Graphic scores

Much music is written down in musical notation. And musical notation, just like any other writing, is a set of agreements about how we notate music in such a way that you or someone else can perform it in the same way. A graphic score is a variant that serves the same purpose, but without the fixed agreements of the traditional notation. This free notation method can be applied for and by children at every level, from very simple to complicated.

Colors, dots and boxes

A simple score with colored boxes or dots already helps to write down rhythm and pitch. This can be used, for example, in combination with color-coded instruments such as the Orgelkids Flute Box, the MeloPipes or the Boomwackers. 

Graphic compositions

An example of a complex graphic score is the piece Treatise by Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981). He wrote it between 1963 and 1967, consisting of 193 pages with symbols, abstract shapes, numbers and figures. He came up with his own music notation and gave no instructions for the performance. In the accompanying manual he wrote that the performer may develop and write down his/her own rules for the interpretation of the symbols. The score itself looks like a visual work of art. (At the right: two sample pages from Cardews Treatise.)

Below an interpretation of the piece.

Visual arts

Not only work that is intended as musical notation is suitable, other visual arts (such as abstract graphic works) are also suitable for a musical interpretation. For example, take a look at work by Kandinsky and other Bauhaus artists. Children can create free graphic notations themselves at all ages. They can make (abstract) drawings, which can be converted by the organist into real music. 

W. Kandinsky, Thirty (1937)

Integrated educational art project

Activities with graphic scores can be elaborated in different lessons or in a coherent series, for example in a one week project. It serves different purposes:

  • Reading: the students are introduced to notation forms of music.
  • Writing: students explore how they themselves can use different notation forms of music to write down their ideas.
  • Interpretation: the students are introduced to the interpretation of visual / graphic arts in music.

The order of activities is free. For example, first look at art and graphic notation forms and then let children draw themselves. But the other way around is also possible.

  • For cohesion, collaborate in a few lessons with a teacher in another art discipline or incorporate the subject into an art project.
  • Collect examples of graphic scores and if possible, examples to listen to.
  • Search for suitable graphic art if desired.
  • This activity should be performed at the organ in the church or concert hall in order to use the wealth of sounds and stops.
  • Graphic scores and examples to view and try out with students.
  • Drawing materials for students. 
  • Discuss with children how to write down music that you have made up. Also look at the possibilities of the worksheet at the Flute Box (color in the boxes).
  • Let young children use materials to make a figure. For example, use building blocks in different sizes to indicate long-short.
  • Challenge children who can already read notes to forget about scores. Discuss a graphic image (eg a page from Cardew) and imagine how that might sound. Try things out and ask for their ideas.
  • Encourage the children to explore all kinds of different musical expressions that are possible on the organ: hard-soft, high-low, timbres on the organ, use of different registers, also in repetitions with echo, etc.
  • Have children make a small abstract drawing each. Ask them to think about what their drawing might sound like. Let them do it themselves if they can and want to.
  • Combine these drawings into a story with separate scenes (compare Thirty by Kandinsky). Let the children determine the order and stick everything on a sheet. When playing, also think of repetitions of the same drawing.
  • Variation: interpret a drawing yourself and make it sound. Then ask the child if it is a good representation of the drawing. Can it be done differently? This works well with a small group of children.
  • Let older students create an animation video (stop motion) of a series of drawings and combine it with a recording of the musical interpretation. 
  • Reading: the students are introduced to notation forms of music.
  • Writing: students explore how they themselves can use different notation forms of music to write down their ideas.
  • Interpretation: the students are introduced to the interpretation of visual / graphic arts in music.

This topic is suitable for a longer series of lessons. Or for an intensive short period, for example during a one week project.