Pitch and rhythm are a great pair in early childhood music. Students often use the words “high” and “low” to talk about “loud” and “quiet”, which we want to sort out as early as possible. Teaching in an international school, I see this a lot, especially because some languages use the word for “high” to talk about things that are loud.

high low loud quiet composition

After a few lessons of reinforcing the concepts separately, we starting putting them together.


We mixed up these four kinds of sounds when we did our warm-ups and echoes. And in any normal year, we also would have used these four options to sing songs, but we still aren’t allowed to sing at school. 


Take a couple of class periods to explore sounds–sort and label high and low sounds, sort and label loud and quiet sounds. It’s important to have a range of sounds that includes things that are “high and quiet” and “low and loud”, so that students see those things existing together. This can be done together as a class, but also using centers. Try this Loud and Quiet Sound Sort, this Loud and Quiet identification activity, and this High and Low Sound Sort. You can make each one into a center in your classroom, and as a bonus, they can all be done by a non-music sub!

Writing notation

This sheet is one of my assessments in the later part of the unit. It brings together both concepts, but also pulls in several aspects by adding the notation layer: 

  • Reading notation left to right: This is a great starting point for musical pre-reading!
  • Reading two lines of notation at once (high and low): This was surprisingly challenging for my students, but because we were only working with two pitches, most of them picked up on it within one lesson.
  • Notating pitch as a step towards staff notation: For my students, this is the first time we used lines to organize sounds in such a formal way. The concept carries well as they move up and eventually start reading music off of the five-line staff.
  • Graphic notation of dynamics: Earlier in the unit, we talked about how sounds can be written down, and I asked them how we might show loud versus quiet in our sounds. While there were several different ideas, it was natural for most of the children to suggest a bigger symbol for “loud” and a smaller symbol for “quiet”.
  • Can be used to organize rhythm as well: I’ve drawn four vertical, dotted lines through the two-line “staff” to guide the children to think about writing from left to right, and not draw simultaneous sounds. For some of my students, it helped to think of them as four beats. These students started with one sound on each “beat” (like TA TA TA TA), and then chose to add an extra note in between some of the lines (like TA ti-ti ti-ti TA).
“High” doesn’t mean loud: Teach pitch and dynamics side by side, and clear up the confusion with this FREE resource from Janines Music Room! Share on X

After doing an example on the board with the class, each student got one of these sheets. I instructed them to follow these steps, to think through a process and not just write a bunch of sounds.

  1. Put some small high and low sounds on the four beats.
  2. Add an extra note on the beats where you want a “ti-ti”.
  3. Turn some of the notes into loud sounds.

Reading notation

As students finished, I checked to ensure they were readable and playable, and handed each student a pair of bells and a mallet, so they could practice reading and playing. Because we had been singing the sounds as Sol and Do, I paired the bells that way too. Two sets of these bells  offered enough P5 pairs for a class.

Sharing and assessment

After most of the students showed that they could read and play their piece, I put them into small groups to share with each other. I’m sure we have all learned the hard way that a class of kindergarteners can’t sit nicely while listening to 20+ performances, and I really wanted everyone to share within one lesson. Some of the children wanted to swap papers and read each other’s compositions.

For the composition assessment, the compositions all went on Seesaw. (If you don’t know about Seesaw, it’s pretty great. Read more about it here.) Each student’s post was a photo of their paper and a recording of their composition. For students who were being held back by their motor skills, they could just sing “high” and “low” with a loud or quiet voice, as notated. Using Seesaw gave me time to look over them and assess a number of aspects. 

As another assessment (which can be given by a non-music sub), this What Do You Hear assessment pack is a simple but clear way to assess high and low, loud and quiet, long and short, and fast and slow. I use this throughout the year, both early in the year as an initial pre-assessment, and again after I’ve specifically taught and focused on each concept.

Overall, this turned out to be a great set of lessons. The kids really got the hang of the concepts of pitch versus dynamics, and they loved playing the bells. The students were overwhelmingly successful in their composing and performing. I’ll definitely reuse this in the future!

If you want the composition template, you can get it for FREE at my TeachersPayTeachers store

What’s your experience: Do you find your students confuse these concepts? How do you work through that?

“High” doesn’t mean loud: Clearing up the confusion
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