‘Music Tells a Story’ Project
During these tricky times, with many of us apart from loved ones, music and the arts in general are becoming more and more appreciated. We suspect (hope) that in terms of education, the teaching of music may be viewed differently as we progress towards a ‘new normal’ (every cloud). It’s proving daily to be a meaningful way to connect with others, lift spirits and inspire creativity. So, we’d like to share a project with you that, from our experience, goes down really well. The goal? To make new music based on a story.
The great thing about this is you can take it on as much as you like – it might be something you think about for an hour one day, or you could really let your imaginations run wild and keep building on it, perhaps once a week over the course of a month or so, tailoring everything to suit your own family’s interests. It works really well for any level or ability, for one child, or lots of siblings and with varying resources too. Our aim is that it gives some structure to your musical experiences at home and perhaps it’ll complement activities you’re already doing for school/nursery. Below you’ll find some suggestions as to how you can develop your own ‘Music Tells a Story’ project and here’s Calum (one of our fab musicians) to explain the first stage and get you ready!
- Write a short story! You could tie this in with an existing topic you’ve been set by your school. Or, maybe you’ve already written a story, or know of a book you’ve got at home that would lend itself really well to music-making.
- If you’re writing your own from scratch, it’s good to give your story/piece of music a title (‘adventure’ themes work particularly well) and 2 or 3 paragraphs of about 100 words each is an ideal length. You could even make each paragraph its own chapter, with action happening in each.
- It’s fun to throw in some onomatopoeias as Calum suggests (they’re the best for putting your musical sounds to) and it’s a good idea to use energetic language throughout. E.g. use “shivering” instead of “cold.” The kids might be tempted to put visually descriptive words in their story, but these aren’t so useful for music-making, so that’s another pointer to bear in mind. E.g. “He had green eyes and a blue coat” is not as effective as “He had twinkling eyes and a big fluffy coat.”
- Find objects/materials from around the house that will produce the sounds you need to bring your story to life – cutlery does a good job and things like baby rattles or toys often sound great.
- Check outside too if you’re getting in your daily exercise – think twigs, stones, cones, shells etc.
- And of course, include any instruments your children might be learning or have access to at home. Don’t forget your voices too, or a bit of body percussion.
- You could have a wee think about the sounds first before you start writing the story, or you could just see which words come out and hunt for the sounds later! Here’s a second video from Calum with some great ideas:
- Start testing out the instruments and sounds along with someone reading the story aloud.
- To keep track, you could make a note of the materials/instruments to be used next to the corresponding words in a table, as a mind map or even a graphic score with pictures telling you what to play and when.
- Keep practising the sounds so that things flow nicely.
- Put on a performance! Ask someone to be the narrator, or if your child loves to multi-task, maybe they can do it solo.
- The important thing is to have an audience – this is really worthwhile doing, whether you live with a big family or the performance is for one other person, or it’s online – it showcases the work that’s gone in and feels very satisfying! It’s also a nice thing to keep a record of and look back on!
- We’d love to see what you come up with if you fancy sharing a film with us on social media or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
For step 1: You could also experiment with rhyme/verse to have a more song-like end result if you’d prefer.
For step 2: Try making new instruments out of any recycling you might have saved up, to get the specific sounds you need.
For step 3: Why not come up with a short melody to go with each character – even add harmony lines if you’re playing/singing alongside another person, or if you’re tech-savvy and have access to something like the Acapella App, you can build up your piece in layers using multi-tracks. You could have a general melodic theme too, or instead of your character ones, that comes at certain moments in the story to help create an atmosphere – could be spooky and mysterious, bright and happy, or anything else!
For step 4: You could go the whole hog and come up with costumes, props and a set design too to really make your musical story stand out (paper mâché is amazingly sturdy stuff)! The kids could also set up the performance as a real event, publicising it with some artwork and sending out virtual invites to extended family and friends.
If you love the process, then there’s always the opportunity for more stories and pieces of music, maybe try a different theme or mood for the next one!
At any stage of the project it’s also great to listen to other pieces of music that are based on stories for inspiration. Here are some Spotify links to our favourites: