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Sounds of the Aquarium

Updated on September 24, 2014

What would underwater music sound like to you?

So many cool creatures to find in an aquarium! Let's explore some fish and reptiles you might find in one with some music to fit the mood of the animals!

The French romantic period composer, Camille Saint - Saens, used his great imagination to create a fun "carnival" of musical animal pieces for kids of all ages. Learn about this clever piece of music, compose you own music, or read about cool aquatic animals with the materials on this page. And most of all ~ have fun!!

Public Domain Photo thanks to Wikipedia

Music Expression & Music Theory

What is an aquarium and what are its characteristics? Are they quiet, flowing, peaceful, or colorful? Wild, stormy, wavy? What other ways would you describe an aquarium? Do creatures move differently in water than on land or in the air? Yes, of course they do. So, music detectives, how would you compose a piece of music for aquatic creatures?

Which dynamics (volume of sound) would the piece use ~ forte (loud) or piano (soft)?

What tempo (rate of speed) would sound like the way animals and plants move in the water ~ allegro (fast), moderator (medium), or andante ("walking" speed - slow)?

Do you think the pitches of the notes should be high, medium, low, or a combination? Would it be different for creatures like a shark (think "Jaws") than a flounder (think "Little Mermaid" or "Nemo") or a squid?

Which tone colors (instrumental sounds) would sound the best for the animals and plants under the water? Name a family of instruments that comes to mind when you think of aquarium life ~ strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, or keyboard? Or, is there a particular instrument sound that makes you think of a water animal?

Does this sound "fishy" to you? =D - Saint - Saens "Aquarium"

Camille's Expressive Aquarium Music!

Tone Color & Rhythm

Tone Colors, Tempo, & Musical Expression

What is expression in music? it is the emotional, feeling part of music. Each piece of music has different expressions. Every musicians may play things slightly different depending on what the piece makes them feel like or what it reminds them of. How does the music make you feel? Music can paint an audible picture, or tell a story by the way it sounds. Ways to play or sing expressive qualities include adding dynamics (loud or soft), tempo (speed), tone color (type of instrumental and vocal sounds used), articulation (accent, staccato, smooth, or jumpy), and other subtle but effective ways.

Listen to The Aquarium. What tone colors / timbre / sounds do you hear? (Piano & string instruments) What is the tempo? (Andante) How does it make you feel like moving? Does it remind you of an aquarium? Did the composer meet your expectations of composing a piece that sounds like the animals portrayed? When possible, I like to combine music and movement in my classroom. Ask students to carefully "swim" around the room to the music as they listen a second time.

Rhythm & Note Values

After all the little fish swim back to their seats, I place the rhythm of the piece on my felt board. (It is mostly quarter and eighth notes.) The students echo clap the rhythm after me with "ta's" and "te-te's", then read and count the rhythm on their own as a group.

Rondo Musical Form


Form: Musical form is the order that the sections of a piece are put together.

I've added silly lyrics to the "A" theme of the piece just to help them identify it. I teach them the "song" by rote in phrases, then together. Once they know it, I tell them that it is the main theme of the piece. The "A" theme repeats three times within the piece. There are two other sections in between them named "B" and "C". The piece also has an ending section or coda. When the sections are put together we have what is called musical form. "The Aquarium" is in what musicians call rondo form ~ ABACA (Coda). Rondo form is when you start with a main theme "A", go to a second theme "B", go back to "A", go to a third theme "C", go back to "A", etcetera. There may be numerous sections each with a new name as long as it continues to return to "A".

As I am typing this, the song ABACAB by the musical group Genesis is going through my mind. While listening to an interview of the band many years ago, they were asked, "What does the word 'abacab' mean?" I thought it would be something profound, but true to their sense of humor, one of the gentlemen said, "That's just the musical form to the song!" ~ Oh yeah, duh, I knew that - not! So, it is a type of rondo plus and extra B section at the end. It just makes me giggle ... Anyway, here are my nonsense lyrics and movement suggestions!

Section A - Fish are swimming here now. Fish are swimming here now.

swim in the aquarium, oh, fish are swimming here!

Section B - (Piano plays like trickling water. Free movement - swim like a fish.)

Section A - Fish are swimming here now. Fish are swimming here now.

Swim in the aquarium, oh, fish are swimming here!

Section C - Piano - sound different than the "B" section. ("Swim" around the room until students hear "A".)

Section A1 - (Same but slight difference.) Fish are swimming here now. Fish are swimming here now.

Swim, oh swim, oh, on piano. Swim, oh swim, oh, on piano.

Coda - A coda is the ending section of a piece.


can paint an auditory picture!

Create Your Own Music & Art!

My students have been listening to many of the movements of Carnival of the Animals over the past few weeks, so I'm going to have them try their hands at creating some related art and music of their own during this lesson!

Language Arts Connection

The students may write individual poems about aquariums or a class poem consisting of their shared ideas. It doesn't need to be fancy. You may have them write a certain type of poem if you prefer or keep it open ended. I would suggest keeping it short (at least at first) to get it going and to make it easier to compose a tune.

Music Composition

If you can make up a quick tune for their lyrics, cool, go for it! If you don't feel comfortable doing that, use a "piggyback" song. You know, a tune that everyone recognizes like Mary Had a Little Lamb, Happy Birthday, or whatever tune comes to your mind. =D Label your tiny song the "A" theme - no, not the "A" team, the "A" theme!

For the "B" theme, use several small percussion instruments (maracas, triangles, claves, rhythm sticks, hand drums, tambourines, or whatever you have access - homemade are fine, also) to create a simple repeated rhythm pattern (an ostinato) of 4 or 8 beats. Have them think about the movements and characteristics of an aquarium when making their choices to instruments and patterns.

You may also have the students create a "C" and "D" theme if you like. An intro and coda also make it interesting. Guide the young musicians into creating different musical forms with their themes such as:

Binary = two part form = AB

Ternary = three part form = ABA

Rondo = ABACA

Art Connection

Since this is a piece of music about water, why not create a watercolor painting to depict their feelings about the music? Or, if your class time or location does not make that possible, try having the students draw or color their thoughts making a visual picture of auditory sounds. Since I will be reviewing several of the selections they have already learned, I am asking them to divide their page into four sections, and try to draw something about the movements I will pick for them. As they draw, I will play the recording for them several times as needed, then review the musical concepts I wish them to remember.

Another interesting thing to try is to have the students make a picture without knowing which animal the movement is supposed to imitate. They don't even have to draw animals, it could be whatever their minds conjure up! It's always fun to see what they come up with!

Peaceful Aquariums! - Aren't they beautiful?

Animal Science Connections

Find a listing of Public Aquariums that you may want to visit at

Cool Aquariums!

Montery Bay Aquarium

Want to start your own aquarium?

What is your favorite type of water creature? - Thanks for floating through our aquarium!

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    Post Comment
    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      8 years ago from United States

      This is really wonderful! I enjoyed the videos.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @blessedmomto7: Thank you! =D

    • blessedmomto7 profile image


      8 years ago

      High Five, I love the videos of the aquariums. (Declan loved them too.) Blessed.

    • TapIn2U profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens! They look so lovely. Much to learn with fish selection. Sundae ;-)

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @LisaMarieGabriel: Thank you so much for the "Angel Blessing", Lisa!! =D

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      Superb music teaching resource on the Aquarium - found by accident, blessed intentionally! :)


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