10 Tips to Integrate Music Reading into Every Lesson and Make it Fun

There is never enough time in the day, especially in our elementary music classrooms. I know you feel the time crunch. Time is a very precious commodity. And, that makes it even more important to integrate music reading into every lesson using a strategy that is efficient and a system that uses a logical sequence.

But, with so little time allotted for elementary music classes, how do you make time for music reading activities when you are also preparing for programs, assemblies, and dealing with the stressors of the classroom, not to mention a world-wide pandemic?

The ideas and tips below provide actionable tips to help you integrate music reading into every lesson.

How to Integrate Music Reading into EVERY Elementary Music Class

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10 Actionable Tips to Help Teachers Integrate Music Reading into Every Lesson

Every school and every music classroom have unique specific needs. But, we also have many things in common. All of the tips below should be helpful for any elementary music classroom.

Share this post to help fellow elementary music teachers find it.

Use a Standard Lesson Plan Template

Students respond better to predictable routines. This does not mean you don’t ever vary from these routines. But, routines help students feel safe and in control.

Spend the first few weeks of school teaching and practicing your music classroom routines and procedures. It will be time well spent. Music teachers are lucky in that we have many of the same students for several years in a row. This makes it much easier to establish routines in the upper grades.

Your lesson plan template should include a balanced lesson with interactive and FUN music literacy activities near the beginning of class period. This ensures that you do not run out of time for your prioritized activities.

Use Fun and Focused Transition Activities

Starting class with some type of fun welcoming or gathering activity will to help focus students’ attention and provide a natural transition. Transitions are hard for many students.

For any special needs students who have trouble with transitions, try using social stories to help prepare them for class. I have posted an editable FREE resource, Going to Music | A Social Story for Successful Mainstreaming. 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.

Transition activities can have multiple purposes. You can use them as review, to set the stage for a specific activity, to introduce a new song through echo singing, to practice ROD (rhythm of the day), etc.

Echo songs work especially well for welcoming activities. You can even introduce a new song or activity in echo fashion.

Use your transition activities strategically. Plan with purpose.

Start Class Immediately

Begin your welcoming activity or transition activity while students are coming through the door. Smile, make eye contact, and sing to each child as they enter.

Whatever welcome 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 comfortable are not causing disruptions.

Tips to Develop Music Literacy in the Elementary Grades

Schedule Music Reading Lessons When Students are Fresh

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. Make music reading a priority. Priority items should be completed first.

Less is More

Pare down your plans and plan with purpose. Choose a smaller, targeted repertoire that teaches sequential music literacy elements. Then, use add on activities such as games, instruments, harmony parts, etc. to keep those music literacy songs fresh for several class sessions.

If you do not already have sequential, targeted music reading lessons, take a look at our multitasking Music Literacy Bundles. These resources have helped many elementary music teachers easily integrate music reading into every lesson.

Music Reading Lessons Should Be Short & Lead into Other Fun Activities

It doesn’t take a lot of time to integrate music reading into every lesson but it does take careful planning. The music reading portion of your lesson should be short, 5 minutes or less. 

Students (and teachers) should have a standard system for reading. I use these “3 Steps for Reading Music.” I even have a poster on the wall for students to refer to when needed.

3 Steps for Reading Music | Elementary Music Classroom

Following these three steps teaches students a simple, concrete method for reading music. The music reading process is “demystified.” 

After reading and singing the targeted song, the lesson should lead directly into a fun related activity which reinforces learning. This activity could be a game that goes along with the song, a movement activity, instrumental accompaniments, ostinato patterns, a round, etc. 

Again, the actual reading portion of the lesson is very short and should be presented as a precursor to an activity. This helps build excitement around learning to read music.

See this post for more on Teaching Young Children to Read Music and Developing Music Literacy.

Repetition and Assessment

Repetition is important for children and adults as well. Every time you teach a lesson, students should need less and less help. Remember, to sing for children, not with them. I confess that this has always been hard for me.

As a general rule of thumb, I teach each music reading lesson three times. Then, the third time we complete the “Take it Home” pages that go along with each lesson in our Music Literacy Bundles.

These Take it Home pages were designed as quick observational assessments. These simple authentic assessments help teachers identify students who are learning to read independently and those who need more practice.

Our Take Home pages are VERY short and I build anticipation around this culminating activity. My students look forward to and actually cheer on “homework” days.

Students’ “homework” is to sign and sing the song at home for someone in their family. They have nothing to return. Some students have even created notebooks and/or folders for all of their Take Home songs. Others have extended their learning by playing the song on the piano or a digital xylophone app.

Although I do record grades for Take it Home pages, this does not create any pencil/paper grading. We use a partner checking system and I simply record an observational assessment as students “sign and sing” the song. 

Click to read this post to learn more about using Take it Home Pages as Assessments.

Use Fun, Sequential, and Targeted Music Reading Materials

By introducing 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 musical element. And, lessons should be sequential building one upon another. 

It is important to use several different lessons to teach and reinforce the same concept. I use a minimum of three lessons to teach the same musical element.

For instance, if your targeted element is quarter note/rest patterns, teach at least three separate activities with this same targeted element. Practice each activity at least three class sessions, before moving on and adding eighth notes.

This repetition gives students who didn’t get it the first time another chance to learn the concept. And it gives all children time to develop and sharpen their skills. This allows students to generalize and apply their learning to different songs and activities.

If you need NO-PREP, ready-made music reading lessons, check out these sequential Music Reading Bundles which include games, instrumental activities, printable Take it Home Pages, digital online 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 integrating a lot of Orff and some Dalcroze activities. But, a modified Kodály method forms the backbone of my music literacy lessons.

All elements that you present (teach) and practice with students should have been prepared aurally prior to naming and presenting the elements. Do NOT skip this stage.

When children learn to read text, they must have learned oral language first. You should use the same sequence when teaching children to learn to read music.

Students should have a solid foundation of songs and sounds prior to presenting and practicing the elements.

Be Efficient

Have all your materials ready to go and move directly from one activity to the next. Dead time invites disruption and wastes time, even if it is only 30 seconds.

If you are using recordings, consider uploading all of your audio files to your computer and organizing your lessons in PowerPoint with each audio file attached. This alone saves a TON of time and keeps class moving.

We are Music Teachers

We are music teachers. Although our discipline is entertaining, we are not simply entertainment. It is important for us to integrate music reading into every lesson. We owe it to our students to help them develop their music literacy levels to their fullest.

Doing so in a simple efficient manner maximizes our time in the elementary music classroom and prepares our students to excel in the middle and high school music programs.


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