ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Melodies and Math

Creating Music with Non-Traditional Instruments


Key Staff

This lesson can be taught by an elementary classroom teacher or an elementary music teacher.

Key Skills

Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing, Performance Skills and Techniques
Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration


After reviewing basic music theory, students compose their own music for the touch-tone phone. The musical experience is enriched by further introduction and exploration of non-traditional musical instruments, resulting in a group orchestration and performance.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Experiment with creating electronic sounds
  • Demonstrate an understanding of 4/4 and 2/4 time by creating melodies using 4/4 and 2/4 time
  • Write numbers that correspond to those from the keypad in order to document an original melody
  • Play a melody using 2/4 and 4/4 time signatures
  • Create additional instruments using classroom-found materials
  • Stage a class musical performance

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Experiential Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Large or Small Group Instruction
  • Studio Practice

Assessment Type

Self Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Projector
  • Internet Access
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Prior Student Knowledge

Be familiar with the time signatures 2/4 and 4/4 and the values of musical notes in those signatures.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Introduce students to a non-traditional instrument. Play the video: Touchtone Symphony. Ask students:

  • Is this music?
  • How did the performer learn how to play this tune?
  • What are some ways he could capture the musical notes for someone else to play the same song?
  • What other electronic devices could be used to make similar sounds?
  • What role does mathematics play in this performance?

Build Knowledge

1. Review basic music theory with students. As a large group, in small groups, or at individual computer stations, explore the web site: SFS Kids' The Music Lab. Explain 4/4 and 2/4 time. Review basic notes (whole, half, quarter, eighth). Clicking on “The Basics” sign walks students through a tutorial on this material.

2. Explore music notation using mathematics. Dissect a measure of music, looking at total beats for the measure and the number of beats of individual notes within that measure. For example, in 4/4 music, each measure must contain four beats. Thus, one measure in 4/4 time can hold eight eighth notes (each half a beat), four quarter notes (each 1 beat), two half notes (each 2 beats), or one whole note (4 beats). In 2/4 time, one measure can hold four eighth notes, two quarter notes, or one half note.

3. Experiment with online touch-tone sound application. Use the DTMF Tone Generator Applet. Give students time to play random notes.

4. Provide students with touch-tone musical notation for one or more pre-selected songs. (You may wish to provide this as a printed page from the online resource.) Ask them if they can determine the time (4/4, 2/4, or something else).

NOTE: Explain to students that this exercise should only be done on the touch-tone simulator. Do not do this with a real phone, as it may result in charges.


1. Create original touch-tone compositions. Divide the class into small working groups. Assign some groups 4/4 time (four beats per measure) and other groups 2/4 time (two beats per measure). Provide students with musical notation paper. Ask them to create an original composition (not a re-creation of a known song). Ask them to record the notes as touch-tone numbers on the musical notation paper. Allow them to create their own notation for various lengths of notes, as necessary. Check the work of each group for understanding of the assignment before moving on.

2. Explore other non-traditional musical instruments. Show the video: Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. Ask students: What defines an instrument (something that can be used to produce musical tones or sounds)? Do instruments have to be intricate or complicated?

3. Explore the classroom for “found” instruments. Allow students to be creative and innovative. (Instruments can be paint brushes, fluttering pages of a book, the pencil sharpener, crayons inside a coffee can, etc.) Instruments can also be found on them (zippers, clapping hands, etc.) Discourage them from using any traditional instruments you may have in the classroom.

4. Add more instruments to the original compositions. Ask student groups to add more instruments to their touch-tone compositions. Ask them: How would you note these new additions on the musical notation paper?


1. Perform the original compositions. Ask each group to perform its original piece.

2. Discuss and critique the performances. Ask the audience to critique the performance. You may need to guide them with questions:

  • Was the group successful in using the touch-tone simulator as an instrument?
  • What other instruments did they use?
  • Was the group able to work together?
  • What did they do well?

If possible, you may want to videotape the performance for each group to watch itself.

3. Ask each student to perform a self assessment. Use the provided handout entitled 'Self Assessment' found within the Resource Carousel.


Assess your student's work using the 'Assessment Rubric' handout located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Maureen Carroll
Original Writer

Carol Parenzan Smalley

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