Planning Ahead: How to Choose Repertoire for your Elementary Music Class

 

 

Now that we know what elements and concepts we want to teach, it’s time to start plugging in songs.
>>>> Read: Planning Ahead - Mapping Out Your Ideal Music Curriculum 

Song choice is very important as we plan the year, because the musical material we choose is the curriculum. These songs and pieces will introduce students to new ideas, give the springboard for creativity, and encourage their awareness of their own musical development.

 
Let us take our children seriously! Everything else follows from this... only the best is good enough for a child.”
— Zoltan Kodaly
 

Here are some of the criteria I use for selecting musical material.


 
Songs for Elementary Music
 


1. Choose Material that is High Quality

It can be simple, and it can be fun. But remember that the repertoire we use will shape our students musically. 

I look for two main things when selecting music that is artistic: the lyrics, and the music itself.

Musically:

Look or songs with interesting melody lines or rhythms. As we choose repertoire, it's best to get a variety of material so that we don’t end up with all the same chord structure or time signature in each piece. This can be tricky in some of the younger grades when their musical vocabulary is limited - but it’s not impossible!

For melodic pieces, sing the melody without the words. Is the melody interesting on its own? For pieces without pitch (spoken rhymes or unpitched percussion pieces), do the same thing. Is the rhythm interesting enough to play back in your head on its own?

Lyrically:

Does the poetry explain something about life as a child? Is it gratifying to speak without a melody? Is it particularly beautiful or insightful or humorous? All these things contribute to the lyrical quality of a song.

One of the best ways to test this to write out the lyrics or speak them by themselves. This will give you an idea about the extent to which the poetry can stand alone, without melody or harmony to aid it.

We select the musical influences from which our students will grow - and that's pretty exciting.


2. Choose Material You Like

You’ll spend a lot of time with this material. You’ll likely sing or play it several times a week as you rotate through different classes in each grade level. Additionally, you’ll be using it to sing, play games, play instruments, and create.

Since you’ll use this material so much, it’s important that you like it!

I used to think it was selfish for me to think about my own preferences when selecting songs or pieces for my class. Now I realize that having a connection to the musical material isn’t optional - it’s one of the core criteria.

As a trained musician you have developed an ear for quality music. If a song strikes you as cheesy, there’s probably a good reason. If a melody seems unnatural to you, you have a legitimate reason to keep it out of your repertoire.

Personal preference takes a key role when choosing material for your year.


3. Choose Material that Meets Your Curriculum Goals

Take a look at the songs that intrinsically are of high quality and that you would love to teach. Which of these meet the musical goals you have for your students?

Of course not every song needs to have a literary tie-in. Some material is worth teaching for its beauty. Some is worth teaching because of how fun it is to play. 

In the same way that we read The Chronicles of Narnia to young children who can’t necessarily read and write every word in it, so we also expose children to music of other cultures, classical music, jazz music, etc. This music may be beyond their reach literacy wise, but not beyond their understanding or enjoyment as young musicians.

That said, it would be a shame for students to leave our classrooms without the ability to record their musical ideas in notation or recognize the form of a pop song. For that reason, I usually pick about 5 pieces of material (songs, rhymes, movement activities, or instrumental pieces) for each target element in my curriculum.

These pieces need to meet the following criteria:

The target element is musically and lyrically obvious.

Look for material that uses the target rhythm or melody on a main word in the sentence, or a strong beat. The target element should also exist naturally in the music.

For example, a  2 over 3 rhythm in 6/8 time is technically an eighth note pattern but students won't get it intuitively. Finding mi re do in a la-based minor song is technically still mi re do, but students will have a hard time hearing it and applying it to other songs.

Think about what is natural to point out in a song; what the students will naturally hear.

The Singing Range and and Intervals are Appropriate:

The appropriate range of a song will change depending on the age of your students. Here is a quick reference I use.

 
 

It’s also good to look at the intervals in the song to make sure your students can sing them tunefully. Especially when working on target melodic elements, tuneful singing is essential.Avoiding half steps or large leaps for young singers will help them be more successful.

Our repertoire should move us toward our curriculum goals.


4. Get Creative!

Look through each song and decide how this song will actually live in your classroom - the shape it will actually take.

Some questions to consider:

  • How could you teach the song? 
  • Can it tie into any programs you have coming up?
  • Is there room in this song for students to apply their own musical creativity?
  • How would it transfer to instruments?
  • Is there text painting that could be emphasized?
  • Is there a story or strong emotion you could act out?
  • Is there creative material students could use to create an ostinato?

The higher quality the piece is (from point #1), the easier it is to take it apart and explore it piece by piece. And once you know why you have chosen that particular piece in your curriculum (from point #3), it’s easy to look for creative paths to enhance the purpose of the piece. You’ll probably be especially motivated to give this some serious thought because you actually enjoy the piece your students are working on (from point #2)



Where to Look for Songs

Like I said in the intro video, there’s never a bad time to think carefully creatively about your goals for your students, even if you’re in the middle of the school year.

If you want a collection of material that meet these criteria for me, try checking out the Sheet Music Library. It’s a totally free collection of songs from around the world that are perfect for your use in the classroom.

You can sign up below!

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.

Enjoy!


 
 

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

Pre-assess

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!