Music and Science with “Papageno’s Song” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”


How often do you use classical music in activities with young children? I used to be a little intimidated by the prospect. Love classical music! Love young children! But just didn’t picture how they’d look together.

However, like chocolate and peanut butter joining their yumminesses to create Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, children and classical music can be a wonderful and inspiring combination!

Young children often have a fresh and unconventional approach to all kinds of music, and classical music is no exception! I’ve done activities with everything from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Bizet’s “Carmen,” to Scott Joplin’s piano rags. The stories children hear in the music, and the pictures they see in their mind’s eye as they listen, are delightfully imaginative and unique.

I’ve always loved “Papageno’s Song” from Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.” The character of Papageno is a “bird-catcher” and is dressed in a fanciful, colorful bird-like costume.  The character, a baritone, sings the song, but it features the flute prominently in the accompaniment. I was so excited when I found a lovely, sweet solo flute version on “Moving to Mozart” from Kimbo Educational. (You can listen to some of it here on Sample Track 14.)

I’ve found that this sweet song lends itself to both music/movement activities and science learning.

For music and movement, I use scarves. They’re so well suited to lilting melodies, and help young children to express the gentle rhythm. Most of “Papageno’s Song” is based on the following rhythm:

half note, half note, | quarter-quarter-quarter (rest)|

which repeats over and over. During this rhythm I take the scarf and swish left, swish right, bounce bounce bounce.

In other parts of the song, there are running notes going up, where we lift our scarves up with a large whooshing movement.

Since I bought this CD at a book sale and it was missing the accompanying activity guide, this may very well be quite close to what Kimbo Educational suggests for this piece. If it is, I happily cede the credit to them for this idea!

In the area of science, we learn a bit about how birds sing. Instead of a larynx with vocal cords, like humans and other mammals, birds sing with a syrinx, which has no vocal cords. They make their tunes go up and down by using the muscles of the syrinx to squeeze the air coming from their lungs.

The flute, which is heard in “Papageno’s Song,” makes music that not only sounds like a bird, but is made in a similar way. Instead of squeezing the air inside the flute, the musician covers more or fewer holes to make different tones. If you have a flute available to show the children, that would be wonderful, but you can also show them a flutist playing online.

Unlike flutes, recorders are more readily available and easy for you to play, and they work on the same principle – blowing air through a tube and covering more or fewer holes. Although most Pre-K and kinders can’t play a recorder themselves, I involve them by having them each request a number of holes for me to cover. (A recorder has eight holes, so they have to pick a number from zero to eight.) When I play, we hear what that “number” sounds like. So we get some math in here too 🙂 .


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