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Grace Notes


9 Simple Things Classroom Teachers Can Do to Help Students Learn Music

You don't have to be a musician to get your students on a musical path. Doing these simple things can have a HUGE lasting impact in the lives of your students.

Music lesson ideas for teachers

Here at My Music Workshop, we’ve taught music to children for over 12 years. This has been both in the classroom and through our online music program.

In that time, we’ve been overwhelmed by how much young children can learn about music. The key is to know what aspects of music children can understand based on their age and grade level. Teaching children some simple things about music can be both fun and provide students with a lifetime of rich musical enjoyment.

Those who decide to pursue playing an instrument will be well equipped, and those who don’t will have a deeper understanding of music as an art-form and emotional outlet. It’s a win/win!

There are some simple building blocks to learning music that any person can understand. But, sharing these with students can open their eyes to the magic behind the curtain of music.

These are some simple tips we’ve put together that you can implement in your classroom. These things are meant to be simple but also be valuable for kids. Doing some of these regularly can set the groundwork for a music future for children. We hope they are helpful to you and your students!

1. Play Lots of Music in Your Classroom

It seems simple but as teachers we sometimes forget. Music sets moods, can influence emotions, and help get students stay on task. Kids also just love music so playing it a lot can create a positive environment where kids feel joyous, happy, and safe.

Choose music that matches the mood or activity. If its time to sit and concentrate, relaxing, peaceful, instrumental music is great. If it’s play time, something upbeat is the way to go.

This seems obvious but sometimes as teachers we don’t take the step of putting on music. But, if you listen to music with your students consistently it can help shape the behavior of your students and also be something that ques students as to what you expect of them and what is appropriate during that time.

For example, if you are playing light classical music during independent reading time and a student yells out unexpectedly, it can feel like a disruption to not only the reading but also to the music.

Music really does affect concentration and focus, it can also help students re energize after nap time (if your students are preschool aged), or wind down after outside time. Use the music as a soundtrack for your classroom.

It will take some trial and error to find the right music. Music that you and the students enjoy and that serves the right purpose, but there are a lot of easy ways to do this. One example is Spotify or Pandora. These digital music services have tons of playlists that are based on mood. Find a few that you like an play them consistently.

I use the Focus Guitar, Acoustic Concentration and Music for Concentration playlists with my children and when I’m doing focused activities.

The Beatles are a great band to listen to with children as well. The melodies are catchy and the words to most songs are kid friendly. With lyrics like I want to hold your hand, here comes the sun and come together, you can see that a lot of their songs are uplifting and great for kids.

A few other artists worth listening to with children are Ben Rector, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Tommy Emmanuel, Mozart, Beethoven, and of course TONS more.

Find your favorites and enjoy the musical journey with your students.

2. Play a Variety of Different Music

When we don’t know what we want to play it can be tough. Children’s music is great, but kids also love other music. There’s a kind of music for every kid, there’s a child for every kind of music. Try to stretch your musical limits and play different kinds of music with your students.

Consistency is helpful at times. For example, playing the same music during nap time or for clean-up can help students relax or know what is expected of them. But for centers, or other, more open parts of the day finding new music can be great.

Asking students what they like can also be fun. Your helper of the day or start student can also pick out music.

3. Take Time During the Day to Use “Active Listening” With Your Students.

Active Listening is another way to get children to connect to music and it’s simple. You don’t have to do this all the time but occasionally when listening to music with your kids point out things you hear and ask them to do the same.

I believe this is a game changer for children. Kids will begin hearing music in a different way. They’ll start going a little bit deeper into the music and will start understanding the language of music.

To do this you can look at music in three, simple dimensions:

1: Fast/Slow

2. Quiet/Loud

3. High/Low

There are many more aspects to music but these three are easy to understand for kids and can be a gateway to understanding the language of music.

Fast and Slow. Try to notice the speed of the music (tempo is the musical term for speed). Ask your students if they think the music is fast or slow. You may be surprised by the answers. Speed is relative and some students may hear the same song as being slow and others may feel it is fast.

The reason for doing this is to get them to listen to music in a slightly deeper way. Instead of just hearing music they will start listening to music. Later they can build on this by understanding why certain songs, or pieces of music are fast or slow and what different tempos do to the way music makes them feel. But opening the door to this musical dimension is the first step.

Quiet and Loud. You should be able to pick out soft or loud music OR loud or soft parts in music. Ask your kids what they hear. Quiet or loud is called dynamics in music. Dynamics can also mean the intensity of the music.

When kids start listening for the dynamics in the music, they will start to comprehend music in a deeper way. They’ll start understanding why song writers use this dimension in their music to stir up emotion. Music is built on the idea of tension and release. Kids feel this as much as anyone and dynamics plays a huge part in creating this tension and release.

High and Low. In music we call this pitch. Little things usually make high sounds like birds, small instruments like ukuleles or flutes.

Big things usually make low sounds like bears growling or larger instruments like cellos or bass drums. High and low sounds are a little tougher for younger kids to hear but with a few tries they can pick this up. When you hear something in music that is clearly high or low point it out to your kids. This is another aspect that song writers use, through instruments and vocals to create harmony and melody, which contribute to the depth of songs.

These are some simple and powerful tools to get kids to connect with music on a deeper level. They will begin to get a firmer grasp on the language of music without picking up an instrument. They will understand music more on an intellectual and emotional level.

Once you help your students listen for these aspects or dimensions of music they will start doing it themselves. This is a deeper way of listening to music and it can have a long-lasting impact on the way children interact with music.

4. Do Rhythm Activities to Music (Move to the Music)

Finding the beat is something children can start doing between ages 3-5. Stomping, clapping, bobbing their head, tapping their foot, touching their knees, or jumping all together, at the same time (on the beat), is a great way for children to develop rhythm.

You can do this along with music to help children understand how rhythm in music connects them to the music. Doing unison activities can also help them deepen their own sense of rhythm. This is also a great way to connect students with each other. There is bond that happens when people connect through music and even simple things like clapping together can be enriching.

If your students are at least 7, you can take this a step further, by having the class count to four while they clap then try splitting the class into groups and having one group clap on beats one and three and the other on two and four. Have fun with this and mix up the claps and beats to make some fun and funky rhythms.

Next you can mix in two of the musical dimensions from number three above. Try clapping to music at slow and fast tempos and have the students clap quietly and loudly during different parts of the music.

When playing an instrument, musicians focus on these things. So, just clapping at various tempos and volumes gets students interacting with music in a new and fun way.

5. Help Students Understand Their Emotions Through Music

The same song can make different children feel different emotions. That’s ok! Music is a gateway to feeling deeper emotion. Children are just starting to understand their emotions and music is a great way to help them with emotions.

You can help children by telling them how certain songs or music makes you feel then asking how it makes them feel. This will help them process their emotions, understand them and express them in much clearer ways.

Music can also help us when we are going through sad times or enhance the happy moments in life. Emotions connect people and so does music.

Play music that is intentionally happy or even sad. Sometimes we go through sad times in life and if the students are all feeling sad together music can be comforting. It can help kids express and feel these emotions so they can handle and communicate them better.

6. Help Students Hear the Instruments in the Music

Whether or not you have much experience with music, you can probably hear certain instruments when they are playing. Drums, ukuleles, pianos, acoustic or electric guitar are a few examples of instruments that we can usually pick out if we listen close.

When music is playing in your classroom, it’s great to occasionally point out certain instruments in the music. “Do you guys hear that violin, drums, guitar, or piano in the music?” is a great way to help kids tune into the music and develop a musical ear. Doing this regularly will get kids to listen to music in different ways.

7. Have Instruments Available in Your Classroom.

You might already. That’s great!

Instruments are a great way for children to express the innate musical side of themselves. Most classrooms we have been in have a few shakers, some other percussion instruments, bongos, tambourines, triangles, bells, or other instruments. These are fantastic to have but, if budget allows, there are some other great instruments for kids. Some schools we’ve worked with have decided to share a bundle of instruments between classrooms. We know this is up the administration but just a few new instruments can be great for kids. We think ukuleles, keyboards, drums (yes, we know they can be loud but there are great ways to quiet them down 😊 ), and guitars (small sized for kids), are great to have around. You won’t use them all the time, but a weekly music jam can be great for kids!

P.S. You can make a drum quieter by placing a circle shaped mouse pad on it!

We provide some recommendations for kids instruments on our kids instruments page here.

These are some simple and powerful tools to get kids to connect with music. Once you help your child listen for these aspects or dimensions of music they will start doing it themselves. This is a deeper way of listening and it paves the way for children to be much more engaged when they listen to music.

8. Read Books About Music

There are some great kids music books out there, you probably know quite a few of them. These are great to get children interested in music. Kids, as we’re sure you know, love music. They are built for it, they love playing it, singing, hearing it, trying new instruments and more. Teaching them with great musical story books is a great way to help them learn music.

Here are some good music for kids books from Goodreads.

9. Do Music Lessons Once a Week with My Music Workshop!

My Music Workshop is complete online music learning program for kids. It has piano, ukulele and drum lessons and tons more lessons on other music topics. There are also worksheets, downloads, and support. We offer special rates for teachers and group rates for schools. You can try the program for free by clicking here. Please reach out to us via our contact form at for school program rates and specials!

Keep the music alive and let’s positively influence a generation of amazing, musical kids!

Try My Music Workshop for a week free!

Elias founded My Music Workshop in 2009 along with his wife Lianna. He has taught music to children from ages 1-18 for over 15 years and has written and created the curriculum that has become My Music Workshop.

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