Sunday, July 21, 2024
Graphic Notation

Graphic Notation

by Mark Warner
Ages: 7-11

Notation is the representation of musical sounds in the form of small pictures and symbols. It is a very easy way of notating music, and there are a number of different ways of teaching and using it:

1) Start by teaching the children some symbols which can be used to represent different sounds. For example…

UpContinuous sound rising in pitchDown

Continuous sound, falling in pitch

Up Down

Continuous sound rising then falling

Down then up

Continuous sound falling then rising


Continuous sound at same pitch


Short sounds at different pitches

Dots going Up

Short sounds rising in pitch

Dots going down

Short sounds falling in pitch

Teach one symbol at a time, demonstrating the types of sounds which each symbol represents. Then, draw the above chart onto the board and ask the children to make those sounds (using their voices or other instruments) when you point at the appropriate symbol.

When the children are familiar with the symbols and their meanings, draw a 4×4 grid onto the board and fill it with symbols (you could leave some squares blank to represent silence). The grid should be read from left to right and top to bottom. Point at each of the symbols and ask the children to make the appropriate sounds on their instruments.

Graphic Notation Grid

When they are comfortable with this idea, read the grid in different directions (e.g. right to left, bottom to top, diagonally etc.)

The children can now make up their own compositions by filling in a blank grid with symbols. They can then draw this on the board, and the class can play each other’s tunes.

2) Draw the following chart on the board:

Graphic Notation Grid
Number 1 represents a clap

Number 2 represents a click of the fingers

Number 3 represents a stamp of the feet

Number 4 represents a slap of the legs

As with the previous activity, read the chart from left to right and top to bottom, pointing at each number. When you point to the number, the children should make the appropriate sound.


  • Use symbols / pictures to represent the sounds rather than numbers.
  • Read the chart in different directions.
  • Ignore certain numbers. For example, do not stamp when the number three is pointed to.
  • Split the class into four groups – 1 clap group, one click group, one stamp group and one slap group. When the teacher points to a number, only the appropriate group should make a sound.
  • Increase the number of sounds and symbols to make the task harder.
  • The teacher can “play” one line of the grid, and the children should work out which line is being played. The teacher could also play columns of the grid. When the children are familiar with this, they can replace the teacher.

3) Ask the children to make up their own symbols to represent different sounds. They are more likely to remember the ones which they have created themselves, but there needs to be a fixed set of class symbols for class activities so that the children are all playing the same sounds!

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Jacqueline Goddard 3 September 2023 - 9:43 PM

Graphic notation examples really helpful thank you!

Mark Warner 4 September 2023 - 8:31 AM

Glad you like them, Jacqueline.


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