Humane education… in music?

I recently gave a presentation to a group of teachers on incorporating literature to foster positive attitudes, empathy and knowledge related to animals, people and the environment (humane education!). We discussed how humane education concepts from wide array of books can be woven into many different subject areas from language arts and science to art and drama – all while meeting curricular outcomes. I then had someone raise their hand – it was – a music teacher.

She asked, how can music teachers tie humane education stories into their music classes. I honestly didn’t have a great answer for her. Later that week, when browsing the Owl’s Nest Books in Calgary, I came across something I wish I had seen a week earlier, a small orange book.  

The book, Animal Musicians by Pedro Alcade, illustrated by Julio Antonio Blasco and published by The Secret Mountain features animals from across the world and how they use their bodies to create a symphony. Through this book, readers explore about the different techniques that animals use to generate sound, while learning about the animal’s environment and behaviour. The publisher’s website includes recordings of the sounds produced by each of the animals featured in the book.

Both people and animals use music to communicate and produce sounds in similar ways. The video “Can Animals Be Musicians?” (8m13), explores how animals produce sound and the symphony we are used to hearing when we are outside in nature. Learning how animals also use sound and music to communicate emotions and intentions helps to reinforce how animals and people are interconnected.

Ask students:

  • What kinds of sounds do pets make? From these sounds can you tell what they are trying to communicate?
  • Have you ever heard a bird or other animal sing? What did is sound like? What do you think they were trying to say?
  • What does it mean to be a musician?
  • Do you think animals are musicians? Why or why not?


  • As a class brainstorm a list of animals that make music (if students are stuck, they can borrow ideas from the book and the video). Next have students select one of the animals and research how it creates sound. Then have students find an instrument that creates sound in a similar way. Have students create poster that includes their animal and the similar instrument. Ask students to include an explanation of how the animal produces sounds and how this is similar to the instrument.
  • Using material found in the classroom or at home, have students construct an instrument that mimics the sound of an animal of their choosing. Example of materials that could be used include: tissue boxes, rubber bands, wax paper, comb, paper towel roll, rice, etc. Once students have built their instrument, have each student play the instrument for the class and see if anyone can guess which animal the sound is supposed to represent.

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