Story Beginnings and Beethoven

How do great stories begin?  They capture your interest, grab your attention, introduce you to characters and setting, and give you a sense of the overall feel of the story as they set you into a series of events that ultimately bring you to the climax of the story.

Great music begins the same way.

And there’s no better composer to illustrate this than Beethoven.  Beethoven wrote hundreds, thousands of pieces and when I teach  my students about how to effectively write the beginning of a story, I turn to his music.  In fact, all last week and this week, we have been listening to and discussing the first 30-90 seconds of all the Beethoven pieces I have highlighted on my ipod.  Here are some of the things kids have said after listening:

The dynamics are really loud and it grabs my attention.” (Eroica Symphony, No. 3 and Symphony No. 5)

“He uses high pitched notes in the melody.  It also has a slow tempo.  It eases me into the music.”  (Fur Elise)

“He uses low pitched sound, followed by silence.  It makes me feel like something exciting or scary is about to happen.  I want to hear more!” (Coriolan Overture)

These are techniques we can discuss with our students to help them make sense of what makes a great beginning to a story.  For example, instead of loud dynamics, we may start a story using an exclamatory remark.  For a melodious theme, a story may begin with a description of a setting or moment in time that captures the feel of the story to come.

In addition to creating a feel for the story, the beginning notes of each piece introduce the characters and setting.  The Minuet in G puts me in a great hall where a grand party is in play.  Dozens of couples swirl around the large dance floor, the ladies’ hoop skirts ebbing and flowing to the rhythm of the music.

In the Egmont Overture, I visualize a man dressed in black.  He is tall and stern and walks with purpose down a dark aisle.  In the shadows a small peasant walks parallel to the man.  She is slow at first, careful not to look up at the man.  She hides her face in the hood of a cape.  In this piece, there are distinct variances in melodies that capture the essence of these two characters.

When students are allowed to listen, visualize, and discuss the beginning sections of these pieces, they are able to verbalize what makes a good story beginning.  They even love acting out the beginnings of these pieces.  As they sit on the floor in our classroom, eating their snack, they move to the music, showing that they understand what Beethoven may be trying to portray in his music.  (And the enjoyment can continue as you learn more about the music itself and the stories that inspired Beethoven to compose them!)

Music provides a wonderful venue for illustrating writing concepts for budding writers.  So, look no further than your own favorite playlists to get those thoughts started next time you want to begin a new writing project!  Enjoy and use this great playlist I’ve created of Beethoven Beginnings.


Have other ideas to share?  Please comment!

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Article by Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth Peterson has devoted her life to education and to reaching out to other teachers who want to remain inspired. Mrs. Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of She holds an M.Ed. in Education, “Arts and Learning” and a C.A.G.S. degree with a focus in “Arts Leadership and Learning.” Elizabeth is author of Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book that includes a method of music integration she has developed and implemented into her own teaching. She teaches workshops and courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and organizes the annual summer Teacher Art Retreat. Mrs. Peterson believes there is a love of active, integrated learning in all children and from their enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.
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