Can You Hear a Story?

A Lesson for PBS Improvisation Station.

Grades: 2-6
Subject areas: Music and Language Arts


Students will explore creating moods with music. Students will assimilate this new knowledge through the analysis of a story and the creation of a musical composition that reflects and enhances it. This activity will culminate with the recording of their musical accompaniment and story to produce a book on tape.


  • Students will listen to, analyze, and describe music.
  • Students will gain an understanding of relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
  • Students will gain experience composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
  • Students will gain experience in the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
  • Students will gain experience using computer hardware and operating systems and software programs.


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Bookmark the Continental Harmony Web site
  • Available picture books; some suggestions:
    • Gollub, Matthew. (2000). "The Jazz Fly." Santa Rosa: Tortuga Press.
    • Igus, Toyomi. (1998). "i see the rhythm." San Francisco: Children's Book Press.
    • London, Jonathan. (1993). "Hip Cat." San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
    • London, Jonathan. (2000). "Who Bop?" USA: Harper Collins.
    • Maxner, Joyce. (1989). "Nicholas Cricket." Harper & Row
    • Raschka, Chris. (1992). "Charlie Parker Played Be Bop." New York: Orchard Books.(This book was inspired by Charlie Parker's "A Night In Tunisia". A recording of this piece would be excellent to share with the book).
  • Big Books:
    • Bacon, Ron. (1987). "Let's Make Music!" Shortland Publications Limited: New Zealand
    • Eggleton, Jill. (1987). "Rat-a-tat-tat." Shortland Publications Limited: New Zealand.


  1. Access Improvisation Station. Familiarize the students with the composition possibilities available here by experimenting with the looping and instrumentation. Discuss the style and mood of the arrangement.
    • What images and/or mood do the tunes conjure up?
    • Note if the use of different instrumentation changes the mood. If so, how?
    • Is another mood produced? What is it?
  2. Access the Web site and select Sonic Daydream. Read the various phrases one by one as they pass by. Ask the students what sounds they think these phrases suggest.
    • How would they represent them musically?What tempo does the phrase suggest?
    • What mood does the phrase suggest?
    • What instruments would they use?
    • What tempo would be appropriate?

  3. Click on the phrases and listen to the music that accompanies each. Compare what they hear to the suggestions that they made. Discuss the choices these composers made to illustrate the phrases.

  4. Access the PBS Jazz Kids Web site and listen to some of the examples to familiarize students with this style. Briefly discuss some of the characteristics of jazz they notice in the examples.

  5. Choose a picture book and read it to the class. (If possible read "Jazz Fly" or "Charlie Parker Played Be Bop" with a recording of "Night in Tunisia." These will serve as an excellent model for the rest of the lesson.) After reading, discuss the characters, plot and setting of the story.
    • What type of action took place?
    • What was the mood of the story?
    • Is there any repetition of text?
    • Are there any areas where the text is particularly rhythmic?

  6. Explain to the students that they will be creating a composition using non-pitched and pitched instruments (soprano recorder, xylophones) to accompany the story that they have just heard. (If "Jazz Fly" or "Charlie Parker Played Be Bop"/"Night in Tunisia" were read as models, read them now with the music. Discuss how the composers used the music to enhance to the story. Refer to the earlier discussion about mood, setting, etc. of both genres. Introduce the story to be used with the class for their composition.)

  7. Read the story again. Remind the students of the discussions they have had about plot, character, setting and mood in the story and of the musical discoveries they have made. Analyze the story with the students helping them to identify clues for their musical accompaniment. Consider the mood and discuss what tempo and instrumentation may be appropriate. Note if there is repeated text that would naturally lend itself to a refrain or key words that could be used to write one. Decide how they will use their completed piece. Will it become a theme for a character or event in the story? Will they write a refrain or whole song that will be used at specific points or for an introduction or ending or both?

  8. Group students to create their books on tape.


  • Students should actively participate in all activities.
  • Teacher observation and anecdotal notes.
  • Teacher and student evaluation of projects using pre-determined criteria.
  • Did the music reflect the story? How?
  • What could be improved upon in a future project similar to this?

Extensions and Adaptations

  • Have children write original stories to fit with musical compositions.
  • Share the same lesson using poetry or books without text.
  • Perform the newly created composition with the book as a reader's theatre and videotape the performance. Allow the class to view it and critique it.
  • Use the book on tape for buddy reading.
  • Read and examine picture books that are specifically written for children about jazz. Choose or create music to go with the books.

Relevant National Standards from Mid Continent Regional Education Library (McRel):


  • Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
  • Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
  • Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.

    Language Arts

  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process.


  • Know the characteristics and uses of computer hardware and operating systems and software programs.
  • NAfME
    Provided in partnership with NAfME
    Students will explore creating moods with music, analyze a story, and the create a musical composition that reflects and enhances the story.
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