Music mapping

Magical Mapping

Why are music maps so magical? When I bring music maps into my classroom, a beautiful hush settles over my students. I can tell they are focused in a way that I believe is really important for music study. Music maps make this possible. There is something about mapping that elicits a response and creates an experience different from any other thing that happens in my classroom. I think of it almost as an enchantment that settles over the room.

Mapping happens within four scenarios in my teaching. I’ll share three of these, and I hope this reflection encourages you to experiment with mapping in your own classroom.

  1. Student-created
  2. Teacher-created, or lead map
  3. Recorded music
  4. Blended notation: fragments of map within an iconic representation of a song.


I’ve become comfortable with facilitating student-created maps in recent years. As a younger teacher, I found myself trying to control the situation and outcome. Now I realize I need to give the students the chance to experience creating and learning from their own maps. It is a process. The nature of that exploratory experience is why student-created maps are so engaging and worthwhile.

Mapping starts with play and movement. After playing the game “Come and Follow Me” over several class periods, we sing the song and my students watch as I create a map. Then we read the map. I might have children come up and follow the map while the rest of the class follows with fingers in the air.  I would probably make the map on paper so students can actually touch the map while following it.

Now, it’s time for students to make their own maps. We create multiple “invisible” maps in the air, then do the same with fingers on paper or on white board. We practice starting and stopping with the song. “Let your finger move to the music. We start when the song starts and stop when the song stops.” Then it’s time to take the cap off the marker and make the map.

“Make an X at your starting place, anywhere on the paper. Here comes the song. Get ready to make your map. Ready.”

“I saw your marker stop when the song stopped. Let’s read our maps!”

If the map is on paper, we read them then make another on the other side. If it’s on a white board, we erase that map and make another.

I have noticed that we all tend to sing more softly when mapping. The experience of mapping becomes immediately intimate for each student, so it’s okay with me if they sing softly and/or my singing supports them. Sometimes students also appreciate practicing in their own time while they sing, without needing to stay with the group.

Key to this mapping experience is giving students a chance to make at least another map or two soon after the initial experience of mapping. After the first map, everyone reads their own map, makes another, reads it, and then sometimes we trade maps. A fun way to read several maps is to put the maps on the floor in a circle and travel around the circle, moving one or two or three maps each time, reading a new map, eventually returning to our own map.


When I create a map for students to follow, it may either be drawn in real time in front of students, or prepared ahead of time. Depending on the context of the music, the students, and my goals, my map may be a continuous line, or line fragments representing either sound or word clusters or phrases of the song. The map may be introduced as a secret song, or students may be told or know the music as they first observe it.

When watching my students follow a map, I informally and formally assess:

            How carefully are they listening to  the song/music source?

            How are they connecting their movement during reading to the flow of the music?

From watching my students follow a map while singing, I’ve learned that following a paper individually is different from touching a larger map. The larger maps, on the white board in front of the class, require bigger motions and gestures, so different muscles are used. I discuss these nuances with my students, asking “How did it feel to follow the map on the board?”

“Was that easy for your finger or arm?”

”Which map was more challenging?” Which was more satisfying? Why?”

Years of observing students read and create maps has helped me develop a vocabulary of feedback to use when I see students following a map. Rather than blanket praise statements like, “Good job!” I use statements that deliver specific information such as, “I saw your finger stay with the song,” “You solved the puzzle of this map!” or “You read that map!” These observational comments gently encourage and affirm. If a student struggles with following a map, I might say, “I noticed this spot was a little tricky. Let’s do it again!”


Perhaps my most joyful experiences with mapping and students involves using recorded music and following a lead map. Three of my favorite pieces for this are the “Gavotte” from Orchestral Suite #3 in D by J. S. Bach,  the “Minuet” from Symphony #41 by W. A. Mozart, and my new favorite, the second movement of Haydn’s Symphony #94, “Surprise.” This latest map was created just a few months ago by teacher Debanhi Garcia. The Bach and Mozart maps are in Mary Helen Richards’ book Aesthetic Foundations for Thinking Part 3: The ETM Process as well as in Peggy Bennett and Doug Bartholomew’s books SongWorks I and II. I’ve made some videos using these three maps, and they are available on my YouTube channel. Please feel free to use these videos any way you like.

Following a map to a recorded piece—which lacks language in the traditional sense of text—evokes a heightened focus on the sound clusters in the music and the flow of the music. I see my students at their most concentrated when they follow this kind of map.


Another kind of map blends the line of a map with other things, like conventional notation, or icons representing chunks of the song, or little pictures that stand for word clusters.

We can turn a teacher-created blended notation by replacing parts of the map with whatever makes sense in the song. For example, here’s our Come and Follow Me map changed into blended notation.

The possibilities and variations are endless. This is such a playful way of teaching, one that begins with easily accessible ways for students to begin turning sound into symbol.

Music maps are a way of notation sound by and for students. Maps are still enjoyable for those who know how to read conventional music notation, however. Following a map while singing or listening to music elicits a powerful and focused simultaneous listening and reading experience.

I would love to hear from you! If you are new to mapping, what is most intriguing about this way of teaching? Do you have any experiences with mapping to share? Please let me know!


Bennett, P. D. & Bartholomew, D. R. (1997). SongWorks I: Singing in the education of children. Belmont,     Ca: Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Bennett, P.D. & Bartholomew, D. R. (1999). SongWorks II: Singing from sound to symbol. Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth Publishing Co.

Kenney, S. H. (2016). “Music mapping: What is it? Where did it come from? Why does it work?” Capstone paper presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for SongWorks Certification.

Nordquist, A. L. (2019). “Freeing the mapmaker within.” Handout from April 2019 SongWorks Conference presentation, Dallas Tx.

Vicky Suarez

Vicky Suarez teaches music to students in grades K-5 at Shepard Elementary in the Plano TX ISD. She holds certifications in both SongWorks and Orff Schulwerk. A graduate of Southern Methodist University (MM 2017) and the University of Texas at Arlington (BM 1989), Vicky enjoys thinking about the ways different music approaches can enhance and complement each other.

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  1. Patricia Yee-Cimeno on March 17, 2021 at 1:56 pm

    Awesome !
    Working on Maps now in lower elementary using Highway Number 1 and great fun
    Introducing Musical Map like you have shown for lower elementary

    Thank You!!


    • Victoria Suarez on March 19, 2021 at 6:31 am

      So glad to hear this, Patti!

  2. Julie Ogle on March 18, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Love this! Thank you!

    • Victoria Suarez on March 19, 2021 at 6:32 am

      You are very welcome, Julie! I hope you will give mapping a try.

  3. Hal Hobson-Morse on March 22, 2021 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for such great lesson ideas. We have a symphony field trip every year (except this one!) and this gives the children a great handle on listening to classical pieces.
    With some Orff pieces, I have made a “map puzzle” on 4 sheets of paper. Before they hear the song, we guess what order they might be put in. Sometimes they see an AABA pattern, or ABAC. It has also helped understand the tonic or home base. Then we listen and assemble the pieces accordingly. When they do go to instruments, they are very familiar with the melodic contour.

    • Victoria Suarez on March 22, 2021 at 5:05 pm

      What a wonderful way to make music study engaging and fun! Thank you, love this idea!

  4. Ines Emilia Ramirez on February 23, 2022 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for the Mapping Music article. I will implement it right away in my lessons. I was wondering if you can provide the name of the composer of the song “Come and Follow Me” that you used on your mapping example here on this blog. Is that a religious song?
    Thanks again,
    Inés Ramírez♪

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