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Classical Kids Music Lessons: Melodic contour

Sheet music Marius Masalar/Unsplash

Need ideas for easy and fun at-home music learning? Here's our daily Classical Kids Music Lesson.

Target age range: Grades K-5

1. Music is made up of many different parts. Rhythm and beat is the part of music that makes us want to move and dance. Melody is the part that we can sing. Melodies can go high and low. Any instrument that can make high and low notes can play a melody.

Quick experiment:
• Find a small percussion instrument at home, like a shaker or a hand drum. (Homemade percussion instruments like these mini tin can drums or this homemade tambourine work well.)
• Can you play "Happy Birthday" with these instruments? No, because they can't play melodies. They don't have high notes and they don't have low notes.

Quick quiz:
• Can a violin play a melody? (yes)
• Can a snare drum play a melody? (no)

2. Experiment with your voice. See how high your voice can go, then how low. If you have a slide whistle or kazoo, try it with that too.

3. Using paper, draw a variety of lines with different shapes (see samples below).

  Katie Condon/MPR

4. Trace a finger in the air, following the shape of the line, moving from left to right. Try to use your voice to follow that line as well. Try it a few different ways:
• Repeat, varying the tempo, or speed
• Repeat a shape two times in a row and notice that it's a pattern.
• Do two lines in a row, making a two-part melody

5. Have you noticed that the shape of the melody can be really different? We call this contour (con-TOUR.) Here are a few common kinds of melodic contour:

• Stepwise: Notes move up and down in steps, like a staircase.
• Leaps: Notes jump around, from low to high
• Ascending: starting lower and moving higher
• Descending: starting higher and moving lower

6. Listen to a few examples and try to describe the melody. Use that tracing finger in the air to try to follow the melodic contour.

LISTEN Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

LISTEN "Kangaroos" from Carnival of the Animals
Camille Saint-Saens

LISTEN Nocturne No. 2 in E Flat major, Opus 9, No. 2
Frederic Chopin

LISTEN Symphony #5 1. Allegro con brio
Ludwig van Beethoven

Have a question or suggestion? Contact Katie Condon, music education specialist.

More: View all of our daily Classical Kids Music Lessons

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