Teaching Elementary Music Online | Distance Learning

Undoubtedly, you never thought that you would be faced with the challenge of teaching elementary music classes online in response to a global pandemic. Being thrown into this situation with very little time to prepare brings up more questions than answers. If you are currently in this situation or may be soon, read on for ideas and suggestions using a more vertical, family-oriented approach rather than a horizontal, grade-level approach.

Teaching Elementary Music Classes Online | Designing Distance Learning Music Lessons in Response to COVID19

Create Graduated Difficulty Lessons

Rather than creating lessons for each individual grade level, consider creating graduated difficulty activities. Use the same song for each grade level but assign graduated activities of varying difficulties. This has several advantages.

  • This type of lesson will be easier for teachers to create. The lessons will be more focused and in-depth.
  • Families that have more than one child in elementary school will be able to complete these lessons together with the older child guiding and helping the younger. Then the younger child can join in at their simplified level to accompany the older child. 
  • Invite the whole family to participate together in a culminating project. This can create fun, meaningful activities for the whole family.

Sample Graduated Difficulty Lesson – Hot Cross Buns

This lesson would need to be adjusted to meet the levels of your specific students. Each of these activities would be introduced by the teacher in a short video or screen capture. 

  • Learn the song – echo sing with teacher 
  • Add a simple Hand Clap #1 – pat, clap, pat, clap.
Grade 1
  • Read rhythm – quarter note/rest version
  • Learn/practice song
  • Simple Hand Clap #1
Grade 2
  • Read rhythm – half note version
  • Sing & sign pitches – solfege (Do, Re, Mi)
  • Sing song
  • Add Hand Clap # 2 – pat, clap, partner, clap. 

(If student has no partner available, students can perform hand clap “with the teacher” through their device.)

Grade 3
  • Read rhythm – half note version
  • Sing & sign pitches – solfege (Do, Re, Mi)
  • Sing song
  • Add Hand Clap # 2 – pat, clap, partner, clap. 
  • Extra credit – Perform song on another instrument, piano, toy xylophone, etc. Consider including a link to an online instrument.
Grades 4-5
  • Read rhythm – half note version
  • Sing & sign pitches – solfege (Do, Re, Mi)
  • Sing song
  • Add Hand Clap # 2.
  • Create their own hand clap with embellishments. Consider using feet, elbows, etc. The only rules are they have to keep a steady beat and they have to be safe.*
  • Play the song on recorder. I am hoping to post some specific ideas for teaching recorder online soon.

*Depending on the activities you assign, it may be important for you to establish rules just as you would in the classroom

All Grades – Stage a PBL Performance

Consider culminating a unit with a PBL activity (Performance Based Learning). This takes student learning to a whole new level. Do NOT announce this large project at the beginning of the unit. Wait until the last week or so. Otherwise, many students will jump ahead.

At the end of the unit after practicing each assigned piece a little each day, assign students to “Stage a Performance” of their assigned pieces. Their performances can be as elaborate or simple as desired. Consider making a few of the following ideas a requirement for student family performances. 

Create Tickets for the Performance

Tickets should include the following.

  • Who the performers are. Does your group have a name?
  • When the performance is
  • Where the performance will be held
  • How much the performance cost (Students may create or use play money.)
Create a Program for the Performance

Programs should include the following.

  • Names of the performers
  • Date/time of performance
  • Songs/pieces performed in the order of the performance
  • Artwork for the cover of the performance (This part could be coordinated with the art teacher.)
Create a Poster Advertising the Performance

Posters should include the following.

  • Performers
  • Date/time
  • Venue/location
  • Artwork
More Possible PBL Elements to Include
  • Costuming. Challenge students to come up with costumes or “concert attire” for their performance. 
  • Publicity Shots. Students may want to take publicity shots to “advertise” their performance to their family.
  • Staging. Challenge students to create a performance atmosphere. This may include rearranging the furniture, turning the lights down and using a flashlight as a spotlight, performing from a landing on their stairway, standing on a sturdy chest or coffee table for a stage, etc.
  • Announcer. Students may create a concert atmosphere by designating an announcer.
  • Sound effects. Students may use online sound effects such as applause during their performances. An older sibling may be designated as the “sound engineer.”
  • Video/Camera Crew. Ask a parent, older sibling, or another adult to video the performance. These performances may be shared remotely with grandparents and/or other relatives.

Assessment and Accountability

In order to hold students accountable, require that they turn in some form of evidence as suggested below. 

  • Students may submit a short video of their family performance. With written permission, you may be able to share some of these performances with other families at your school. This would encourage creativity and lessen the feeling of isolation.
  • Students could submit photos of their performance.
  • If families are unable or unwilling to do video or pictures, students could submit a written reflection worksheet recapping their performances. The youngest students may draw a picture of their performance and dictate a sentence or two to their parents.

Other PBL Activities

If you are faced with long term online teaching, do NOT use up all of your PBL activities during the first week or two. Use just one activity per week/unit. Below are more activities you may want to consider.

  • Create a recycled musical instrument to accompany a song. Students may only use items that were going to be thrown away.
  • Add an ostinato rhythmic pattern to a simple song. Be sure to provide a “perform-along” video to support students.
  • Create a composition using Google Song Maker.
  • Explore other music activities using Chrome Music Lab.

Online Teaching Tips

I learned a lot when I earned an Instructional Technology Certification and Instruction in Curriculum Design. I have a few recommendations for those of you who find yourselves venturing into uncharted territory.

  • Choose a topic or theme for each week to tie activities together. Announce the topic at the beginning of the week.
  • Unless required by your school district, only assign one song/lesson per week with students practicing/rehearsing that same lesson each day. Keep it simple! This is new for your students too.
  • Consider creating practice logs so that students may sign in and be accountable to practice or complete assigned work.
  • When teaching students to read music, create a screen capture pointing to each note with the cursor as you read the rhythm or sing the pitches. Change the cursor on your computer to a pointer finger to focus student attention. 👆
  • When you are posting directions and or text, don’t post big blocks of text. Instead, when possible, use bullet points so students can mentally check items off. If several tasks are required in a lesson, post them so that students may mark them complete using your school LMS (Learning Management System) OR post tasks “just-in-time” within the lesson.
  • Keep videos short. Do NOT simply try to fill up the same amount of time you would in the classroom. If you want to accomplish several things during a particular lesson, assign several small videos instead of one longer one. This will also make the information easier to repurpose later if desired.

Ways to Differentiate Lessons

  • Young students can simply learn the song and play a simple game or activity.
  • Older students can read the rhythmic and melodic notation.
  • Consider differentiating songs by adding an ostinato rhythmic pattern to a simple song. Be sure to provide a “perform-along” video to support students.
  • Another way to differentiate a song would be to sing it in a round or add simple harmonies. Simple partner songs work well for this purpose. Again, provide a video in unison and with all parts.
  • Add an instrumental element such as playing recorder or a virtual online piano/xylophone to challenge older students.

If you need more ideas on how to differentiate lessons for various grade levels, click to read this post Music Activities for Grades K-5 | Creating Graduated Difficulty Lessons.

Other Important Considerations

  • Team up with other teachers in your district or surrounding districts to create and share lessons. Teaching elementary music classes online is new for everyone. Divide and conquer. (Take care to observe copyright. Resources that you have purchased for your classroom may need to be purchased by the other teacher as well.)
  • Make lessons fun. Be upbeat but do not be insensitive. This will be a scary time for many students. Make it a goal to bring some joy into your students’ and families’ lives with your lessons.
  • If your school does not have an online LMS, consider making a digital check sheet so students may check items off their list.
  • Archive recordings for possible use later. These lessons may be able to be used by a substitute teacher in your classroom in the future. The lessons may be able to be used again for students who are moved to home-based school. They may be used virtually on snow days if your district transitions to online learning for inclement weather issues.


This time when your students are out of the classroom can be a productive time for real learning. I hope that I have given you some concrete, actionable steps and ideas for teaching elementary music classes online. You are up to this challenge. Turn your anxiety into creativity. Be creative and dig in! 

Do you have more ideas to add to this list? Leave a comment to share with others.

Helpful Resources & Links

Creating Graduated Difficulty Lessons

I have created a sequential series of lessons that were designed for presenting in the elementary music classroom. I am granting permission for purchasing music teachers to copy desired pages from these lessons to assign in an online format for students enrolled in their school only. 

Teachers will still need to “fill in the blanks” with video to teach each lesson but you won’t be starting from scratch. CLICK HERE to preview sequential Music Reading Bundles.

Developing Music Skills

Do you need some online, self-checking activities to include with your lessons? Boom Cards are another activities you will want to explore. You may assign interactive Boom Cards sets to be completed at home. I have created the following sets which you may find especially beneficial during this time of distance learning. Click to preview directly on BoomLearning.com. Boom Learning allows teachers to sample the first four cards in each deck.

Get started with these FREE sets. (Posted on TpT)

Check Back Often

Keep checking back. I am adding new free sets as quickly as I can. Better yet, CLICK HERE to follow “Mi” on TpT. You will be notified when new sets are published.

More Interactive Boom Cards

If you are more comfortable purchasing through TpT, all sets are posted there as well. Scroll down to see all sets.

Getting Started with Boom Cards

If you have never used Boom Cards you may want to check out these blog posts first.

Contact “Mi”

Email at TerriLloyd@FrauMusik.com if you have questions and/or suggestions for me.

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