The Texture of Music

Here is a great “grab bag” activity for strings teachers and instrumental teachers alike.

Have two paper bags, one filled with slips of paper labeled with words of texture and physical feelings (prickly, fuzzy, furry, sharp, smooth, warm, cool, hot, cold, icy, freezing, wet, dry, etc.) and the other with slips of paper labeled with words of emotion (sad, angry, furious, frightening, happy, giddy, crazy, loving, mischievous, obnoxious, etc.). [Note: These words can be chosen in consultation with the Language Arts teacher wherever possible.]

The ensemble chooses one word from each bag and performs either a familiar piece, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “Happy Birthday,” or an improvised piece in the style of the chosen words. The rest of the class guesses what the words/emotions/texture are. Even advanced classes have fun with this one; the idea is to keep the piece easy enough to make it work.

This activity was created by Dr. Constance E. Barrett (, string specialist for the Greenwich, Connecticut, Public Schools. She is a 2007 recipient of the Yale University School of Music Distinguished Music Educator Award. A cellist, she frequently performs in the greater New York metropolitan area.

–Nicole Springer, December 8, 2010. © National Association for Music Education (