Magic can happen when children help create an interactive musical soundscape for the actions, characters or events of a story or poem. Adding sound can bring spoken words to life bringing a new dimension to a poem with drums, wind, and percussive instruments that children can easily play. A drum, shaker, cabasa, guiro, rainstick, thunder tube, whistling tube and kazoos are just a few of many instruments to explore and play with sound. Also “found sounds” can be fun: crinkling paper for the rustling of leaves, lids to cooking pots for gongs, empty water cooler jugs for drums, use your imagination! Then add a beautiful melody a child can improvise on their own, and the fun begins! I’ve done this in my musical programs over the years with young children, both preschool and elementary ages, with different poems, and children really love being part of this creative experience. I especially love using Christina Rossetti’s beautiful, evocative poem, “Who Has Seen the Wind?”
Using the Pentatonic Scale in a soundscape: A scale is a progression of notes in a specific order, most of us are familiar with this 8-note major scale: do re mi fa so la ti do. The Pentatonic Scale is a major scale without the 4th and 7th degrees (fa, ti): do re mi sol la do. Notes in the pentatonic scale can be played in any order and still sound beautiful. You can improvise—play them in different patterns and explore. It is a great way to experiment with creating melodies and patterns for a soft background of pleasing sound to add to a story or poem. You can play the black keys of the piano keyboard with the pentatonic scale. You can also modify the Chimealong, a xylophone with removable notes, resonator bars or octave bells by removing the 4th and 7th notes so they play the notes of the pentatonic scale.
WHO HAS SEEN THE WIND?
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I
But when the leaves bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.
–collected from Christina Rossetti —
Instruments: resonator bars/xylophone, uñas, thunder tube, rainstick, whistling tubes, scarves
Alternative ‘found sounds’: crackling newspaper, blowing in a water bottle, black keys on piano
When I do this poem with a group, I recite the poem first so they can hear the words. We might talk about what the wind sounds like, and how we can create that sound. Then I introduce the instruments I’ve brought and give them to individual children to play and give scarves to the children who want to dance.
They will layer in the sounds as I direct. Begin with a child playing a melody using the the pentatonic scale—I have resonator bars that I usually use. Layer in the other sounds to create the sound and mood of the wind in the trees. I tell the children once they start playing, not to stop until I tell them to, and I often do the poem several times. If I have a reader in the group, I’ll have that child read the poem or I may do it as a call and response with the children echoing each line. This becomes an improvisation on everyone’s part—including yours! Below is just one possible way to do it! If the group is large, I’ll have several children ready to take a turn on each part as we do the poem.
I usually begin with creating the sounds first and begin the poem after the sounds have started to build, this is up to you!
Begin with a pentatonic melody on xylaphone/resonator bars—I often suggest to the children this can have the feel of wind chimes
Add the sound of the whistling tube, softly at first sounding like the wind blowing outside a window (the 5-note tubes play a different sound depending on how fast they are twirled above the head. I always have the children playing this instrument stand well apart from the others so no one gets bonked on the head!); this one is best played intermittently just like the sound of the wind
Add the uñas for the sound of leaves rustling in the wind
Add the dancers with scarves, gently moving to the sound of the wind and the leaves
Start the poem if you haven’t already
Add the thunder tube for the sound of a distant storm, this should just be played once in awhile as thunder comes and goes
Add the rainstick for some gentle rain falling down with the wind in the trees
Decrease each instrument one by one in reverse order until the only sound is the melody, though sometimes I end the melody first and then end the whole piece with the soft wind sound of the whistling tube. It’s different each time we do it which is part of the fun!