Air Drawing: Contour

Photo courtesy of New World Symphony


Audience will understand the musical concept of contour (melody rising or falling).


Audience draws the contour of the music in the air along with the performance.


  1. Identify a musical phrase with clear contour, so the audience will easily be able to distinguish where the melody is rising and where it is falling.
  2. In performance: explain the idea of melody rising or falling to the audience, and that this is called contour.
  3. Demonstrate what this might look like before the performance: have one performer play a scale up and down in various orders, while you draw the contour in the air.
  4. (Optional & can be done before step 3) Flip the script! Have one performer draw contour in the air, and the other performer respond musically to the contour being drawn. Invite audience members to direct the melody up and down as well.
  5. Play a melody and ask the audience to follow the contour with their hands in the air.

Audience Type

What does this activity look like in action?

Example Script:

Piece: Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, “At the Summit”

Performer: When we listen to a melody, we can hear when it rises and falls. A rising melody might sound like this: (sing do-re-mi-fa-sol), and a falling melody might sound like this: (sing: sol-fa-mi-re-do).


Something fun to do with my friends here is draw the rising and falling, and have them play something based on the contour I come up with. My friend, Rachel, is going to play this game with me. Okay, Rachel, are you ready for my drawing?
(You draw contour in the air, and Rachel follows on her instrument).


The next piece on our program is titled Alpine Symphony: At the Summit. Something cool about this piece is how the melody both rises and falls. If we were to draw the contour along with this piece, we might start to see the outline of the mountains the composer is depicting! Rachel can help me demonstrate what drawing contour might look like. Rachel is going to play a small excerpt of this melody, and I’ll draw the contour she’s playing!


(Rachel plays Summit motive, you draw contour along to Rachel’s performance).


As you listen to this piece, follow along with your own air drawing contour paintings!


  • Can be paired with/substituted for a drawing activity, where the performer plays the drawn contour, or the audience draws the contour as it’s performed.


  • Precursor activity talking about melody would be beneficial to explaining contour. See “Melody, Theme, or Motif”
  • Having props (like streamers or wands, etc.) handed out before a concert can be fun to pair with this activity!

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