Composing Using a Piano Keyboard

This easy composing activity requires use of a small keyboard. You will write a song using the words of an existing poem. (You can also try it with your own poem.)

The Table and the Chair is one example of a poem that works using this method. (See notes at the end of this page for suggestions of other poems that will work.) Notice the math in the way the poem is organized. Can you figure out how many beats are in the poem?

  • Each stanza (a poetic paragraph) is divided into 8 lines. (Each stanza is numbered.)

If you tap a steady beat with your toe or by patting your lap, you will notice that:

  • Each line has 4 beats.
  • Each beat has either 1 or 2 sounds.

The Table and the Chair by Edward Lear (1812-1888)


Said the Table to the Chair,
‘You can hardly be aware,
‘How I suffer from the heat,
‘And from chilblains on my feet!
‘If we took a little walk,
‘We might have a little talk!
‘Pray let us take the air!’
Said the Table to the Chair.
Said the Chair unto the Table,
‘Now you know we are not able!
‘How foolishly you talk,
‘When you know we cannot walk!’
Said the Table, with a sigh,
‘It can do no harm to try,
‘I’ve as many legs as you,
‘Why can’t we walk on two?’
So they both went slowly down,
And walked about the town
With a cheerful bumpy sound,
As they toddled round and round.
And everybody cried,
As they hastened to their side,
‘See! the Table and the Chair
‘Have come out to take the air!’
But in going down an alley,
To a castle in a valley,
They completely lost their way,
And wandered all the day,
Till, to see them safely back,
They paid a Ducky-quack,
And a Beetle, and a Mouse,
Who took them to their house.
Then they whispered to each other,
‘O delightful little brother!
‘What a lovely walk we’ve taken!
‘Let us dine on Beans and Bacon!’
So the Ducky, and the leetle
Browny-Mousy and the Beetle
Dined, and danced upon their heads
Till they toddled to their beds.

Composing Activity

1. Fill the words of this poem into this printable chart.. If 2 sounds happen in the same beat, write both sounds in one box. If there is 1 sound per beat, write that sound in 1 box.
2. If there is one sound in a box, draw a quarter note in the box above that box. If there are 2 sounds in the box, draw two eighth notes above that box.
3. Using the black keys of the piano, choose 1 key per note. Write a “1” above the black key you’ve chosen if it’s a quarter note or if it’s the first of 2 eighth notes. Write a “2” above the second note that you choose when there are 2 eighth notes in the box.
4. Remember that music always includes both same and different patterns of sounds. As you fill the chart with notes, try to create a balance of same and different.
5. Here are printable blank charts that you can use. When you have completed charting the poem, play and sing your new song!
6.  Parents, you can send me an audio of your child’s composition. I will post it here!

Other Poems that Will Work 

This activity requires a poem in quadruple meter (4/4).
The following poems are under copyright, so I don’t have permission to duplicate them here. However, they are easily searchable on the web.
  • What a Day, Shel Silverstein (2 lines in the poem=4 beats in the chart)
  • Hector the Collector, Shel Silverstein (1 line=4 beats)
  • Louder than a Clap of Thunder, Jack Prelutsky (1 line=4 beats)

Music About Elephants

Dance an elephant dance with The Elephant by Camille Saint-Saëns. This movement from Carnival of the Animals features the Double Bass.

Watch real elephants dance! Wow!

Listen to poet Jack Prelutsky read Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and other poems about fantastic animals. (Orchestral accompaniment by Lucas Richman.

Here is a 1913 recording of Claude Debussy playing his piano piece, Jimbo’s Lullaby, from his collection of children’s pieces, Children’s Corner

Listen to The Story of Babar the Elephant by composer Francis Poulenc (23 minutes). Click here for a synopsis of the story, related theater games, and crafts ideas (including a cute finger puppet template).

Older children can create their own comic strips based on the story they hear. Here is a tutorial on how to draw a cartoon elephant.




Family Dance Party: Freeze Dances

(See below for a link to the next daily activity, Music About Elephants.)

Across the planet, people everywhere are stopping their normal routines. This led me to think about how we use pauses in music. Here is an interesting article about how the human brain reacts to pauses in music.

Here are some musical pieces for freeze dancing at home.

Kangaroos from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns (yes, it’s that short!)

Pretend that you are a Kangaroo. When the music is smooth (legato), slide your feet side-to-side. When the music is choppy (staccato), hop. When the music stops, freeze.


String Quartet Op. 33 no. 2, “Joke”, 4th Movement by Joseph Haydn

Keep a beat to this piece in as many ways as you can. Tap your head, snap your fingers, pat your shoulders. Wait a bit for when the music stops. Freeze. Repeat whenever the music stops. What is the “joke” in this music? Why is it funny that the pauses happen mostly at the end?


Symphony No. 9, 2nd Movement (Molto Vivace) by Ludwig Van Beethoven

(This example is 13 minutes long, so younger children may lose interest before it’s finished. It’s fine to play just a portion, but the music stays exciting through to the end!)

The dance area is your “prairie”, where the horses run. Choose a corner in the room to be your stream, where the horses can stop to take a cool drink of water. Other corners in the room can be forests (to slowly explore) and hills (to move up and down as the music gets louder our softer).

Pretend that you are a wild horse galloping through nature. When do you see forests, hills, prairies, and rivers? When do you stop to take a cool drink of water from a nearby stream?

Dance to the music, but STOP when you hear a pause in the music. There are many pauses to listen for!


Freeze Dances for Younger Children, Americana

You Walk and You Stop, Ella Jenkins 

All Around the Kitchen, Pete Seeger


Musical Activities for Families

Children across the world are not in school due to COVID-19. Music is the best balm for anxiety. These are indoor musical activities for families with children.

Children across the world are not in school due to COVID-19. Music is the best balm for anxiety. These are indoor musical activities for families with children.

(See below for a link to the next daily activity, Family Freeze Dances.)

Singalong Activity

Families with young children can participate in a virtual singalong with my neighbor and musical colleague, Jeremy Lyons.

Listening and Composing Activity: Peter and the Wolf

The following piece is a musical story for children about being brave. After listening to the music, children and families at home can write their own stories about being brave:

  1. Write a story about a child who is brave. Make sure your story has a beginning, middle and end.
  2. What are the characters in your story? Find instruments or objects in the house that make interesting sounds. Assign a different instrument for each character.
  3. Invent a different musical idea that belongs to each instrument/character.
  4. Perform your musical story! Have different family members read your story out loud while others play the musical ideas assigned to each character.
  5. Parents, if you’d like to send me an audio recording of your child’s masterpiece, I will share it on this site!

Peter and the Wolf, written by Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev, is a theater composition for orchestra and narrator. Different instruments each represent a different character in this story of a brave boy who encounters different animals in nature, including a wolf.

Here is a listening-only narration of the piece, read by Leonard Bernstein.

This is a read-along narration by David Bowie!

Here is a Peter and the Wolf printable coloring book for younger children.

This wordless claymation of Peter and the Wolf is incredibly beautiful, and teens and adults will love it too. However, the video can be scary for some children. The main character is a boy who encounters a wild wolf. The antagonists of the story are cigarette-smoking bullies with hunting guns. Sensitive children should watch it with an adult who can pause the video to talk about kids’ feelings around bullying, guns, cigarettes, and being frightened. (The surprise ending might also lead you into a discussion about animal captivity.)

Here is information about the instruments in Peter and the Wolf.




french horn