Rhythm and Art: Gesture Drawing

Exploring connections between music and visual art.


Key Staff

Primary Instructor

Key Skills

Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres, Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique
Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing


In this lesson, students will explore connections between music and visual art. Students will create a series of line drawings influenced by listening to several different genres of music.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand, describe, and interpret non-verbal language (auditory and visual).
  • Work in different media, such as drawing, collage (manipulative), and painting.
  • Explore the relationship between elements and principles—specifically, line, shape, and color, and their maximum and minimum contrast.
  • Observe and respond to the content in their work and in others' work.
  • Develop critical thinking skills (comparing, contrasting, and analyzing).

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type



What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Speakers
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers should familiarize themselves with the basics of gesture drawing using the following sources:

“Gesture Drawing,” About.com

“Gesture Drawing” Nancy Doyle Fine Art

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with the basic notions of line, shape and color.

Physical Space


Accessibility Notes

Students with visual impairments or disabilities may need modified handouts or texts.


Resources in Reach

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



1. Discuss how to make connections between music and art. For example, expansive waves are created by sounds that travel in space until they are received by our auditory sense (ears). Our brain interprets the sound and instructs the body in the proper response; for example, instead of moving the whole body, we move the hand. Compare these sound waves to the organic lines in gesture drawings.

2. Ask students to use their left hands to tap on their desks while their right hands draw in the air, using different movements (move diagonally, up, down, left, right, in circles, in zig-zags, etc.). Synchronize the movements of both hands. When the left hand taps the table, the right hand should move. Students should try different speeds: first tap very slow, then less slow; tap fast, then very fast. Discuss how different motions or tapping affected hand motion drawing.

Build Knowledge

1. Play music in the background, in the following order:

  • Cuban music (drums)
  • Cuban music (strings)
  • Flamenco
  • Classical music
  • Jazz
  • Contemporary music

2. Following the melody, have students start a gesture drawing on paper using organic lines. The pencil mark may be fast, slow, light, dark, smooth, rough, or broken, depending upon rhythm and tempo.


1. Over the next few days, students should create 6 gesture drawings per activity using 18" x 12" (or smaller) newsprint paper. The goal is for students to make visual connections to their auditory experiences.

2. Exercise: Straight Lines. Play flute and/or guitar solo music in the background. Using 18" x 12" newsprint paper, fill the page with straight lines only. The lines can be horizontal, or diagonal. Move from one edge of the paper to the opposite side.

3. Exercise: Curved Lines. Play music containing drum solos in the background. Using 18" x 12" newsprint paper, fill the page with curved lines only. The lines can be positioned vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Move from one edge of the paper to the opposite side.

Ask for student volunteers to store work on appropriate shelves.

4. Exercise: Curved and Straight Lines. Play classical music or jazz in the background. Using 18" x 12" newsprint paper, fill the page with curved and straight lines only. The directions of lines can be vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. Move from one edge of the paper to the opposite side.


1. Ask students to look over all of their drawings.

2. Next, ask them the following questions. Have them discuss their responses in small groups.

  • Besides curved and straight lines, what else can you find in the drawings?
  • What other lines can you see (zig-zag, spiral, converged, parallel, intermittent lines, etc.)?

3. Have students fill out the Self-Assessment Guide located within the Resource Carousel.

Key Vocabulary

  • Music
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Symbolism
  • Maximum/minimum contrast
  • Elements of design
  • Jazz


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



Teresa Ghiglino
Original Writer

Jen Westmoreland Bouchard

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