One of the most important concepts we teach is communication through music, or what we might call musical expression. Music, I emphasize to my students, is not just here to entertain you or fill the silence at the grocery store. I explore musical expression at every level, and I often end up incorporating Saint-Saëns’ ubiquitous comedy, The Carnival of the Animals. Each piece has so much character, and primary school students always love the animal theme.

One way I introduce the piece is by asking students to think about how the music describes each animal. I begin by placing pictures of each animal around my walls. After introducing the idea behind the piece, I ask them to think about how each animal moves: Will it be fast or slow? What kinds of sounds to these animals make? Are they low, down on the ground, or high up in the air? Then I encourage them to think about how this might transfer to musical sounds.

saint-saens carnival of the animals teaching music interpretationWhen we have some basic thoughts rolling, I will play one of the pieces and ask the students to listen—eyes closed—for a minute or so before silently standing up and moving to the animal they think they hear. They know that they need to be able to justify their choice, and the responses are incredible! This is probably one of my most consistently successful activities to get students from Kindergarten to Grade 4 into that higher-level thinking about musical expression. They love it, and usually ask for follow-up the next week.

And, no, I don’t tell them Camille’s answer, because their answers are so fantastic.

Exploring Musical Expression using Carnival of the Animals

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