Brianne Gidcumb | October 2016

Line Graph Listening Map Strategy

When I was teaching elementary music, listening maps were one of my favorite ways to actively engage students in the experience of listening to and analyzing a piece of music. There are some great pre-made resources, but why not have your students create their own maps for further engagement? Furthermore, you can incorporate the math of graphing and the science of sound, all while creating a piece of abstract art, with this strategy, Line Graph Listening Maps!


  • Students will need colored pencils or markers and a piece of paper.
  • Students may listen to an entire selection of music, an excerpt of a piece that highlights the integrated content, or two different selections, mapping both on the same page.
  • The key to Line Graph Listening Mapping is that once the pencil touches the paper at the beginning of the musical selection, it doesn’t leave the paper until the selection has ended.
  • Students may create a more traditional line graph (from left to right) on their paper, or depending on the length of the musical selection or the intention of the activity, may take up any space on their paper, as long as the pencil stays connected to the paper.

This strategy can be adapted for many purposes, depending on the content you’d like to integrate with the listening experience. While all of these variations are somewhat connected, here are some specifications for various contents.

1. Music: Increase engagement and relevance with student-created listening maps.

Have students map musical concepts such as melodic direction, volume, duration, or articulation. Specify a particular musical concept you’d like students to listen for and map that concept. For example, if creating a more traditional line graph listening, have students trace their line upward to communicate upward melodic direction or an increase in volume and downward to map downward melodic direction and decreased volume. If you’d like students to have a little more freedom to take up space on their paper, brainstorm how they might communicate the concept they’re listening for with pencil to paper.

You might also have students listen to two contrasting selections to highlight various articulations, such as staccato and legato– have students map one musical selection in one color (smooth, connected lines for legato), and the second selection in another color (short, choppy lines for staccato).

2. Science: Demonstrate an understanding of sound waves by mapping the pitch or volume of a musical selection.

If students are focused on concepts such as frequency, sound waves, pitch, or volume in science, have students map these concepts. Students should be familiar with the concept of sound waves and what they look like based on pitch and volume (amplitude and frequency- you can find a quick visual with accompanying sound clips to review with students). Again, you might have students map a single musical selection with one pencil stroke, or you may have them map two contrasting selection in different colors. Depending on your intention, you may ask students to create a more traditional line graph listening, or something more abstract.

3. ELA: Notate layers, textures, and tone colors of a piece of music and how to interact to create the whole.

For your more advanced students, you may ask them to listen to more than one instrument track within a given piece of music and map each track with a different color. This is a great way for students to listen to and visualize how parts come together to create a whole. For this strategy, students should have an opportunity to listen once for each track you’d like them to map. Alternately, you might have students map the form a piece of music (i.e., ABA, beginning-middle-end) with varying colors to visualize how sections come together to “tell the story.”

4. Math: Practice graphing skills.

With each of the above strategies, students are practicing their graphing skills. The teacher may use their own discretion as to how closely they’d like students to follow a traditional line map plot, or how abstract students may be with their mapping.

5. Visual Art: Create a work of abstract art based on a musical selection.

When students are done, they will have a piece of abstract art based on the musical listening experience they just engaged in! Students may even write an accompanying artist’s statement to outline their map and what it means to them.

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: