Why you need to be using centers in elementary music

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If I had to look at one thing that has revolutionized my teaching, it would be elementary music centers. Using music centers or work stations has changed my whole teaching strategy for the better. 

And what’s more– the kids love it too.

Want some proof that music centers are great? Typically at the end of class, I will do some sort of conclusion where the students tell me what they learned. Sometimes this is on an index card, in the form of an exit ticket, a turn and talk, etc. 

One day, my third graders did centers. It was either their first or second day doing this. We were working on putting la on the staff, and there were three different activities that the students completed. This particular day, I asked for three volunteers to share what they learned today.

One boy raises his hand and says, “I learned that music can be fun!”

Now, of course I would love for him to think that every day is fun, but for whatever reason he decided this was the first time it really stuck out to him.

In centers, kids were reading, writing, and composing with la on the staff. For 40 minutes. Talk about a win-win. 

By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to use centers in your general music class.

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 why you need to use music centers with a photo of an elementary music centers game for solfege from Becca's Music room

First off… What are centers?

Centers are simply workstations in your elementary music classroom. Students spend a few minutes at each center, then rotate at the end of time.

The activities in centers can be anything from playing instruments to filling out worksheets to playing games to reading rhythm cards. 

Students spend a few minutes at one workstation, then they rotate to the next center. 

This allows music students to spend time working on multiple music concepts or one musical concept different ways. They get to experience the concept in different formats to practice it different ways. 

Also read: Centers in the elementary music room

1. Music Centers Increase engagement

The number one reason that elementary music centers are so great is that they increase engagement– especially with the older kids. Centers are a staple with my fourth and fifth grade music students. 

The engagement is higher for a few reasons:

  • Multiple activities in one class period
  • Student led
  • Frequent change of pace

First off, students get to try different things throughout one class period. I like to keep it simple, so I typically have three activities. That means there are three different ways for students to experience the concepts we are working on in one day. The day the student learned that he could have fun in music class, we did Chrome Music Lab song maker task cards (click here to learn more), solfege matching games (get them here), and a teacher led station where students did melodic dictation. 

Having different modalities not only helps students who learn differently, but it also makes it more fun. More fun = more engagement. 

Secondly, most centers are student led. Although I typically have a teacher group, there can only be one teacher group. Everyone else is on their own. Students love to be put in charge. They love having responsibility. And they love taking charge and doing things without their teacher (no offense!).

Lastly, having the pace of class change every few minutes helps because students only have a few minutes to work. This typically helps them to work faster, and makes it harder to get bored. Plus, if they are bored, they only have a few minutes until the next activity. 

Keeping the pace of class up is one of the best ways to increase engagement. 

a graphic that says this changed my music class with a photo of an elementary music teacher holding rhythm manipulatives for a composition activity from a blog post on Becca's Music Room

2. Ownership of learning

Like I mentioned, centers takes the focus off of the teacher and puts it onto the students.

As music teachers, we definitely tend to run most of our class in a teacher focused way. The teacher teaches the songs, asks the questions, reads the books, runs the games, etc. 

But the more that we can take the focus off of us and make the kids work harder, the more engaged they will be– especially the older kids. 

Centers does this because the kids have to– there’s only one of you and thirty of them. They have to take charge and make things happen because you can’t help them all. 

This means that students are taking a much more active role in their musical education– always a win in my book!

3. Centers Provide Easy Differentiation

Centers provides an easy way to provide differentiation to your students. Differentiation means changing the activities to better fit students’ needs. 

I use differentiation two main ways:

First, in the centers. I will sometimes have different options for how students can do an activity. For example, I may have them write rhythms on white boards. They can either come up with their own rhythm or the can work with a partner to do dictation. Sometimes I have two different worksheets that cover the same thing, and they have the option to do the easy or hard one. Sometimes I have students put notes on the staff and they can either pull out one letter at a time or a whole word to put on the staff.

The possibilities are endless. 

When working with so many students, I prefer activities they can differentiate on their own so that they can choose what they are comfortable with. A lot of composition activities can be differentiated on the student level without you having to change much or anything.

Secondly, I do differentiation with the teacher center. This is the more typical way to differentiate, and it’s also easier.

I typically have one center where students work with me. At this center. I can change the difficulty of the activities we are doing. Here’s an example of a recent activity:

  • Having students help me put a solfege pattern on the staff, then they copy it on their whiteboard. 
  • Giving students a pattern to write on their whiteboard, then checking with the group.
  • Giving students cards with solfege patterns on them to put on their whiteboards on their own. When they finish, they make up their own. 
  • Giving students cards with solfege patterns on them to put on their whiteboards on their own, then playing them on the glockenspiels. 

This is truly just one activity, but with a few simple switches, you can make it easier or harder to accommodate different students. 

Also read: Your first day of music centers

why you should use centers in elementary music from becca's music room

4. You know the kids better

Since having the teacher center, I have fallen in love with it. 

When you have 700 kids in the school, and 20-30 at a time, it is hard to keep track of what everyone knows and who needs help with what. 

Doing a teacher center allows me to work with a smaller group of students, which helps me to pay attention to each of them. This means I know more about who they are and what they need.

Plus, it means that I know them better, which strengthens our relationship. 

5. Change the Pace with Centers

We already discussed how centers allow you to change the pace of the lesson, but it also changes the pace of your overall structure. 

Like I mentioned, most of us spend a lot of time leading the group. We are singing, playing games, doing activities, etc. Doing centers is a completely different way to teach– and it compliments your other activities. 

I see my students for a week at a time, so having one day of the week when we do centers is such a nice change of pace to break up the week. 

Plus, it usually means that I get to SIT DOWN which never happens, and makes me so much less tired. 

how centers will change your music class for the better from becca's music room

6. Classroom management

Finally, doing centers helps with classroom management. 

Wehn you implement them correctly (we’ll talk classroom management soon– make sure you’re on the email list so you’ll know when that blog comes out!), classroom management can be easier with centers. 

This is because:

  1. The kids are actively doing something
  2. There’s only a few minutes, so there isn’t time to act up yet
  3. They are allowed to talk

So much of our day is spent by reminding kids to be quiet, stop fidgeting, pay attention, etc. With centers, you don’t have to worry about that. They can talk. They can fidget. Thee kids can be kids. And it’s ok. 

You do have other concerns, but we’ll talk about those in the classroom management blog post coming soon. 

Have you used elementary music centers in your classroom? Did they change your life? Let me know by sending me a message over on instagram @beccamusicroom or tag me in your pictures. I can’t wait to see what you have to say. 

Happy teaching!


how to change you music teaching life
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