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Curriculum - Music - Lesson plan - Sound bites

Primary: Can music depict animals? Use Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals to explore the possibilitie

Primary: Can music depict animals? Use Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals to explore the possibilitie

What the lesson is about

Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens uses a variety of instruments and musical motifs to represent an array of animals. Using a recording of the piece, you could focus on a different one each week and see how it is portrayed through music, or compare and contrast different animals and their musical sounds. Pupils can also learn more about the instruments Saint-Saens chose to represent each creature.


- To listen and respond to different "animal" sounds in a piece of classical music.

- To learn more about the instruments the composer has chosen for each animal.

- To discuss the physical characteristics of the animals in the piece.

Getting started

You could begin by discussing the physical characteristics of birds, where they live and what they do. Saint-Saens uses contrasting instruments to create the sounds of different types.

Listen to the varied movements, showing pictures of instruments that represent the individual birds. Using pictures of a flute, bassoon, violin, clarinet and piano, ask the pupils to name and match the instruments used to represent the birds.

After looking at other creatures, use further lessons to look at the ways in which they are portrayed, and discuss how they can be described verbally and non-verbally.

Think about how the animals move and how this is reflected in the music - for example, tortoises move slowly, and the maddeningly slow string and piano music in this movement reflects this, while the pianos and cello in the swan movement reflect the surface elegance and the furious movement under the water.

Pupils could act like the animal or move around to the music to demonstrate.

Taking it further

Ask pupils to choose another animal from a list of those which appear in the music - elephant, lion, kangaroo, fish, donkey or tortoise.

Find a book andor a toy of the chosen animal, or ask each child to draw a picture of "their" animal.

Pupils could research, listen to music, and present information to the class about an animal from Carnival of the Animals, as well as evaluate whether or not the music portrays its characteristics.

What to watch out for

Pupils will enjoy the active part of the lesson when they get to behave like the animals in the piece, but it will require class control to have everyone sitting quietly so all children can hear the music.

Where to find it

A week-by-week lesson plan can be found at

Further resources

YouTube has a number of video links to further engage the class. For an accessible commentary in picture book form try Carnival of the Animals: Classical Music for Kids by Barrie Carson Turner.

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