Can you see the music?

A picture of people or a person, playing musical instruments. Try to show what the music would look like if you were able to see it actually coming out of the instrument.

Use any materials, techniques or processes (for example drawing, painting, printmaking, textiles, photography, computer-aided design, collage, montage).

Below you will find three key artworks to look at and discuss as a class.

There are then 10 examples of artworks made by children in response to this theme.

Sir Donald Tovey, 1875-1940

Who do you think is the most important person here?
Why has the artist left so much empty space around this group of people?
What kind of music do you think they are playing – are there any clues to tell us?
Do you think the artist painted this during the concert, or maybe from a photograph? 

The main person in this painting is Sir Donald Tovey who we can see here playing music by his favourite composer Beethoven, on the piano. He had an excellent memory and could remember lots of tunes in his head. The artist came to the concert and made many sketches. He then made this painting later in his studio.

Sir Donald Tovey, 1875 - 1940 (in concert), Morris Meredith Williams, 1928 − © Dr J. W. Herries, The Trustees of the Estate of the late Mrs G I Meredith Williams

The Irish Jig

This is not a drawing on paper. How do you think it has been made
What is each person doing? 
The kind of music being played is called a jig. What does a jig sound like and what does it make you feel like doing?
Why do you think the cross has been put into the picture?

This is a stained glass window which the artist made for his home in Edinburgh. He did lots of work for churches and made over 300 windows in his lifetime-this might be why the cross has been included. The dog is howling to the music while the people play and dance. A jig is a kind of dance which often gets faster and faster as the music speeds up. 

The Irish Jig, William Wilson, 1948 − © The Estate of William Wilson

Solo Violin

What is this girl doing? There is a clue on the chair.
Why do you think her eyes are closed?
Can you think of a game where people pretend to do things and other people have to guess what it is?
How has this picture been made?

The girl has been photographed practicing her violin. Using a computer, the artist has ‘rubbed out’ the instrument. Now, we cannot hear the music or even see what is making it! This artist is very interested in what happens when we put strange things together and make unusual pictures using cameras and computers.

Solo Violin, St Mary's Music School, Edinburgh 1998, Wendy McMurdo, 1999 − © Wendy McMurdo

Further considerations

  • Have you ever played a musical instrument? 
  • What parts of the body are used for playing different instruments? Can we make music with just our bodies?
  • What are different instruments made from? Some countries have special instruments of their own. Some make instruments out of rubbish or waste materials. 
  • Is it better to hear sounds one at a time or lots of sounds together? What makes the quietest/loudest sound? What makes the highest/lowest sound?
  • Do people wear special clothes for playing? 
  • Where do people listen to music? At what special occasion is music particularly important? 
  • What do people sometimes feel like doing when they hear music?

Curriculum for Excellence

Expressive Arts

Art and Design

Inspired by a range of stimuli, I can express and communicate my ideas, thoughts and feelings through activities in art and design. EXA 1-05a

I can respond to the work of artists and designers by discussing my thoughts and feelings. EXA 1-07a 

I have listened to a range of music and can respond by discussing my thoughts and feelings. EXA 1-19a


By collaborating in experiments on different ways of producing sound from vibrations, I can demonstrate how to change the pitch of the sound. SCN 1-11a 


Artworks created for this theme

Fraser Morrison
Gregor Malone
Jack Scanlon
Katrina Bruce
Paul Dowdeswell
Ryan Hartley
Vicky Goodwin
Alexander Khaleeli
Ben Mitchell
Blair Grant