Learn and Listen- Strings!

Symphony Storytime logo

Ever heard the sweet song of a violin? The bouncing of a bass? The twinkling of a harp? If you have, then you’re already familiar with the string family! 

What makes an instrument part of the string family? Well, strings, of course! Their bodies are wooden and hollow, which allows sound to vibrate inside when the strings are plucked, bowed, strummed, or struck. The family includes such instruments as violins, violas, guitars, and harps- can you name more? 

We could go on and on about what each instrument sounds like, and how it is played, but our friends at the Oregon Symphony have already written a wonderful article about it to go along with their new series, “Symphony Storytime”.This series features thirteen great stories, nine in English and four in Spanish, each read by a master storyteller and accompanied by an Oregon Symphony musician or guest artist.  

In celebration, we here at ICAN thought we would add our own twist to the series and create a musical scavenger hunt! Below, we’ve listed some musical vocabulary and techniques. Learn about them with us, then find them in action during a story picked just for you, Mole Music by David McPhail. 



Repetition is very useful in music! Sometimes, entire verses will repeat, like in The Wheels on the Bus. (Notice that the words change, but the melody doesn’t?) Other times, the chords will repeat but the melody will change. Repetition is everywhere! 


Diegetic Sound

Die-uh-jet-ick. Say that three times fast! In movies, tv shows, or in our case, today’s storytime, sound is diegetic when it can be heard by the characters. Imagine you’re the character in the story- could you hear it in the room you’re in? Then it’s diegetic! Examples include footsteps, characters talking to one another, or music being played by characters. If the characters in the world can’t hear it, the sound is nondiegetic! (non-die-uh-jet-ick) Examples for this would include a narrator or a dramatic film score.  



Do you know the imperial march from Star Wars? How about Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter? Or the song that plays at the start of your favorite TV show? These are all examples of themes– a theme is an important melody in a musical work. There can be one, or many in a singular piece! 



Vibrato is a fast shift between notes when singing or playing an instrument. It usually happens naturally, and you’ve definitely heard it before in some of your favorite songs. Having trouble recognizing it? Turn on some opera. Opera singers use a lot of vibrato! 



If you hear music being played smoothly and sweetly, without any gaps in between notes, you’re hearing a piece being played legato. It’s a style of playing that can be found a lot in classical music! Other styles include marcato, when sections of a piece are played forcefully, and staccato, where musical notes are played quickly, with a lot of space in between. 

Got all that? Great! Now it’s time to start the story! During Mole Music, try to find as many of these as you can in the music: 

  • Repetition  
  • An example of Diegetic sound (Parents: this one’s tricky. Be sure to help out!) 
  • Vibrato  
  • Legato playing 
  • A popular theme! (Hint: was it played earlier? Does it come back?) 

Missing any? Find a grown up to help you out! And when you’re done, be sure to visit the Oregon Symphony Website to hear the rest of their exciting storytimes.  Happy hunting! 


How many did you find? Here are some places where you can hear the terms we’ve discussed: 

Repetition- The melody from 1:12- 1:51 uses a lot of repetition. This melody is played again at 2:15, and 3:45.
Diegetic Sound- At 1:12, Mole is digging. He can hear that sound! He can also hear the melody on TV at 1:51, the screeching and warmups from 2:52-3:44, and the music he plays from 3:51 until the end.
Vibrato- The long notes in the melody at 1:51 have vibrato. Can you hear it? That’s a great example, but there’s plenty more throughout the story,
Legato- There is legato in much of the cello playing- listen to Mole’s beautiful music starting at 3:51. Do you hear the smoothness and sweetness in the cello?
Theme- The melody played at 1:51 is a popular theme in the story. The man on TV plays it, and then Mole plays it throughout the book starting at 3:51!