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Guided Music Reading | Early Elementary Grades

In the elementary classroom, guided reading is conducted in small-group settings. The teacher provides support teaching throughout the lesson.  In the music classroom, small group settings are not usually possible. However, a similar approach may be used with the entire music class. Read on to see what teaching a rhythm reading lesson might look like in your elementary music classroom using guided music reading.

How to Teach Guided Music Reading in the Elementary Music Classroom

Guided Music Reading | Preparation

In order for guided music reading to be successful in the elementary music classroom, lessons must be carefully sequenced. Students should only encounter one new element at a time and students must be “prepared” and ready for the element to be presented.

The Kodály method provides a sound structure with three essential elements – PreparePresent, and Practice. During the preparation phase, students are introduced to musical concepts aurally first.  Moving, singing, chanting, games, and developing repertoire all play an important role in the preparation phase.  The present phase is when the musical element is named and introduced in standard notation. The practice phase, of course, is the longest phase.

Guided Music Reading | Iconic Reading

Once young students have a firm foundation in keeping a steady beat and reading quarter note/rest patterns, they are ready to start preparing for eighth notes. Iconic reading is a good way to help students develop the concept of two sounds on a beat. As an example, I will use the Pease Porridge Hot chant. Always start with familiar repertoire that students have mastered.

Icons to represent the rhythm of the poem Pease Porridge Hot

In the “music” above each box represents one beat. Students can easily identify one or two sounds on a beat as well as the “silent” beats or rests. The practice phase is the longest phase. Don’t shortcut practice. 

Reading Standard Rhythmic Notation

Once students are proficient at iconic reading, you are ready to introduce the standard notation for the same piece. Start with iconic reading and go directly to standard notation. Students should immediately make the connection. If necessary, read one line at a time – iconic, and then standard notation. If students are properly prepared, this should be an easy transition.

Rhythmic notation for the chant Pease Porridge Hot

Introduce Elements “Just in Time”

In order to focus students’ attention, only display the elements on which you want them to focus. For instance, if you are reading the rhythm, do NOT display the lyrics. Students will focus on the words and will not read the notes. If you are learning verse 1, only display verse 1. Display verse 2 “just in time” to perform verse 2. This guided music reading technique is very beneficial for young musicians. It is also helpful to color-code verses.

Pease Porridge Hot, Standard Music Notation Verse 1
Pease Porridge Hot, Standard Music Notation Verse 2

Provide Student Support

Every classroom is made up of students of many different abilities. With careful scaffolding, all students can be successful using guided music reading with teacher and peer support.  The tips below describe how a teacher may provide support for students with a wide range of abilities.

Tips for Successful Guided Music Reading
  • Thoroughly prepare students aurally for the new element you will be presenting. Incorporate songs, games, movement, and other fun activities. Music learning should be FUN!
  • Only introduce one element at a time. Lessons should be carefully sequenced. Each lesson should reinforce or build upon the previous.
  • Do NOT move too quickly. Use several different songs to reinforce the same musical element. 
  • Display music using an interactive white board, an overhead projector, or a large poster. Make sure all students can see. This can be challenging if you are a low-tech or no-tech school.
  • Point to every beat to make sure all students are tracking and following properly. 
  • Observe students carefully during guided music reading activities. Maintain eye contact. There is a bit of an art to this. It takes some practice to be able to point at the music and observe students at the same time.
  • Informally assess students throughout guided music reading activities. Through careful observation, you can modify activities, repeat activities, or slow down/speed up lessons.
  • Demonstrate for students. Do NOT read/perform with them. Leaders will naturally emerge from each class. But it should not be the teacher. (I admit that this has always been hard for me.)
  • Assign peer partners. I always assigned every student a music partner. As much as possible, partners were assigned boy/girl and by higher/lower ability levels. This system has worked VERY well for me. Boys and girls have different learning styles and both can benefit from working together. Using higher/lower ability levels is beneficial to both partners. Both students can learn from working with each other.
  • Assess using a quick paper/point activity. Some students become very good at following their partner. Paper activities will identify students who are not yet reading independently. I designed a series of lessons with “Take Home Pages” specifically for that purpose.
  • Take Home Pages serve a dual purpose. I use them for assessment, but, they also help to build advocacy for your music programs. When parents and administrators see concrete evidence of developing music literacy levels, they become supporters of your program.

Assessment | Take Home Pages

To use rhythm reading Take Home pages there is no writing at all unless you want students to write their names on their papers. Students simply point to each note as they read the rhythm together in a group. With practice, you will be able to assess an entire class of 25 students at once. The trick is to make sure all students are spread out and facing the front of the room. They should lay their papers flat on the floor as they point. This allows students to point accurately and the teacher to observe.

Make sure students are pointing to the rests. Many students will initially simply skip rests.

Guided Music Reading - Pease Porridge Hot Rhythmic Notation

Take Home Pages serve a dual purpose. I use them for assessment, but, they also help to build advocacy for your music programs. Students’ “homework” is to read and perform their Take Home Pages for someone at home. When parents, classroom teachers, and administrators see concrete evidence of developing music literacy levels, they become supporters of your program. It’s a WIN – WIN – WIN!

For more about using Take Home Pages in elementary music, check out these two blog posts.

Guided Music Reading Resources

Are you strapped for time? Do you need ready to go projectable and printable guided music reading resources? Check out the bundles below. If you only need to supplement one or two lessons here or there, each song/activity is available individually as well.

Best wishes, Music Friends!

More Music Literacy Bundles Coming Soon

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