Planning Ahead: Mapping Out Your Ideal Music Curriculum

Planning ahead is an amazing thing to do in the summer before school starts, or in the first month of the school year. However, even if you start in the middle of the year it’s not too late, and definitely worth it.

When planning for the school year it’s best to start with a broad look of your goals for each grade you see. Once you understand what concepts you’d like to cover, its much easier to choose songs, activities, performance programs, and finally to create your lessons.

A concept table is the best place to start.  

General Music Curriculum

What is a Concept Table?

My own concept table for the 2016 - 2017 school year.

Simply put, a concept table shows what you want your students to learn and when.

It’s a zoomed-out view of your musical goals for your whole program. A concept table is a map of your entire curriculum, for every grade. I love it because as the school year gets going it’s easy for me to lose track of my goals for my students. A concept table keeps me accountable.

Something to note right off the bat is that this is a concept table, not a skills table. A concept table doesn’t show what you want students to be able to do with these concepts. Specific skills around improvising, reading, singing, and playing come later.

For now, the goal is to get a single sheet of paper that has all your concept goals for your students. This guides the rest of the lesson planning process. 

Writing Your Concept Table: Things to Consider

There’s a lot to consider when starting to design a concept table of your own:

  • How many times a week do you see your students?
  • What is your expected number of missed classes due to weather, school assemblies, field trips, or your own personal time off? 
  • Do you teach at one school or several schools? 
  • How long have you been teaching the students, and where are they already? 
  • In what grade do students enter your program? 
  • In what grade do they leave?

All of these things will change how you outline your concept table and what you can realistically teach within your given timeframe.

You Can't Teach Everything:

Things are missing in the example concept table above. Where is the category for teaching music history? Where is the Jazz section?  As you choose what broad sections to include (rhythm, melody, form, etc.) you’ll notice that some topics simply don’t make the cut to be included in the Concept Table. That doesn’t mean that we don’t teach them.

Rather, we choose concepts that are broad enough to encompass our other learning goals. For example, there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t include a listen to the Surprise Symphony when teaching eighth and quarter notes to your 1st graders. You can also have a great time discussing Benny Goodman when you introduce the clarinet as an instrument of the orchestra.

Start at the End

Take time to think about what you truly care about as a teacher. What skills and understandings do you want students to have when they leave your program? What do you want your students to be able to do at the end of each year? Break things down and plug them in.

You can’t teach it all but when you’re intentional about curriculum planning you can give students a solid foundation that allows them to be lifelong musical learners.

Thoughtfully Made, Adaptably Executed

Of course when we’re planning we would love to think that all our plans will be able to be executed perfectly, without a hitch or hiccup. However, we all know that even though we’ve planned in things like snow days and field trips, the reality is that we will likely get off from our planning table.

That’s okay.

Students may not learn at the rate we expect. Especially if this is your first time mapping out curriculum goals for your students or if you’re starting at a new school, be prepared for the possibility that your table may end up looking very different from where you started it.

The beauty of the concept table is in its simplicity, and how broad it is to fit in the things that you truly care about teaching.

What we find in the process of creating a concept table is that the act of intentionally thinking through your dreams for your students may end up being more important than the result itself. This valuable paper can have incredible benefit to your students and your own peace of mind.

And by the way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using resources that spell out a curriculum for you.

These can be helpful starting guides and can get you going in the right direction if you’re struggling to get started. The shortcoming with these pre-made curriculums is that they fail to take into account your own personal teaching goals for your students.

In contrast, a concept table is a simple way to map out your own ideal curriculum, tailor-made for your own program. I love it because when its done thoughtfully, the rest of your curriculum has a straightforward structure, making it easy to plan out your year. 

Creating curriculum on your own doesn't have to be overwhelming. It doesn't even have to be complicated. This piece of paper is the best way I know to map out an ideal general music curriculum. 

You can grab an editable version for free right here! Just click the button to download.

How are you planning ahead this year? 

Let me know in the comments section!

Learning how to Learn: A Review of Artful-Playful-Mindful by Jane Frazee

A beautiful blend of philosophy and implementation, Artful-Playful-Mindful by Jane Frazee is sure to be a helpful resource for any music teacher, regardless of teaching method.


Through the activities in the book, students learn music. But through Frazee's process of being artful, playful, and mindful, they are learning what it means to learn.

Artful Playful Mindful Book Review

Watch the review to learn: 

  • What the book aims to accomplish
  • How Frazee plans curriculum using  Project Models
  • Frazee's advice that I won't be following this year
  • If this book would be a good read for you!

Artful Playful Mindful Book Review Video

What are you reading these days? 

Let me know in the comments section below!

Review and Reset: Wrapping Up the School Year

When the school year has just wrapped up, it can be so easy to sprint to the finish line and collapse once we've crossed it. We're ready for warm weather, slow days, and taking a break from the rush of teaching.

However, before checking out completely, I like to take a long moment to reflect on the past year and plan for the next. What went well? What would I do differently next time? What was my favorite moment of the year?

Today I'm sharing the printable I use to review and reset. I'd love for you to give it a try! It's a great way to congratulate yourself on the things you're are proud of, and reflect on what could be made better next year.



1. What Went Well?

So often we can zip through the school year, planning and making changes, always looking at what's next on our calendar. As soon as we get a big event out of the way we roll straight on to the next one. In my experience we don't take the time congratulate ourselves for what we've accomplished.

That's what this first section is all about.

Use this space to jot down the things you're proud of. For me, I like to break this down into a few categories: Pedagogy, Behavior Management, Concerts, and Communication/Collaboration.

These four pillars make up my teaching practice. Increased communication and collaboration are personal goals for me, but may not be for you. With that in mind, I’ve left the last section on this page blank for you - fill in whatever you’d like!

2. A Year in Two Moments:

In this section we highlight two contrasting moments. Both moments shaped the year and who we are as teachers, but one shaped it by reinforcing something positive and the other shaped it by pointing out an area that needs change.

Take a moment to think about one “shining” moment this year. Perhaps it was a lesson that went particularly well, or a student who was finally able to demonstrate mastery of a skill after struggling all year long. Maybe it was a fabulous concert, touching parent note, or a complementary observation report from an administrator.

Next, think about the experiences that let you know it was time to take a new direction. Maybe it was a classroom management technique that went wrong. Maybe it was a lesson that you didn’t quite prepare for and went off track . Maybe it was an interaction with a parent that could have gone better. Whatever it is, take a moment to write down the experience.

3. What Are Some Goals for Next Year?

This is my favorite section to fill out.

The first two sections really pave the way for us to brainstorm ways to improve things that we want to change, and reinforce things that went well.

What programs do you want to start? What songs do you want to continue using? Do you want to incorporate more improvisation and composition? Centers? Technology? What changes in your concert preparation do you want to make?  This section uses the same areas as the “what went well” section, so look back at your answers from section one. If something wasn’t going well, what could you do next year to change it? This is the time to clearly think through your so that we don’t fall back into old, unhelpful habits or forget all our great ideas in the rush of back-to-school prep.

Write down anything and everything that you want to try, expand, or get rid of.

Summer is a great time to review, rejuvenate, and reset. This printable can jumpstart that process. Click below to grab it for free!

Advice for Music Teachers Starting at a New School

There are so many things that need to happen at a new school. Meeting colleagues, remembering new school routines, memorizing your copy code, what’s protocol for the last coffee in the coffee pot, school discipline policy. . .

It’s enough to make your head spin.

And what’s crazy is that none of that even has to do with your actual teaching!

For any teacher at a new school, it's important to remember that adapting to a new teaching environment will take time. It will also take time for your students to get used to you. 

Give it time. 

Don’t worry about underperforming in comparison to the former music teacher. And don’t worry about outshining this former teacher. DO worry about setting your students up for success with you from day one.

Advice for teachers at a new school

In all likelihood, your teaching practices and teaching philosophy differ from what your students are used to.

With that in mind, give students (and yourself) time to adapt. This new philosophy doesn’t need to be implemented right away, but we do need to start preparing students right away for how music time may look different than before.

Today I’m sharing the top three MUST DO things for music teachers at a new school.

These have nothing to do with remembering your copy code, nothing to do with the process for replacing your lost teacher ID.

Instead, they are actionable steps about your music, your philosophy, and your students - the reasons we teach!

1. Establish routines

We’ll have a hard time learning together without good classroom management, and routines are a cornerstone for a classroom management system that works.

How do you want students to enter your classroom? What’s the easiest way for your class to get in a circle? How can you line the students up without kids bumping heads or cutting in line? Procedures are the glue of a class that runs smoothly.

While it’s hard to waltz in front of a new group of students and inform them of the new list of routines, it’s very worth it. It’s never too late to start implementing how you want your classroom to run, but it’s best to start the very first day of your teaching. Even teachers established at the schools take time to rethink routines and make sure they’re allowing the classroom to operate well, so don’t be afraid to change it up if the old system doesn’t work for you.

Think through your routines for entering the room, sitting, standing, making a circle, getting out instruments, moving to different parts of the classroom, changing activities, and lining up.

Learn Names

Even if you have an established, working curriculum, it won’t be fully implemented the first day, week, or even month. It will take time for the students to get on board with your new philosophy  and learn how their new music teacher will run things. It will also take time for you to get to know them, and that starts with knowing their names. Yes, all their names. It’s a process that takes a LOT of time. But it is very worth it. Here are some things that can help you remember the 600 or so names a little easier.

  • Name tags - many teachers have these already and are happy to hand them out before coming to your class. Send a quick email and find out! If teachers don’t have name tags, what’s a quick way you could create them? Could you print out stickers? Slip their names into a plastic name tag holder that can go around their neck? It’s worth the effort not to call a kid “buddy” for the rest of the year.
  • Seating charts - At the beginning of your time at a new school I recommend a seating chart, even for your littles (especially for your littles). You might assign their seats yourself, or let them choose their own and you can move them if it becomes a problem. You might also consider sending your seating chart to their classroom teacher for feedback.
  • Yearbook - This one is a great memory tester. Once you think you’ve got a lot of names down, see if you can get your hands on a recent yearbook. Cover the students’ names below their pictures and check if you can remember their names without help. It’s an added challenge that they won’t be in the class groupings you’re expecting!

2. Find Out What They Know


A pre-assessment is a MUST DO with a new group of students. It doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be painful.

Pre-assessing won’t give you all the information you need, but it will be a start. You’ll find other surprising information about the students later in the year, but the goal here is to get up and running. Remember that every assessment has limits to the data you can get from it, and remember that finding out what they don’t know is just as valuable as finding out what they do know. So don’t be discouraged if your students don’t do well on your assessment.

>>>>>>> Read: Assessment in music Part 1 and Part 2

Talk to their teacher

The absolute best resource you can use when creating your pre-assessment is the former music teacher. If he or she is around, you can have a nice long chat about curriculum, procedures, administration and parent expectations of the program, and what’s worked in the past. This would create a beautiful spring board for creating assessments so check to see if it's a possibility.

3. Sing Sing Sing

Don’t forget to make music in your first lessons!! Pick some easy, engaging songs (preferably with movement) and start singing.

While you’re in the process of figuring out what your students know you can still have meaningful and musical experiences. Don’t worry about songs being too advanced or too easy - just start singing. You don’t need all the data in to start making music.

  • Singing right away buys you time. Give your students time to adapt to your way of teaching, and remember that we can be musical even in the transition to a new philosophy or curriculum… The key here is to buy time, not waste it. Singing is perfect for accomplishing this.
  • Singing gives you valuable information about your students' musical maturity. Do your students know where to breathe in a phrase? Can they match pitch? Do they pick up on songs quickly and accurately? How is their tone? Can they notice melodic or rhythmic patterns? Singing together, asking a few questions, and observing will give you an enormous amount information on where your students are in their learning.
  • Songs you teach will become the backbone of your curriculum later. As music teachers, our songs are our curriculum so it makes sense to sing right away. Every time you’re confused about what your students know and can do, have them sing. Even if you teach a song in the first weeks of school and discover that your students aren’t ready to tackle concepts in the song, you haven’t wasted time. Students have enjoyed themselves and been challenged musically. You can pull the song out later when they are ready and they will have already have learned it! They’re ahead of the game.


Wondering what to sing? I have some great songs in the Song Library. It’s a collection that I made for my own classroom and I use it all the time.


There are so many things to do when starting at a new school.

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the list of things that need to be remembered, accomplished, and planned in the short term. However, remember that as teachers at a new school we're playing the long game.

When we need ways to get up and running in a way that will set us up for success both now and later, these tips will do the job!

Happy teaching.

The Hardest Thing Is:

Whether or not you're at a new school, I'd love to know: 

What's the hardest thing you're facing right now in your teaching?

Type your answer below. I'd love to hear from you!

5 Resources I Don't Lesson Plan Without

I think that all teachers have experienced a form of lesson planning writer's block at some point.

Let’s face it. We’re busy people and sometimes the lesson planning process sneaks up on us. Sometimes we remedy this by quickly throwing together a collection of songs and activities that will do the job. . . but perhaps we haven't thought about where that lesson is leading and why each individual activity is important. 

Today I’m sharing my tried-and-true resources for lesson planning. These resources save me loads of time in my daily lesson planning because they've given me a framework around which to create activities.

Zooming Out

It starts with a zoomed-out, big picture view of what I want my students to learn by the time we're done with our time together. What should every student know after being my student? What should every student know how to do? These are big questions but they're important to tackle first. 

Zooming In

Then we zoom in more and more until we're planning daily lessons. What specific learning activities will help my students accomplish their goals? What are bite-sized take aways I can give my students?

These resources have helped me wrestle with these questions and create a framework I use for every single lesson. 

I hope they do the same for you!

But first, let's establish some goals in our planning. . . 

lesson planning resources

Big - Picture Planning Resources: 

Good lesson plans start with knowing the big picture of what you want your students to know. That big picture is based on your teaching philosophy and what you think is important for students at your school to be able to do by the end of their time with you. It's a huge, sweeping view of your teaching. 

When it comes to that important zoomed-out view, these are the books that have been life savers for me.

1. Understanding by design: 

If you haven't read this book already, I highly encourage it.

The basic premise of the book is that instead of starting with daily tasks and learning activities, and then creating assessments. . . we should start with what we want students to know. Then decide how we'll know that they know it. . . then create learning tasks that reflect those goals. 

It's a dense read, but very worth it!

Short on time? Still buy the book and save it for a rainy day. For now just read the chapter 6 (crafting understandings) and chapter 7 (thinking like an assessor)

2. Lesson Planning in a Kodaly Setting: 

I picked up this book after hearing Aileen Miracle mention it on her podcast and I'm SO glad I did! 

This book has been huge for me as I think about what songs to use for what concepts and what my core teaching goals are for my students. When I got the book I was struck by how small it was but I can guarantee it packs a punch with how much information it delivers in a small package. 

You won't be disappointed if you dig into this book. 

Small-Picture Lesson Planning Resources:

When it comes to thinking more specifically about learning activities in daily lesson plans, here are the resources that have helped me the most: 

3. Kodaly in the Classroom series

I'm not strictly a Kodaly teacher but I love the philosophy that encourages students to use "direct intuition" in their approach to learning music. This book is the perfect companion for Kodaly and non-Kodaly teachers alike.

Inside the books, I've found great ideas about listening lessons, songs to use for specific grades, and teaching strategies for when you feel stuck. It's a wonderful addition to my bookshelf and I reference it often.

There are lots of grade levels for which you could buy this book. I'd recommend purchasing one for a lower grade first if you haven't used these books before. 

4. Elementaria: 

This is a more recent read for me, but already SO helpful!

Elementaria is hands down one of the most actionable Orff books I've ever read. It gives very specific examples and music activities, all the way down to the sheet music. There are lots of books out there on the Orff philosophy but I've never come across anything this specific. That makes it perfect for the zoomed-in part of planning. 

I find myself flipping through this when I'm looking for specific engaging music activities, especially for my upper level students. If that sounds like something you could use in your tool belt, I highly recommend this book. 

5. Song Library

The backbone of our curriculum as teachers is the music we choose. I love singing folk songs in my classroom and needed a way to keep track of some of my favorites. That's how the Sheet Music Library was born. 

I use it to document songs I've used and songs my students love to sing. It's about to get a major facelift in the next few months with more songs and easier navigation, but it's still a resource I personally use for my classroom ALL. THE. TIME.

If you haven't checked it out yet, it's totally free.

You can sign up here: 

Lesson planning can be a headache, but it doesn't have to be. 

With these resources you can begin your journey to headache-free planning....  And it can actually be fun! 

Don't feel the need to purchase and read all the books at once. Pick your squeakiest wheel in the lesson planning process (big picture ideas or small picture activities), grab a book, and read it in small sections over your morning coffee. 

You'll be glad you did.