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Connecting Music, Writing, and Visual Art

Too often, time for creative writing is pushed aside in the English classroom. With the expectation to prepare for state tests, our need as teachers to adhere to standards and plans can leave us void of joy and creativity. It is understandable to fall into this trap occasionally, but we must become victims to an even more dangerous line of thinking: that creative writing is a distractor and a waste.
Engaging students, giving them a reason to love learning, and connecting content to their interests and lives is not a distractor and is certainly not a waste. It is a necessity.
Over the past few weeks, students involved in the Pages program have been diving into the creative recesses of their minds to think more deeply and vividly about music, art, and how it connects to writing. If your classroom is in need of a splash of color, vitality, or fun, check out the activities we’ve been trying out in Reynoldsburg:

Our Essential Questions:

  • Describe the difference between music and sound.
    • Which depends most on the other?
    • Which is more meaningful?
    • How does sound become music?
  • Describe the difference between creating and composing.
    • Which is more meaningful?
    • How are they related?
  • What elements of music work together to create plot? How?

Notes from our discussion on the difference between “Creating” and “Composing” vs. “Music” and “Sound”.

Lesson ideas:

  1. Consider using the essential questions as a basis for a discussion with a reflection at the end. In our classroom, I separated students into small groups and gave them each two of the questions above to discuss. After five minutes, we discussed ideas as a whole class.
  2. Use music as a prompt for storytelling. *See the extended lesson below.
  3. View or create a piece of art; discuss or create the music that would “match” it.
  4. Watch a Disney short film (available on Netflix) such as “Paper Man” or “The Little Match Girl”, which are both almost entirely void of color; discuss the role music played in the film and how the lack of color enhanced or distracted from the music and plot.

*Extended Lesson: Connecting Music, Writing, and Visual Art:
I started this lesson by asking students to list methods and forms of storytelling. It is likely they will list some of the following: novels, poems, plays, tv programs, and movies. It may (as it did in our class) take longer for them to mention music, but when they do, ask how music is a form of storytelling.
In our classroom, students immediately transitions to the topic of lyrics. We discussed various genres and how they better communicate stories through words; we landed on rap music and country music being the most direct and complete forms of storytelling, but I challenged their thinking by asking a new question: Can music still tell a story if it has no lyrics?
The answer was a decidedly strong, yes, until I asked how. Students worked in groups to list qualities of music that evoke images and stories in our heads as we listen to them. Some of their brainstorming included: pitch, tempo (speed), instrumentation, volume, style (smooth, short/disconnected).
After our discussion, I asked students to grab some colored pencils and a blank sheet of printer paper. With very little description and detailing, I told them I would be playing a song over the speakers and asked them to draw or write what the music inspired in them. (I highly recommend using music from the Kronos Quartet because of the complexity and quality of their pieces.)

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