Play Me a Picture: Music and Art

Integrating music learning with the visual arts has many benefits, according to MENC member Glenda Cosenza.

1) Using visual and auditory channels interchangeably can increase higher-order thinking skills.

2) Higher-order thinking skills are necessary for

  • advanced academic achievement,
  • abstract thinking,
  • sophisticated problem solving, and
  • learning in a way that stores information in long-term memory, not just short-term memory.


3) Students develop a greater understanding of how to process information in several different ways.

  • Visual learners reinforce their auditory skills.
  • Auditory learners increase their ability to learn visually.


Students are enthusiastic:

  • They create lots of ideas for transferring this learning to other projects and situations.
  • They’re eager to share what they’ve learned and perceived.
  • They immediately become more creative musicians because they’re more comfortable with creativity in general—a main focus of learning in the arts.


Suggestions for integrating music and visual art:

1) Visit museums and art exhibitions.

2) Look at paintings, sculptures, and drawings, focusing on the

  • gestures
  • textures
  • rhythms
  • shadings of color
  • emotional swings


3) Find a few works of art that really “speak” to you and get some prints.

  • Study the prints and learn everything you can about them using just your visual sense.
  • Imagine sounds to go with these images.
  • Imagine the creative process.


4) Take a look at Cosenza’s lesson plan.

5) Read more about music and art in Cosenza’s article in the Winter 2006 issue of General Music Today, available online.

By going through this process yourself, Cosenza says, you will be better able to facilitate this kind of creative activity with students.

She also recommends cultivating friendships with visual artists:

  • Attend concerts or listen to music with them.
  • Talk about and exchange perceptions of the music.
  • Develop art-music-art dialogues—this could be a music class activity, particularly at the middle school level.


Cosenza says, “Artistic expression is the heart and soul of our culture and our life. The more we can encourage students to lose themselves in these worlds, the more they will develop aesthetic sensitivity and understanding. They will learn to seek out aesthetic satisfaction in their lives and will find it in literature, even in mathematical proportions, in architecture, and in scientific discovery. What more could we ask or expect of arts education?”
Glenda Cosenza is an associate professor of music education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

Linda Brown, May 7, 2008, © National Association for Music Education (