Musical Code

Art form included: Music, Year 1

The following unit is based on the idea of Binary Bracelets (, n.d.) but instead of using binary as the code, I realized that musical notation is already a code that students could discover via focusing on beat and tempo.

Arts Activities

Lesson 1 (50 minutes)

The teacher gets everyone to sit in a circle and listen to a curated series of songs about 30 seconds each. The songs will have a range of different tempos and musical styles (e.g. Faith by Stevie Wonder, Canon in D by Pachelbel) with a clear beat that the students can follow. While the songs are playing the teacher leads by getting students to copy what he is doing. The teacher engages in different types of body percussion (e.g. clicking fingers, clapping, clicking tongue) to follow the beat of the different songs. The group will discuss the different songs they heard, what they noticed about them and what instruments they could hear, how did the know what the beat was in the music. They will also discuss the different sounds they made and other options that using body percussion might afford.

[Video: Faith by Stevie Wonder]

The teacher then introduces a little song

“I walk up a hill and I walk back down”

“I walk down a hill and I touch the ground”

The song can be sung in 7 beats with a rest on the 8th.

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
I walk up a hill and I Walk back down

The teacher improvises the chant, altering the verbs (walk/dance/run/touch) and direction of movement (up/down). The students would clap the beat as they moved around the circle. As they clapped the song the teacher emphasises the need for students to listen for the rest. The student who had the rest would need to lower their arms instead of clapping and the spoken song would continue around the circle. Once the students were confident, the teacher would get the students to stand and then make a game out of it, getting the students who missed the beat to sit down.

Once the game was down to a handful of students, or the teacher understood that the group’s attention was wandering, the whole class sat down and discussed the game. Talking about the space that was left in the song, and keeping up with the beat.


  • How did the follow the beat?
  • How did people find anticipating the space?

Playing the songs again from the start of the lesson, the teacher wanted to hear the patterns in the song, including the beats in the song and the spaces. The class would then discuss any patterns they identified, and then any rests they identified.


  • What do the spaces do in the song?

Lesson 2 (50 minutes)

Continue to work with the song, going over the song from the last lesson, sitting in a circle.

Get the students to count out how many beats are in the song.


  • How many beats are in the song?
  • How many beats are in the first/last part of the song?

The students would identify 4 beats in the first half of the song and 3 in the second. They would then be given the challenge of: How could we communicate what we just learned to other people? How could we communicate the rest in the song?

Working in trios, using pieces of paper and pencils, they come up with ways that we might communicate the information. Initial ideas will be put on the whiteboard and the affordances of the representations would be explored as a group.

The teacher would then extend the challenge by asking the students if we could increase or decrease the spaces between the beats. As a class they would sing the original song, but only used 4 beats. The students would then draw the representation of this new song with more spaces. The representations would be put on the board and they would be discussed as a group.

The class would then be challenged to sing the song with 16 beats. Working in the pairs, the students would see if they could do the song with 16 beats (clapping quietly). If this is too difficult, the teacher will provide a demonstration of how this could be done. The students would then try to represent this new faster version of the song using the representations they already created.

The representations of the tempo of the song should be reasonably similar. In discussion with the class, the teacher and students will settle on one particular representation for tempo that they will use in the following lesson for a single note, a double long note, a half note and a rest. They will give their own names to each of these note forms. The teacher will then draw it on paper, photocopy it and then laminate each of the representations into sets.


  • How could we represent each of the beats we are working with?
  • How could we represent longer beats?
  • How could we represent rests?

Lesson 3 (50 minutes)

The class will reflect on the representations they created in the previous lesson. The teacher will have multiple laminated copies of the icons they created together. The teacher will demonstrate how he can organise them into different sequences and the class will clap out the short sequence of icons he sticks to the whiteboard. He changes the sequences slightly each time and as a class they discuss the impact these changes make.

With their own laminated icons, students working in trios from the last lesson are challenged to create their own musical sequence. They are given the option of creating the sequence based on a rhythmic chant similar to the previous lesson or a sequence without any words. Students swap their songs and perform each others’ sequences.

The teacher will put on the whiteboard some real sheet music and demonstrate with a keyboard, playing the simple musical sequence (e.g. Old MacDonald). The teacher will lead the students through a discussion about how what they had created was a musical code. That music notation they had created was a way to represent sound. They would discuss the reasons for representing music in this way and that it could be used to transmit information across time and space.


  • Why would we represent music like this?
  • How would it be beneficial to people around the world?
  • What other kinds of musical aspects could we convey through these representations?



Pedagogical approaches and teaching strategies to teach the content, key knowledge and skills identified

The above unit is a teacher-led guided inquiry unit (Chen & Tytler, 2017) where the teacher guides students through initial experiences they have with music, but then allows them to explore their own ideas and express them. Due to the ages of the students, demonstrations can provide an important form of conceptual scaffolding (McLain, 2017, p. 2), and would need to be conducted as the students might not have enough experience to explore these concepts carefully and the teacher demonstrating them might be more effective.

In this unit of work, students will develop their listening skills by exploring and imitating sounds, and develop their understanding of rhythm patterns using body percussion (ACARA, 2014k, ACAMUM080). In regard to the Digital Technologies curriculum, they will have opportunity to recognise and explore how data in the form of music can be represented as pictures and symbols (ACARA, 2014l, ACTDIK002).

Differentiation strategies

Clapping and body percussion are important in the above sequence. Students who were physically disabled would be encouraged to make sounds in ways they were comfortable with (e.g. voice, stomping foot). Students requiring extension may benefit from additional concepts such as pitch and accents, or using more complex voice modulation (e.g. beat boxing).


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