Describe &
Ask: Music

A language practice centered on childrens' artistic choices that nurtures artistic and academic working and thinking.
A composite of three images. The first features four students holding hands in a circle while a teaching artist plays a hand drum. The second features two students seated, one is playing the violin while the other watches. The third image features an assortment of hand percussion instruments: maracas, triangles, bells, finger cymbals, a guiro, tambourine, egg shakers, etcetera.

What is it and Why?

Adults notice, describe & ask about students’ musical choices, clarifying how the things they wish to communicate through music are being received, and building their expressive skills from the very first time they play an instrument.

    Example: How can this protocol work with a challenging instrument such as violin?

    Rima Fand explains the Notice Describe and Ask practice as she used it to construct a “Play How You Feel” warmup for her second grade beginner violin students.

    Use the same process with any prompt for improvising that interests young children.

    Describing Tool: Play How You Feel
  • Notice Your Students, Notice Your Reactions
    • Notice: While students are playing, listen carefully to remember the sequence of choices. If a lot is going on at once, focus on the most impactful elements.
    • Notice if you are having any reactions or judgments about their choices.  Let go of them.
    • Refocus to the areas of musical choice on the left side of the describing tool.
  • Describe all work enthusiastically, without Judgment

    Use specific language from your describing tool to describe the choices you noticed. Example: I heard…

    • three soft thigh slaps followed fast clapping
    • your voice getting louder and louder, and going from low to high
    • low rumbling sounds followed by a sudden loud squeaky sound.
  • Ask: Do you want to tell me about your piece?

    Let kids choose how they want to talk about their work and what they want to process.  Do not pressure them to speak. Use open questions. Examples:

    • Do you want to tell me about it?
    • Tell me about the part where you (describe)
    • What were you thinking about when you made those (describe musical choices) sounds?
  • Tip- Mirror and Reflect
    • When students answer, mirror back their words, ideas and tone.
    • Do not insist on particular ways of speaking or specific types of information. Accept the full variety of responses.
    • Be playful and flexible. If students are communicating with their bodies or sound, you can mirror them with body as well as words.

Essentials & Tips

Students use sound as an expressive medium, and develop crucial artistic and academic language, working and thinking skills. Adults describe student’s artistic choices in detail and ask students to talk about their work.


    Describe and Ask

    Describe children’s artistic choices with enthusiasm and specificity.

    Don’t guess or interpret their expression: Ask them to talk about it.

    Mirror and Reflect

    Mirror some of children’s phrases and ideas back to them. You can comment on what they shared, and relate back to their musical choices in more detail.

    Peers listen and interpret

    Encourage children to listen to each other and talk freely about what they heard.
    Don’t insist a child speak; some artists prefer to let their music speak for them!

    Be flexible and responsive

    Be flexible to the variety of student responses to the assignment. You can return at any point to describing student’s musical choices.

Example: Play How You Feel

Play How you Feel warmup allows you to check in with your students musically and playfully, while introducing them to the expression skills of your medium.


    Musical Improvisation and Emotional Check in

    TA Rima Fand explains more of the what and the why of the warmup which develops musical understanding, improvisation and emotional learning.
    Describing Tool: Play How You Feel

    Play How You Feel with Body Percussion.

    Kids make a body percussion rhythm of how they feel. Rima describes their choices and classmates observe what emotion they might be expressing.
    Describing Tool: Body Percussion


    Plan language for the choices you will describe.

    Identify the musical choices children can explore in your activity. Prepare a vocabulary Describing Tool to help you use specific describing words reflect a wide variety of choices.

    Use one of our Describing Tools or make your own with our template.

    Will you project it, hang it, hold it in your hand?


Learn more

The Notice, Describe & Ask Protocol can be applied to any lesson where students are making choices, creative and/ or academic. See examples below for inspiration and then apply it to your own teaching practice.

  • One girl whispering in another's ear about the contrasting puppet faces they're working on at their desks.
    Learn more about the Notice, Describe & Ask Protocol

    For more information about how this protocol builds language and a child’s confidence in their own artistic practice visit the main

    Notice, Describe & Ask page.