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Teaching Music in Elementary Grades – Guided Music Reading

Teaching music in elementary grades requires a systematic guided music reading approach. These tips help busy teachers never miss a step.

What does guided MUSIC reading look like in the elementary music classroom? You may have heard this term associated with reading the English language in the general elementary homeroom classroom where 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

Preparation for Guided Music Reading

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 phases.

  1. Prepare
  2. Present
  3. Practice

During the prepare phase, students learn repertoire and are first introduced AURALLY to musical concepts. A variety of activities are used to prepare each musical element. Movement, songs, chants, 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. Everything that happens after that is practice. The practice phase, of course, is the longest phase.

Guided Music Reading – Iconic Reading

As a simplified example, I will use the chant Pease Porridge Hot. Before introducing music reading activities, students should be familiar with and have mastered the repertoire. Students should be able to chant the rhythm independently and keep a steady beat while doing so. A simple hand clap activity pairs nicely with this chant.

Once young students have a firm foundation in keeping a steady beat and reading quarter note/rest patterns, they’re ready to start aurally preparing for eighth notes. Guide students toward identifying one sound on a beat and two sounds on a beat. Introduce and echo the patterns in the song using the rhythm patterns of your choice – Kodály, Gordon, Takadimi, or French Time. Young children are NOT yet ready to use Numerical Counting systems.

After students can identify one sound on a beat and two sounds on a beat, iconic music reading is a good way to reinforce this concept.

Pease Porridge Hot Rhythm Reading Lesson Preview Iconic Reading

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 and correlate the pictures with the rhythm syllable sounds.

Note: Rests are silent. Please do NOT teach your students to say “sh” on rests. I know students tend to skip right over rests. You can combat this in one of two ways. Have students point to EVERY single box as they read and/or have students do a silent movement during a rest. This movement could be putting their hands out to the side palms up or they could put a finger to their lips.

Reading Standard Rhythmic Notation

Once students are proficient at iconic reading, reading standard notation for the same piece is a simple next step. Begin with iconic reading and go straight to standard notation. Students should immediately make the connection. If necessary, read one line at a time – iconic then standard notation. If students are properly prepared, this should be an easy transition.

Pease Porridge Hot Rhythm Reading Lesson Preview Standard Notation

Introduce Elements “Just in Time”

To focus students’ attention, only display the elements on which you want them to focus. For instance, if you’re reading the rhythm, do NOT display ANY lyrics. Students will focus on the words and will not read the notes.

If you’re 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’s also helpful to color-code verses.

Pease Porridge Hot Rhythm Reading Lesson Preview
Pease Porridge Hot Rhythm Reading Lesson Preview Verse 1
Pease Porridge Hot Rhythm Reading Lesson Preview 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 present. Incorporate songs, games, movement, and other fun activities. Music learning should be FUN!
  • Only introduce one new element at a time. Lessons should be carefully sequenced. Each lesson should reinforce or build upon the previous one.
  • Do NOT move too fast. Use several different songs to reinforce the same musical element. 
  • Display music on an interactive whiteboard, an overhead projector, or a large poster. Ensure all students can see. This can be a challenge if you’re in a low-tech or no-tech school.
  • Point to every beat to ensure all students track and follow the music. 
  • Observe students closely during guided music reading activities. Maintain eye contact. There’s a bit of an art to this. This takes some practice to be able to point at the music and observe students at the same time.
  • Informally assess students through 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 this has always been hard for me.)
  • Assign peer partners. I always assigned every student a music partner. As much as possible, assign partners as boy/girl and higher/lower ability levels. This system has worked well for me. Boys and girls often have different learning styles and both can benefit from working together. Pairing higher/lower ability level partners is also beneficial. Both students can learn from working with each other.
  • Occasionally assess with a quick paper/point activity. Some students become adept at following their partners. Paper activities will identify students who are not yet reading independently. I designed a series of lessons with “Take Home Pages” specifically for this purpose.
  • Use Take Home Pages to 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.

Use Take Home Pages as Assessments

To use rhythm reading Take Home pages there’s 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 ensure 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.

Ensure students point to the rests. Many students will initially skip rests.

Pease Porridge Hot Rhythm Reading Lesson Take Home Pages

Use Take Home Pages as “homework.” 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 blog posts.

You Can Develop Independent Music Readers

This is what guided music reading can look like in your elementary music classroom. This model gives music teachers a consistent method and framework to deliver effective lessons. Most importantly, guided music reading helps develop independent music readers in the elementary grades.


No-Prep 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 as an individual resource as well.

BONUS: Each activity in all of the bundles below includes DIGITAL activities which may be used to wrap up a lesson, as a review, or even as an assessment. Enjoy.

Best wishes, Music Friends!

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