Irina L. Vanechkina


This article describes experiments held in Kazan, Russia, in which children "draw" music. The results of the experiments are considered from educational and psychological points of view.

Visualization of certain characteristics of electrical and magnetic fields and of mechanical and thermal heterogeneities is used in scientific research to make the analyzed phenomenon visual and thereby aid the processes of fixing, observing and measuring it. The study of acoustics - specifically, musical acoustics - makes use of this universal and convenient method as well [1]. Moreover, this method can also be applied in other closely associated areas - music theory, musical psychology and education.

Experiments with non-instrumental methods of visualizing the dynamics of different musical characteristics - i.e. visualizations that are made, so to speak, "by hand," such as those used by S.Taneyev, G.Konyus and D. Lifschits for the graphic depiction of volume change, change of melodics, tonal plans, architectonics and the shape of musical works [2] - are close to the above-mentioned forms of experimentation. In these cases the investigators exceeded the bounds of merely physical analysis and took into account the psychological and aesthetic parameters of music. More recently, composers of electronic music have found it necessary to use some form of graphics as a substitute for conventional music notation, which cannot sufficiently convey their creative work.

Finally, there is yet another area called "musical graphics," which involves methods of painting and drawing music (generally resulting in abstract visual compositions). These methods were first used for educational and psychological purposes by 0. Rainer, an Austrian, who published the results of his experiments in his book "Musikalische Graphik" [3]. In 1926 he established the Musical Graphics Society and published the journal "Archiv der Musikalische Graphik" in Vienna. After he died in 1941, his work was continued by G. Zunderman and B.Ernst. In 1962, musical graphics was introduced into the curriculum of the Vienna Academy of Music and Fine Art, out of which developed the Musical Graphics Institute, where a special museum dedicated to the best works was established. The experience of the institute proves the effectiveness of drawing music in pedagogical and psychological research involving audio-visual associations (or concomitant audio and visual perceptions-a form of synesthesia).

The methods of musical graphics have followers all over the world. In the Soviet Union, I began regular experiments in this field in the mid-1970s. The experiments pursued two types of objectives: scientific (studying the psychological regularities of color-hearing synesthesia) and pedagogical (testing the efficiency of the method in education). The scientific objective necessitated investigating the way music is reflected in drawings - from distinct musical aspects such as melody, harmony, mode, timbre, tempo, texture and dynamics to a more general impression of program music and non-program music in different styles and characters.

The experiments were preceded by questionnaires in which children were queried about the following associations "day of week - color," "month - color," "figures - color," "vowels - color," "senses - color," "timbre - color." The questionnaires revealed that emotions served an intermediary function in forming relationships in all these associations, including that of music-color.

The music drawing itself was done by experimental and control groups of pupils. In the control group, traditional music classes, without drawing, were held. In the experimental group, the same musical works were studied but with the application of the method of musical graphics. The children had a preliminary acquaintance with the general aspects of music such as melody, harmony, tempo, etc. and aspects of painting such as drawing, coloring, composition, etc. The children were asked to listen intently to a piece of music, then they participated actively in an analysis of its structure and content. Only after that did the children begin to draw.

The groups consisted of schoolchildren in grades 1 to 10 in general education schools, music schools and art schools. The time spent listening to music was 15 minutes for the general education students and 60 minutes for the students in the special schools. Each stage of the experiment was accompanied by concrete tasks devised according to a principle of proceeding from the easy to the complicated. For instance, concerning form and content, the children were first asked to draw an easy-to-perceive short musical piece, then two one-part program music pieces that were more complex and, finally, two complex non-program compositions in two- or three-part form. A large-scale experiment was held to reveal timbrecolor analogies by means of drawing music that was written for various solo instruments such as violin, flute, clavacin and trumpet, and for various types of orchestras (see Figs 1-4 and Color Plate A No. 3).

Fig.1. Musical graphics by 13-year-old schoolboy; music by R.Schumann: "Noble Waltz" from the Carnaval series. The plasticity of the lines fixes the vertical movements of waltz music. Fig.2. Musical graphics by a 17-year-old schoolgirl; music by A.Scriabin: Dark Flame. The student was asked to listen to the music without knowing the name of the piece. However, she was able to show the essence of this piano piece through both lines and colors.

Fig.3. Student's musical graphics of music by G.Sviridov: "Romance" from the Snowstorm series. The light, lyrical melody resulted in anthropomorphic forms with bright and clear colors. Fig.4. Musical graphics by a 16- year-old schoolboy; music by G.Bizet and R.Schedrin: "Bolero" from the Carmen Suite. The fiery vortex of the Spanish dance formed analogous associations with the music itself.

One of the experiments included a kinetic light-music film (a sort of animated "musical graphics"), which accompanied the music to be drawn.

All the experiments have proven to have great pedagogical effectiveness:

  1. Music drawing is a creative act that requires independent thinking and action and helps to create conditions for maximum concentration, to activate attention and interest, and to solve discipline problems in the classroom.
  2. Psychologically, the fostering of independent action in a play situation makes perception more sensitive and effective.
  3. A comparative analysis of the results of question sessions, which were held after the experiments were performed and aimed to investigate the pupils' understanding of music content, revealed an essential rise in interest and understanding by students in the experimental groups as compared with the controls (especially in the experiment that involved showing the light-music film).
  4. Long-term experiments provided a means of obtaining proof of a more thorough and sound knowledge of music in the experimental classes when follow-up studies were done 5 years later.
  5. Children's drawings reflecting the form and content of musical works serve as visual documents that allow one to judge the depth of the music perception as well as the personal psychological peculiarities of the schoolchildren themselves. This provided feedback that was not available by any other means (such as testing, conversation or questioning) - in every class and for every pupil.

The children's drawings themselves, beyond their usefulness in an educational setting, are of interest as independent works. For that reason they were exhibited at "Children Draw Music" exhibitions held during "Light and Music" All-Union Conferences in 1975 (Fig. 5), 1979 and 1986 and at the "Light and Music" festival of 1987 [4]. They have attracted the interest of specialists in the field of music psychology because of the way in which they realize dynamic music perception process compression in simultaneous integral patterns. The experiments have also confirmed our scientific assumptions about the regularities of color-hearing synesthesia. We have established hearing-visual correlations such as melody-drawing, timbre-color, register-lightness and tonality-coloring.

Fig.5. Display of schoolchildren's artwork during the first "Children Draw Music" exhibition (Kazan, USSR, 1975).

What are the relationships between the results of these experiments with drawing music and the other physical methods of visualizing music? They seem very similar to relationships between psychology and musical acoustics and between audio perception processes and the physics of sound processes. The structure and hierarchy of these relationships in synesthesia are the subject of complex research reported in a monograph by B.M. Galeyev [5] and several works of my own [6-9].


  1. See Bulat M.aleyev. "Sound Visualization Techniques and Light-Music," Materials on the 3rd All-Union Conference "Light and Music" (Kazan, USSR: 1975) pp.187-190 [in Russian].
  2. D.S.Lifschits. Music and Mathematics (Alma-Ata, USSR: Kazakhstan Publishers, 1976) p.79 [in Russian].
  3. O.Rainer. Musikalische Graphik (Vienna, Leipzig, New York: Deutscher Verlag fur Jugend and Volk, 1926),p.185.
  4. Bulat M.Galeyev. "The All-Union School-Festival 'Light and Music' (Kazan, 20-30 September 1987)," Leonardo 23, No.1, pp.134-136 (1990).
  5. Bulat M.Galeyev. Man, Art and Technology (The Problem of Synesthesia in Art) (Kazan, USSR: Kazan State Univ. Publishers, 1987) [in Russian].
  6. Irina L.Vanechkina. "Soviet Musicians and Light-Music," in The Art of Luminous Sounds (Kazan, USSR: KAI Press, 1973) pp.89-110 [in Russian].
  7. Irina L.Vanechkina et al.. "Musical Graphics in Kazan Schools," in The Synthesis of Arts in the Age of Scientific and Technological Revolution (Kazan, USSR: KAI Press, 1987) pp.153-154 [in Russian].
  8. Irina L.Vanechkina. "Experiments of 'Musical Graphics' Abroad," in Functional Light-Music in Production, Medicine and Pedagogy: Republican Scientific and Practical Seminar collected seminar papers (Kazan, USSR: KAI Press, 1988) pp.66-68 [in Russian].
  9. Irina L.Vanechkina and Bulat M. Galeyev. "'Musical Graphics' as an Effective Method of Musical Education," in Professional Training of the Teachers of Music (Kazan, USSR: Kazan Pedagogical Institute Press, 1991) pp.113-127 [in Russian].

Published in "Leonardo", 1994, Vol.27, No.5, pp.437-439.