Time is precious in elementary music class. It’s important to integrate music reading into every lesson with an efficient teaching strategy.
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There’s never enough time in the day, especially in our elementary music classes. I know you feel the time crunch. But even with these time constraints, it IS possible to integrate music reading lessons into every class and develop independent music readers in the elementary grades.
To accomplish this HUGE task, you must use a simple and efficient teaching strategy that introduces musical elements in a sequential order which builds upon previous lessons. And your activities must be FUN for students and enjoyable for you or your efforts won’t be effective and sustainable.
So how do you integrate music reading activities into every class when you also need to prepare for programs and assemblies and deal with the day-to-day stressors of the classroom? The ideas and tips below provide actionable steps to help music reading become a priority and a reality in your elementary music classes.
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Actionable Tips to Integrate Music Reading into Every Elementary Music Class
Every school and every music classroom has unique specific needs. But, we also have many things in common. The strategies and tips below are beneficial for any elementary music class.
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Use a Standard Lesson Plan Template and Establish Routines
Your lesson plan template should include a balanced lesson with interactive and FUN music literacy activities scheduled near the beginning of the class period. This ensures you do not run out of time for your prioritized activities.
A lesson plan template also helps to establish classroom routines and students respond better to predictable routines. This does not mean you don’t ever vary from these established patterns but, predictable procedures help students feel safe and in control.
Take time during the first few weeks of school (and again after breaks) to teach and practice your music classroom routines and procedures. It will be time well spent. Music teachers are lucky because we often have many of the same students for several years in a row. This makes it easier to establish routines in the upper grades.
Use Fun and Focused Transition Activities
Start class with a transition activity as students enter your classroom. This helps focus students’ attention and provides a natural shift.
Transition activities may take different forms and serve multiple purposes. Consider using a few of the following simple activities as a transition into your music classroom.
- Vocal warm up
- Echo sing or chant
- Add simple body percussion
- Review a familiar song or rhyme
- Chant rhythm syllables for ROD (Rhythm of the Day) or targeted rhythm elements
- Sing and sign targeted solfege syllables
- Chant directions to set the stage for a specific activity
Echo songs work especially well for welcome activities. You can even teach a new song as students enter the classroom – echo chant the lyrics, then echo sing the melody.
Be strategic with your transition activities. Plan with purpose.
Social Stories Can Ease Transitions
Social stories can help special needs students who may have trouble with transitions. If you have students who need help making the shift into your music classroom, take a peek at our FREE editable resource – Going to Music, A Social Story to Ease Transitions.
This story is 100% EDITABLE. You may use it as is or you may customize the story to match the routines and procedures of your music classroom. Ask the student’s paraprofessional or aide to read the story to the child each day right before they come to music. Or, ask the classroom teacher to display the short projectable story on their whiteboard and read it to the entire class before coming to music.
Start Class Immediately
Begin your welcome or transition activity as students come through the door. Smile, make eye contact, and sing to each child as they enter.
Whatever transition activity you have chosen, it should lead students directly to their assigned spots and prepare them to begin the planned music reading lesson. Students who are actively engaged and feel welcome, comfortable, valued, and “noticed” do not cause disruptions.
Schedule Music Reading Lessons When Students are Fresh
Order your lesson plan template so your welcome/transition activity is first. Then, after your students are seated music literacy activities are next.
Student attention naturally ebbs and flows. Both students and teachers are more focused at the beginning of class. This is when music reading should be the focus of the lesson. Music reading is a priority and priority items should be completed first.
Music Reading Lessons Should Be Short and Lead to Other Fun Activities
Use these 3 steps for reading music to give students a simple, concrete method to read music and demystify the process.
- Read the rhythm (use your preferred rhythm reading syllables).
- Sing the pitches (solfege syllables).
- Sing the lyrics.
Keep it short! This process should be NO longer than 3-5 minutes.
After you lead students through these 3 steps of your targeted music reading song, your lesson should lead directly into a FUN, related activity that reinforces the targeted music reading skills.
Pare Down – Less is More in Elementary Music Class
Pare down your plans and plan with purpose. Choose a smaller, targeted repertoire that teaches sequential music literacy elements and provides more repetition. Then use related add-on activities to keep your music literacy songs fresh for several class sessions.
Add-On Activities Reinforce Music Reading
The actual music reading portion of the lesson is very short (3-5 minutes or less). It should be presented as a precursor to an activity. This helps build excitement around learning to read music.
Add-on activities may include the following.
- Musical games
- Movement activities
- Instrumental accompaniments
- Ostinato patterns
- Rounds, partner songs, easy descants, simple harmonies
See this post for more on Teaching Young Children to Read Music and Developing Music Literacy Skills.
Repetition, Assessment, and Take Home Pages
Repetition is important for children and adults as well. Every time you teach a lesson, students should need less and less guidance from you. And, remember, to sing for children, not with them. (I confess this has always been hard for me.)
Suggested Teaching Timeline Allows for Repetition
Teach your targeted music element following a pattern similar to the one below. Modify this pattern to meet the needs of your students.
- Prepare – Introduce a new musical element with simple songs or chants AURALLY first. Make sure students have a firm grasp of the sound of this element before introducing the music symbol.
- Present – Use the exact same activity (song, chant, etc.) to introduce the musical element visually.
- Practice – Rehearse the exact same activity (song, chant, etc.) for at least 3 class sessions. Use add-on activities to keep practice fresh.
- Introduce New Repertoire – During subsequent class periods, teach and practice this same music element with at least 2 more separate songs or chants during consecutive class periods.
- Repeat Process to Introduce Next Music Element – When students have mastered that particular element in at least 3 different songs/chants, you may begin the cycle again adding the next new element in your music reading sequence.
Repetition gives students who didn’t “get it” the first time another chance to learn the concept. And it provides all children time to develop and sharpen their skills. This allows young students time to internalize concepts, become independent music readers, and develop confidence in their music reading skills.
It’s important to use multiple lessons and several different songs to teach and reinforce the same concept.
Slow and Steady Progress
It may seem like your students progress too slowly, but this is time well spent. There is no sense in simply “covering” a learning objective. You want your students to become independent music readers and this takes repetition and time.
Use Take Home Pages as Observational Assessments and “Homework”
As a general rule of thumb, the third time we practice an activity, we complete the “Take Home” sheet music pages which go along with each lesson in our Music Literacy Activity Bundles. Our Take Home music pages also serve as simple quick observational assessments. These simple authentic assessments help teachers identify students who are reading independently and those who need more practice.
Our Take Home pages are VERY short sheet music notation of our targeted songs and students look forward to these culminating activities. They actually cheer for homework days. I did not teach my students to do this, they started to cheer for homework days on their own. 😊
Build excitement for “homework days.”
So What Exactly is Students’ Homework?
Students use the assigned Take Home page to demonstrate the 3 steps of reading music for someone at home. That’s it!
- They point to each note as they read the rhythm of the song.
- Next, they sign and sing the solfege pitches.
- Finally, they add the lyrics and sing the song.
Since our music reading songs are short, the whole process takes about one minute. Students have nothing to return and you have nothing to grade.
Observational Assessments Means No Pencil and Paper Grading
Although I do record grades for Take Home pages, this does not create any pencil/paper grading. We use a partner check system and I simply record an observational assessment as students sign and sing the song “into the grade book.”
Click to see more about how to use Take it Home Pages as Assessments.
Note: When parents, other teachers, and administrators see students rising music literacy levels, this builds advocacy for your music program. Ensure students can read the music independently before you send the activity home or this strategy can backfire.
Encourage Students to Expand their Learning at Home
Some of my students have created notebooks and/or folders for all of their Take Home songs as they build their repertoire. Others have extended their learning by playing the songs on the piano or a digital xylophone app.
Use Fun, Sequential, and Targeted Music Reading Materials
When you introduce only one new element at a time, students will learn quickly and be more secure in their learning. Each music reading lesson should be targeted toward one new musical element and all lessons should be sequential building one upon another.
When you teach and practice the same musical elements in different pieces, this allows students to generalize and apply their knowledge to different songs and build independent music reading skills.
Time-Saving Music Literacy Bundles
If you need NO-PREP complete music reading lessons, take a peek at our sequential Music Reading Activity Bundles which include games, instrumental activities, printable Take Home Pages, digital follow-up activities, and more.
Kodály Method: Prepare, Present, Practice
You do not have to follow the Kodály method verbatim. Most elementary music teachers adapt the method for their classroom and integrate other methods as well. I use an eclectic approach and integrate a lot of Orff and some Dalcroze activities. But, a modified Kodály method forms the backbone of my music literacy lessons.
Remember, all elements you present (teach) and practice should have been prepared aurally prior to naming and presenting the elements. Do NOT skip this preparation stage. When children learn to read text, they must have learned oral language first. You should use the same natural sequence when you teach young children to learn to read music. Students should have a solid foundation of songs and sounds prior to the presentation and practice stages.
I do advocate that you start with standard notation and not stick notation but this is each teacher’s decision. For more about notation see this post about Standard Notation vs. Stick Notation.
Have all your materials ready to go and move from one activity to the next with NO DELAY. Dead time invites disruption and wastes precious time, even if it is only 30 seconds.
If you use recordings, upload all of your audio files to your computer. Organize your lessons in PowerPoint or Google Slides with each audio file linked or embedded into each slide. If you use online resources include the direct link in your presentation. This alone saves a TON of time and keeps class moving.
Complete Music Literacy Activity Bundles
Take a peek at our multitasking Music Literacy Activity Bundles. Each bundle includes complete sequential song-based music reading activities targeted toward specific rhythm and pitch elements with add-on activities to keep each lesson fresh for multiple class sessions.
Also included are printable Take Home Pages and digital follow-up activities, both of which may be used as assessments.
We are Music Teachers
Although our discipline is entertaining, we are not simply entertainment. It is important for us to integrate music reading activities into every class. We owe it to our students to help them develop their music literacy levels to their fullest. Even with the limited amount of class time we have, it IS possible to teach music reading skills. We are music teachers and that’s a part of our job.
When you teach music literacy skills in a simple efficient manner, this maximizes the time in your elementary music classes and prepares students to excel in the middle and high school music programs. You can make a difference in your students’ lives.
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Meet the Author
Terri Lloyd is a former elementary music teacher with over 25 years of experience. She holds a Bachelor of Music, a Master of Science in Education, and a Technology Certificate in Instructional Design.
She is currently active in music education through blogging, workshops, and curriculum development. She serves on the music staff at her church and volunteers for an after-school children’s program. Terri is an active musician in the community, performing in a local Big Band, pit orchestras, and various events.