Dolph Petris | May 2019

Integrating Across the Arts: Art and Music

Like the sweet aroma of hot apple pie on a cold winter day, I find that visual art and music blend well very together.  Music is a universal language that extends to all corners of the earth. One can become as lost in music, as one does with a good book.  It teaches us much about society, trends, and lifestyles.  Additionally, music from a different culture can bring a whole new realm of musical genius to enjoy.

Classical music is my favorite, and it is always playing quietly in the background of my classroom.  The typically soft and rhythmic sounds are soothing to the mind and body. It also helps to provide a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere for my students.

As our students mature in age, we often experience a decreased confidence level in the ability to simply produce art.  A child’s ever-increasing concern to ‘fit-in’ is the culprit in student inhibition, leading to a dislike for art.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder… But, this is something that many of our students do not yet fully understand.  To help curb this self-imposed roadblock, I like to show my students how music can become a liberating key in visual self-expression.

One of my art lessons that I teach starts with two types of classical music.  I’ll chose a soft string piece. Usually something like Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Then, a louder, more aggressive piece such as Carl Orff’s, O Fortuna.  I first point out elements of music within the pieces, the parts of the piece that give it identity and uniqueness.  Afterwards, we have a discussion that leads to analyzing each musical selection.  Students quickly find that what one person sees in music is not necessarily the same as what someone else may find.  This leads to some good discussion as differences in musical preference begin to surface.  Once your students begin to digest the piece they are listening to, they really begin to understand and appreciate the music for what it is… a masterful semblance of organized notes that produce orchestrated sound to evoke emotion.

Principles of Art

After we have listened to, and analyzed the music, we turn focus to the Principles of Art.  It’s fun to see students begin to make connections in basic elements and principles of music and art… How something visual can actually creatively translate to something audible.  Rhythm, Balance, Emphasis, Harmony, Variety, Movement, and even some of the Elements of Art as well.  Depending on how high a level of abstraction I think my class can achieve, I will even begin to link Color and it’s visual qualities to that of the music we have analyzed.

Finally, after we have spent meaningful time down the paths of art and music, I have my students close their eyes and just visualize as we again listen to our music pieces.  What they are hoping to achieve in their mind is not something recognizable, but rather a compilation of imagery that works with the music itself.  We are not trying to draw anything, to paint anything, to recreate a memory, or even moment in our lives.  At this point, we are learning how to listen to the music. We are learning how to understand what we hear, and learning how this impacts us as individuals.

Art and music

When students have reached a point where they feel ready to create, they turn to their canvas, all the while listening to their piece of choice from our two selections.  They are free to use color, or simply value.  Their work can be painted, inked, penciled, whatever they chose to their liking.

The free and creative work that comes from this exercise is incredible.  Students are surprised with their own results after seeing what they are capable of doing without the constraints of typical end-result expectancy.  From the teacher perspective, it is a breath of fresh air to see students experiencing and creating art without inhibitions of what they think it should look like, due to a pre-conceived idea, or notion.

At this point, you might be thinking that all this is not possible within one class period, and you’re right.  I have often split this entire lesson into two days, sometimes three, as the analytics of both music and art in this exercise can take quite some valuable, and necessary time.  The results however are priceless.

About the Author

Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. He has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education and is currently teaching a 5/6 combo in Fullerton, California. He and his wife have several four-legged kids: Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever litter-mates, a street-rescued stray that looks like ‘Benji’ named Noel, Athena the cat, and two American Quarter horses.