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Musical Dancing Elephants?

Updated on October 9, 2014

"The Elephant" from The Carnival of the Animals

Learn about a favorite piece of music from Camille Saint Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" in this fun, hands-on music lesson!

These activities may be spread over several lesson times depending on the age of your children and students and how much music experience they have already had.

And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. Genesis 1:24

Elephant photo credits to nickandmel2006 on Wikipedia.

Enjoy listening to and watching "The Elephant" ... - A few variations for you to enjoy!

Elephant Variations - Which made you feel like dancing the elephant dance?

Elephant Family
Elephant Family

Which of the above videos did you like the best?

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Elephant Mother & Calf
Elephant Mother & Calf

Free Learning Materials!

Lesson Plans, Worksheets, Notebook Pages, Lapbooks, & Music!

All of the free worksheets, notebook pages, and lapbook components for this unit are stored at Joyful Songs on Homeschool Launch (scroll down the page to look for the file "The Elephant"). Materials include: Vocabulary Pocket, Vocabulary Cards, Elephant Lyrics, String & Piano Mini Books, Composition Page, Pitch Experiment Lab Reports, Composer Notebook Page, Composer Lapbook Mini Book, France Mini Book, Carnival of the Animals Drawing Book, What is a Waltz? Mini Book, Time Signature Math File Folder Game, Rhythm Mini Books, & Rhythm Pattern Card Games.

If you would like to study more about elephants, visit this Elephant Unit Study & Lapbook that I wrote for Homeschool Share to use with these music lesson plans if you like. (It's free for you, also!)

Photo credits to "Googie man" at Wikipedia.

Music Vocabulary

Vocabulary cards and a storage pocket are located in the free download unit (The Elephant).

~ allegro: fast

~ a tempo: go back to the original speed of the piece

~ andante: moderately slow tempo of a piece, from the Italian andare - to walk

~ composer: one who creates or makes up new music

~ form: sections of a song and how they are put together

~ harmony: a group of notes which blend nice sounds with the melody

~ melody: the tune of the song, the main, recognizable part of music

~ ostinato: a repeated pattern, usually with a rhythm

~ pitch: highness and lowness of notes and sounds

~ ritardando: gradually slowing down the speed

~ rhythm: different durations of notes put together in groups, some may be accented

~ suite: a collection of musical pieces that are grouped together

~ tempo: the rate of speed of a piece

~ ternary form: a three section piece of music, section A plays, then B section which is different, then A section again

~ theme: a repeating musical pattern that occurs in a piece, theme may be varied as it is repeated

~ timbre: also called tone color - the various qualities of a sound making it unique from other sounds

~ time signature or meter: numerical markings at the beginning of a piece to tell how many beats are in each measure, and what kind of note gets one beat

~ waltz: a fancy dance for two people with the music having three beats per measure and the first beat is stressed

Favorite Classical Music for Children

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf; Britten: Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals (RCA Victor Basic 100, Volume 43)
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf; Britten: Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals (RCA Victor Basic 100, Volume 43)

This excellent recording by two of the world's best renown orchestras and musician David Bowie contains not only the complete recording of The Carnival of the Animals, but also two other classic masterpieces for children and families! The 48 pieces of music may be ordered on a traditional CD or may be downloaded as an MP3 to your computer, iPod, or other player. You may download all the pieces or just select ones that you would like. Excellent value for the quality presented!

~ Peter and the Wolf, children's tale for narrator & orchestra, Op. 67 composed by Sergey Prokofiev and performed by Philadelphia Orchestra with Maestro Eugene Ormandy conducting.

~ Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell), for speaker ad lib & orchestra, Op. 34 composed by Benjamin Britten and performed by Philadelphia Orchestra.

~ Carnival of the Animals, zoological fantasy for 2 pianos & ensemble composed by Camille Saint-Saens and performed by Boston Pops Orchestra.


Music Lesson Plan

Listen to The Elephant from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille St.- Saens. Listen quietly or with a soft steady beat tapping. Do not tell students the name of the piece, but do tell them it comes from a musical suite called The Carnival of the Animals. Ask them to think about what type of animal the composer is trying to sound like.


Musicians use Italian words to describe musical characteristics of a piece of music. The word for speed is tempo. Does the tempo of this music move fast or slow? This tempo is called andante which means moving slowly. Listen again and try to find where the tempo changes. It slows down a little in the middle (ritardando), and then resumes it's original speed (a tempo).

~ The Music Lab - What's Tempo?: online tempo activity from San Francisco Symphony Kids.

~ Tempo Markings Chart: find definitions to several commonly used tempo markings.


What timbres or instrument sounds do you hear in the piece? (Piano and string bass.) See below links.


The melody is played by the string bass. The string bass is the largest and lowest sounding member of the string family. Instruments in an orchestra are grouped in families by certain characteristics they share. There are five families of instruments - strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and keyboard. Members of the orchestral string family include violin, viola, cello, and bass. They are all shaped in a similar way, are made of wood, have four strings, and can be plucked by the fingers or played with a bow.

To help learn the melody and other musical concepts of the piece, print out Elephant Lyrics to sing along with the string bass. (Yes, the lyrics are rather corny, but I was trying to stick concepts in the song in a way they would remember. My oldest child did this lesson almost 10 years ago, and she still remembers parts of my crazy songs.) This worksheet will be used later to discuss rhythm also.

~ String & Piano Mini Books to write down what you learn about them.

~ String Family Info, pictures, and sound clips from Arts Alive!

~ Bass Info and Sounds from Nashville Symphony Orchestra Kids: Click "Our Instruments".

~ History of the Bass

~ Parts of the Double Bass from

~ Label the Bass Worksheet to use with above link.

~ Label the String Family Worksheet from Enchanted Learning.


The harmony of this piece is played by the piano. Listen how it accompanies the string bass, and blends pleasing pitches and chords with the melody. Some musicians consider the piano a part of the percussion family because the keys need to be pushed to play. Others place the piano in the keyboard family (organ, harpsichord, clavichord, electric keyboard, computer keyboard) because of their similarities in playing and structure.

~ Research the History of the Piano: Who created the first piano? When and where was the first one made? Why was it called the pianoforte? How was it an improvement over the harpsichord and clavichord?

Bartolomeo Cristofori from Florence, Italy, designed the pianoforte around the year 1710. It differed from other keyboard instruments of the time because it had the ability to play dynamics (the loudness and softness of sounds) as well as crescendos (gradually getting louder) and diminuendos or decrescendos (gradually getting softer) bringing more expression to the music.

~ Enjoy the video "How a Piano is Made" by the Mason & Hamlin piano company!

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Delightful Music, Poetry, & Art for Kids!

The Carnival of the Animals (Book & CD)
The Carnival of the Animals (Book & CD)

"A great way to introduce children to classical music! America’s first Children's Poet Laureate has written all-new verses to accompany the composer Camille Saint-Saëns’s The Carnival of the Animals, and the illustrator of the Harry Potter books has turned these rollicking rhymes into a picture-book fun fest. Included is a CD of the music and of Jack Prelutsky reading the verses. A note to parents and teachers by Judith Bachleitner, head of the music department at the prestigious Rudolf Steiner School in New York City, suggests ways preschoolers can act out the music—tromp like an elephant, hop like a kangaroo, glide like a swan—or, for older children, be creatively inspired by this joyful work."


Hands-On Music Activities

Music & the Science of Acoustics


Pitch is how high or low a note sounds. Large instruments make the slowest sound waves and the lowest sounds. Smaller instruments have faster sound waves and sound higher. Does the string bass have a high or low pitch? What about the piano? The piano contains both high and low pitches. The inside of a piano has several sized strings according to length and thickness. Each size makes a different pitch - small strings higher, long strings lower.

A fancier definition is "a tone or sound determined by the frequency of vibration of the sound waves reaching the ear: the greater the frequency, the higher the pitch" ( Older students may want to research the physics of sound or physiology of the ear.

Science related activities - "Pitch Experiment Lap Reports 1" (minibooks for notation are in the download): Wrap several sizes and widths of rubber bands around a shoebox. Students can play their "violins" by plucking the bands. Discuss the sizes of the rubber bands and their pitch. Why do the different sizes and widths of rubber bands make numerous pitches? Can we change the pitch of each rubber band by tightening or loosening the band?

Use "Pitch Experiment Lab Reports 2" to take notes if you want to do the following projects. I highly recommend the following activities - very nice sound explanations, 3 easy sound experiments.

~ Energy in the Air - Sound is Energy: How Sound is Made

~ What's Pitch?: Fun Online Pitch Activity from SFS Kids!

Let Your Creativity Flow ...

Composing Music & Writing Poetry

Creative Composing

Okay, music detectives, we know so far that this piece of music is andante (slow), and is played by a low pitched sounding instrument. What animal do you think the composer, Camille St.-Saens, was trying to imitate? What type of animal might sound slow and low? (The Elephant!) What timbre (tone color or sound) would you choose to imitate the elephant? What tempo would you choose? How could you make a song that would resemble an elephant? Perhaps a trumpet blast could come from his trunk? How about a tuba, drums, or percussion instruments? What else would you use? Try to compose a musical piece for an elephant out of sounds around your home or classroom.

~ Composition Page & Directions - are found in the music download mentioned above.

~ Perhaps consider writing a poem to accompany your music, or use one of the poems by Ogden Nash to give you some inspiration.

Composer, Country, & Style Period


Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was a French composer from the Romantic period of music. He composed Le Carnaval des Animaux - The Carnival of the Animals in 1886. L'Elephant - The Elephant is just one of the songs in the suite. Research the composer, the suite, the Romantic Period of music, France, and the French language using the following links.

To read more about him and the suite overall,

please visit the homepage of Carnival of the Animals.

Worksheets for your study (from the lapbook download)

~ Saint-Saens Notebook Page

~ Composer, Romantic Period Music, & France Lapbook Mini Books

~ Carnival of the Animals Drawing Book

~ Saint-Saens Biography from Classics for Kids

~ Saint-Saens Biography and links to hear his pieces from Wikipedia

~ Romantic Period Music

Country & Nationality

~ Where is France Shutterfold for Lapbooks: Flag & Map here also.

~ Maps of France and other French Information from Enchanted Learning

~ French Language Theme Page from Enchanted Learning

~ Animals in French

Music Theory ~ Timing & Form


Listen to the piece and clap a steady beat to it. Sing lyrics also if they feel the beat, do not sing if you do not feel they have a consistent beat. Lead the children to tap their hands on their lap on beat one, and to clap hands on beats two and three. Listen another time and sing the lyrics and / or count 1 - 2 - 3, 1 - 2 - 3 throughout. Meter is the specific amount of beats per measure to help musicians count and play together. Another name for meter is 'time signature'. Meter is marked for musicians at the beginning of a piece with two numbers such as:

2 / 4, 3 / 4, and 4 / 4

They appear as mathematical fractions, but they are not. The top number represents the amount of beats that belong in each measure ("the notes or rests, or both, contained between two vertical lines on the staff"). The vertical lines that separate the measures are called bar lines. They help break the music up into smaller parts that are easier to count. The bottom number represents what type of note receives one beat. In most songs, a quarter note plays for one beat notated by the 4 on the bottom. A quarter note can receive other amounts of beats if the bottom number is different. The Elephant has 3/4 time signature. Point out the dance-like quality of the piece. A dance that has three beats in a measure (one strong and two weak beats) is called a waltz. You may want to find a video of people waltzing to show them the style.

~ What is a Waltz? Mini Book (see download)

~ More on Beats and Meter from


Written notes and rhythms have different values so musicians know how long to play each one. Notes and rests are assigned an amount of beats. Beats can be fast or slow, but are usually steady throughout a piece. For notes and rests in the following minis and games, the beats are as follows:

half notes & rests = 2 beats

quarter notes & rests = 1 beat

eighth notes & rests = ½ beat

Worksheets (from download)

~ Rhythm Mini Books

~ Time Signature Math File Folder Game

~ Rhythm Pattern Card Games

~ Online Rhythm Activity: What is Rhythm? from SFS Kids.


Form is the different sections of a piece of music, and how they are arranged or put in order. Try to hear how many sections are in the piece (3). The first and third sections that are the same will be called the "A Section". The middle part sounds different so it is called the "B Section". Put together, the form of L'Elephant is "ABA". When the pieces are put together in this order, it is called ternary form. Young children may enjoy "feeling" the form by singing on the A section, waltzing like an elephant on the B section - take a giant elephant step on beat one, swing your trunk (arms) on beats two and three - and singing again on the last A section.

More to Complete the Unit

Supplemental Resources

~ Primary Sources: Music has helpful materials for students and teachers such as a free downloadable power point, listening charts of the animals for introduction and review, and numerous other music education items like instrument flashcards, note value cards, and more.

~ The Carnival of the Animals Thematic Unit: Page 5 & 6 have great animal poems by Ogden Nash that are sometimes read to the audience at performances of 'Carnival'. Suggestions for masks, interpretive play, and poetry writing are included on pages 1 - 4.

~ The Carnival of the Animals Unit: Science based lessons - "an integrated unit for Science and Technology, Language Arts, Music, Visual Arts and Dance and Drama".

~ The Carnival of the Animals Unit: Lesson Plans (6 pages) & Online Lessons & Sound Clips

~ The Carnival of the Animals Foreign Language Resources: Teacher Resource Exchange

~ Animal Games in French ~ Animal Photo Flashcards

~ Music Worksheets from Enchanted Learning

Thanks for visiting! - Did you have fun learning about these dancing creatures?

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    • profile image

      DanielJo 6 years ago

      a yammi lens!

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 6 years ago

      Well, I definitely learned something new reading this one. Great Job!

    • Sami4u LM profile image

      Sami4u LM 6 years ago


      A sprinkling of Angel Dust for Christmas :)

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      @Sami4u LM: Thanks so much, Sami!! =D

    • profile image

      maxnic11 6 years ago

      good fun!

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