.9.1.2.a: Apply personal and expressive preferences in the evaluation of music for specific purposes.
  • CCSS.ELA.W.2.1: Write opinion pieces in which they introduce a topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g., because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.

Listening Map Extension/Alternate Activity

Have students create an index card listening map. Hand students a stack of colored index cards in a variety of colors. Ask students to decide how they would like to color code their listening. In an ABA listening experience, for example, students might decide they want to represent section A with blue cards and section B with red cards.

As students listen, they can map the form of the piece. In additional listening experiences, students can make note of musical elements they hear in each section by notating dynamics, tempo, instrumentation, or any other musical details they notice. Students could use their index card listening map to create their own graphic listening map.

Free resources for “In the Hall of the Mountain King”

Making Music Fun (Free printable listening map)

Classics for Kids (Composer biography and listening/story map)

Active Listening: In the Hall of the Mountain King, Malinda Phillips- Teachers Pay Teachers (Rhythm map)

In the Hall of the Mountain King SMART Board Activity, Amy Banas- Teachers Pay Teachers (Rhythm)

In the Hall of the Mountain King- Tempo & Dynamics Listening Activity, Amy Lauren- Teachers Pay Teachers (Tempo, dynamics, melodic contour, rhythm)

Music teachers, how have you crafted your listening lessons to include Common Core standards? Classroom teachers, have you integrated guided listening into your ELA lessons, and how? I’d love to hear your ideas!

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: