4 Things to Do Before Starting Music Centers

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Using centers in my elementary music lessons has been an absolute game changer, but there are a few things you need to do before you do centers to set up your elementary music class for success. If you want to implement centers, these are the things you need to do before you get started to ensure a smooth first day. 

If you’re ready to get started with centers, you can start by downloading The Ultimate Centers Ideas list. It’s completely free and has pages and pages of ideas for activities that you can use with general music centers– plus, it’s organized by topics including rhythm, treble clef, composition, instruments, and more. 

Click here to get instant access free!

a graphic that says do these things before music centers with a photo of an elementary music center featuring a Chrome music lab solfege task card and ipad ith chrome music lab pulled up from becca's music room

Decide on your routine

How many centers will you have? What will the students do? How many minutes will students have at each center? How will students swap centers? 

These are all questions that you want to answer before your first day. 

When it comes to centers (or really any teaching day), you want to have a plan. Having a plan is fundamental to your success as a teacher. 

The good news is that there’s not a magical way to do centers– you just need to decide what will work for you!

Here are the aspects you want to consider when you think about centers:

  • How many centers
  • What students will do at each center
  • How many minutes students will have at each center
  • How to switch 
  • How to rotate
  • How to clean up

Later, we’ll talk about the details of my centers schedule in a later post, but here’s the quick answers that I have for these questions:

  • How many centers: 3
  • What students will do at each center: Changes depending on the day!
  • How many minutes students will have at each center: 6
  • How to switch: 6 minute timer goes off, and that is the signal to switch. Whoever is closest to the board hits the one minute timer. They have one minute to clean up and freeze. 
  • How to rotate: I tell students where to go and they point. Then I say, “5, 6, 7, 8, hurry don’t be late” and they go to the next station and get to work.
  • How to clean up: Students have one minute to clean up and go to their seats. Then I have students pick up the supplies and bring them to the centers bookshelf, where I store everything.

You do not have to do any of those things– they are just what works for me. You should find what is going to work for you. The important part is to just have a plan so that you are ready to go. 

Do all of the activities

Before you ever do centers, you want the students to know how to do the activities. 

Now, some are self explanatory. Matching games? We can handle that. Work sheets? Got it. 

But for anything more complicated, you want to make sure the kids know how to do it.

In the lessons leading up to centers, we will do the activities in small groups at the end of class. While they play the games, I walk around and help. 

Then, when we do centers, it is more or a practice and they don’t need my help. 

Plus, once you find your “normal” centers activities, you can just do this process once, and then they can continue. So if you use Kaboom! To practice quarter and eighth notes, you would practice one day, then use it in centers. Then if you want to use Kaboom to practice quarter rest or solfege, they don’t need to practice– they can just use it in centers because they already know how to play. 

For the first day, I always go with things we have done or things that are so self explanatory they couldn’t possibly be confused (one would think). 

The other days that we have centers, I only ever introduce one new activity at a time. So if we have 3 activities, 2 are ones we have done before or are self explanatory or I am helping them with. Only one is truly new. 

Also read: Setting up centers your 1st day

a graphic that says your 1st day of centers in elementary music with a photo of an ice cream solfege matching game from becca's music room

Create your groups ahead of time

The worst thing you can do is try to set up groups in the moment. Seriously. Don’t do it. 

I always do my centers groups by sorting the students based on data. A class or two before the centers, we will do an activity that goes over the concept we will be working on. I grade the scores and then sort students into groups of students who totally understand, almost understand, or need a bit more help. Then I sort those into the correct number of groups. 

Now, I do change things a little bit based on behavior. I have no qualms about moving students around to ensure civility. 

Sometimes, I pair a student who needs help with some of the higher performing students. I find that if you get the right pairing, they can do more to help the child than you ever could. 

If those thoughts stress you out, then just make groups. You can go down the seating chart and split them up into the correct number of groups. That is fine too– just so long as you have a plan before the kids are staring at you. 

a graphic that says what you need to know before elementary music centers from becca's music room

Explain expectations and rewards

Finally, RIGHT before you start, you want to explain the expectations.

We go over the classroom expectations (follow directions, be respectful, be responsible, be a participant) but we also have special centers expectations:

  • Work the whole time
  • Be respectful to your group
  • Do not leave your group
  • Voices on level 2

I tell them these are the things that earn them points today.

Anyone who cannot follow these expectations will sit in the corner by themselves with a packet of work (no, that is not an empty threat, and yes I have done that)

At the end of class, we go over these expectations, and I ask the students if they have followed them. Kids are honest, so sometimes they will say no. If we follow all of them, they get two class points. If they almost got them, they get one. 

Doing these things will set you up for success on your first day of elementary music centers! Don’t be scared– this is supposed to be fun! Spend the first day really working on the routines, with you floating and ensuring the peace. Then you can make things more complicated the next time around. 

Have you started centers in your classroom? What would you add to this list? Send me a message on instagram and let me know– it’s @beccamusicroom. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Don’t forget to grab your free Music Centers Idea list to help you get started! 

Click here to download free!

Happy teaching!


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