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?

Curriculum outline example

Simply put, a concept table  is a curriculum map. It 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. 

Add To Cart

This concept table is a part of my larger elementary planning kit.

You can purchase the entire planning kit, or you can grab the free blank concept table below!

Just click the image to download.

Free download - blank concept table

Free download - blank concept table


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.

The Plan will Change.

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 curriculum outline.

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.

Why Write a Concept Table

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. 

How are you planning ahead this year? 

Let me know in the comments section!