Using stories to inspire children’s s compositions — stage 6

STAGE 6 — Graphic Scores

Graphic scores are pictures which represent sounds. The idea emerged in experimental art music in the 1960s, put forward by composers who wanted to go beyond traditional staff notation to something freer and less prescriptive. Some graphic scores are very impressive, for example those by Cornelius Cardew or György Ligeti, combing the visual arts with music. The beauty is that anything is possible, and much of it is great fun.

A graphic score can start from a blank piece of paper, and the agreement that you read from left to right.  

Here are a series of sounds which start quiet and become louder: 


Note that it is up to the children’s imagination to decide how quiet and how loud, and even what a purple square should sound like.

Here is a continuous sound which starts low and gets higher:


Here is a journey through a very odd farmyard:


This type of journey can work particularly well at Early Years/KS1. Ask the children to go for a metaphorical walk. Draw a musical path for them to walk along. As the children come to a sound add a cartoon sketch.

You can agree that one symbol indicates a particular sound:     

These mean, from left to right: (i) a series of short notes rising from low to high; (ii) a series of short notes falling from high to low; (iii) a continuous note rising from low to high; (iv) a continuous note falling from high to low; and, (v) a continuous note rising from low to high and then falling again. You will have noticed that it’s easier and quicker to read and understand the picture than it is to describe them  in words.

You can use these symbols in a grid, reading the first row from left to right, then the second row, and finally the third. You can decide how long to stay in each box, and perhaps appoint a conductor to direct the children’s performance: 

The following type of graphic scores are exciting ways to explore duration, texture, or dynamics:

There are lots of materials you can explore about graphic scores on the internet. Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody, a musical cartoon strip, is one of the most famous examples

This link will help you understand how it has developed in “serious” music as well as in schools:

Here’s some more about using graphic score in the classroom:


Using stories to inspire children’s compositions

Stage 1 — the story
The elements of music
Stage 2 — developing a rhythmic piece
Stage 3 — developing a melody
Stage 4 — creating a soundscape
Stage 5 — creating a song
Stage 6 — graphic scores
Painting to music
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