Talk Less and Teach More Music

You can actually get more done in elementary music class if you talk less and teach more music. This might sound contradictory, but, these tried and true techniques will help you do just that. 

Read on for specific techniques and methods that can help you become a more effective and efficient teacher and enjoy your job more.

Talk Less and Teach More Music | Teacher Tips for the Elementary Music Classroom

Use Simple Vocabulary with the Bare Minimum of Words

When a teacher’s directions get too detailed, kids tune them out anyway. So, it is beneficial to use very simple commands such as these.

  • Echo me.
  • Do this.
  • Follow me.
  • My turn.
  • Your turn.

These simple directions are often the best way to communicate with special needs students who may be mainstreamed into music classes. But they are effective with all students as well.

Use Silent Signals – Actions or Sign Language

You can teach a simple core set of sign language vocabulary to all of your students. Although sign language pairs very nicely with music, it is not necessary to know sign language in order to give silent signals. Actions that are immediately understood work just as well. Below are some signals that will be universally understood.

  • Teacher – both hands on your chest (indicates teacher’s turn to sing or play)
  • Teacher – hands palm up out to students (indicates student’s turn to sing or play)
  • Teacher – arms straight out pointing toward a line of students (indicates students in a straight line)
  • Other universal signals & motions
    • Stand up
    • Sit down
    • Come here
    • Follow me
    • Stop

If necessary, you can send a student to the safe seat without saying a single word. Simply point at the student then point directly to the safe seat while still continuing in whatever activity you are doing. This prevents a power struggle that words can often bring on. If the student does not respond, simply repeat your signals while continuing class. It will take students a little while to get used to your signals.

Make sure you are delivering these signals with a SMILE on your face, even if you are sending a child to the safe seat. Everyone makes mistakes and you are simply helping them get back on track.

Develop your own core signals using sign language and/or body language. You can already communicate way more than you think without any words.

Use Transition & Friendly Reminder Songs

Plan for smooth transitions. Make sure supplies are available and easily accessible. Students should know the procedures for getting instruments and supplies. Use friendly reminder songs to fill those transitions and correct minor misbehaviors. No one likes to be nagged. Once again, students will simply turn you off anyway.

I wrote a series of Friendly Reminder Songs to help establish and reinforce daily classroom procedures. These are very simple songs that I shared with my primary teachers as well. This series of songs include the “classics” below.

  • Write Your Name
  • I Will Not Interrupt
  • Voice Off, Voice Off Time to Walk in the Hallway
  • Criss Cross Applesauce
  • Taking Turns
  • Clean Our Room
  • I Will Not Whine
  • Cooperation, No Tattle Tailin’
  • Eyes on the Teacher, Eyes on the Board

The best part about using these songs is the spirit with which they are sung. Have fun with them. They truly are “friendly” reminders. They should be sung as such. The songs are not meant to be punitive in any way. And, you can create your own friendly reminder songs to fit any situation.

Incorporate Simple Directions Into Your Lessons

Type simple instructions directly into your projectable lessons. I like using PowerPoint to organize and display lessons on my whiteboard. Consider making the directions a different color or using a bold font so that they stand out. And, simply point to the directions as you begin an activity.

Observe, Re-evaluate, Modify

This tip sounds so simple, but it is not. KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR STUDENTS. Observe what they are doing. Read their subtle, and not so subtle, body language. Are they beginning to “check out” on you? Will a simple change of proximity correct that? Do you see a look of confusion? Do you need to give a simple clarification?

Elementary music teacher clapping her hands while children follow her

 As teachers, we should be constantly vigilant about maintaining student focus, understanding, and engagement but it doesn’t take a lot of words. 

Be Organized | Do NOT Ask Kids to Sit & Wait During Class

If you want to talk less and teach more music, you have to be “uber” prepared. Lesson plans should be organized so that one activity flows immediately into the next. I LOVE using PowerPoint to organize lessons. It is a simple click or tap of the whiteboard and we are into the next activity. If there are audio files, I have them embedded directly into the lesson. Asking students to wait wastes valuable time and creates problems.

You Can Talk Less and Teach More Music

You can do it! I taught for three days with absolutely no talking. I had completely lost my voice. It was so bad, that I could not even call the doctor. I had to go to her office and hand the receptionist a note to get an appointment.

Side note: When you cannot talk, people respond to you as if you cannot hear. They write back to you. This happened at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, and the pharmacy.   🙂


By learning to talk less and teach more music, you will enjoy teaching more and your students will enjoy learning more. And, best of all you will teach more music.  

It is important to Integrate Music Reading into Every Lesson. By using these tips you will become more efficient. That will give you more time to focus on music literacy during every class period. Give it a try.

What techniques do you use to keep class running efficiently? Leave a comment below.

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