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If you’re a first year elementary music teacher, you are probably wondering one big question: What do I actually teach?! Of course, you know that you need to teach rhythm and melody but… What else? What rhythms? What melodies? What other things? In what order? In this blog post, we’re going to talk all about what you should teach in elementary music… and when to teach it.
I will never forget being a new music teacher. I was so excited to teach my students all of these things, have so much fun, play lots of games, and enjoy music making together. Then, I sat down to lesson plan.
And I had no idea what to do.
I had a general idea of what the kids needed to know. I mean– I had the standards. But with not specific curriculum or scope and sequence… I was lost.
After stumbling through my first year of teaching, I finally figured out how to make my OWN scope and sequence for music class so that I knew what to teach and when to teach it.
Now, if you’re new, I highly recommend that you sign up for my FREE mini course that will go over all the things that you need to know in order to get started teaching elementary music. We’re talking about how to teach rhythm, how to teach melody, what rules to have, how to do them, and more. This is what I WISH that I had when I first started– plus, it’s free and not too time consuming.
How Do I Know What to Teach in Elementary Music?
The first place to look to determine what to teach in elementary music is your standards. If you are in the US, your state will have a set of standards that you need to follow. These are the concepts that all elementary school music teachers in your state are supposed to follow.
If you are not at a public school, I would still look at these because 1. They give you guidelines to go off of and 2. If your students transfer, then they should be in the same-ish place when they get to a new school.
There will be a lot of different things that they cover, but the main two are rhythm and melody. These are the building blocks of music– the rest is important too, but not as important. Here are the main areas that you will need to teach:
- Describing music (forte/piano, legato/staccato, light/dark, etc)
A lot of that will come very naturally– learning about instruments and describing music honestly just come out of the other concepts naturally.
Now, obviously, teaching rhythm is a long process and not something that you can do in just one day. So what rhythms do you teach and when?
That is where your sequence comes in to play.
What is a Scope and Sequence?
A scope and sequence is basically just a list of the things that you will be teaching in the order you would like to teach them. This is your gold mine when it comes to planning your lessons, because it will show you exactly what to do next.
Every music teacher does their scope and sequence a little bit differently, so I encourage you to play around with what you like the most.
What is part of my Sequence?
Like I said, the main thing to start with is rhythm and melody. Since it’s hard to come up with everything on your own, I suggest looking at a sample sequence. You can see a sample Kodaly sequence here. Full disclosure, I believe this is a best case scenario, and at least with my schedule, I do not have kids kids often enough to teach all of these concepts in the grade levels they say to. You will probably fall in the same boat, and that’s ok. I want you to look at the order of the concepts more than the grade levels.
To help you out, here is an example of my desired sequence. Depending on the school year, the rotation schedule, what the kids learned last year, etc. we may or may not actually cover all of these things.
For example, in the 2020-2021, we were online and then hybrid and online. Between reduced class times (30 min instead of 45), navigating the online world, and students not coming to class every day, my students are behind. My first graders did not even get to sol mi OR rest. Instead of stressing out, I just know that in the 2021-2022 school year, we will start with those concepts in second grade.
The main purpose of your sequence is to know what to teach and roughly when. But the most important thing is to do what your kids need.
I also know from experience that in some grades, we fly through concepts, and in others, we don’t. Second grade has less concepts to cover, because we usually don’t have as much time to go through as many concepts. In third grade, we are rocking and rolling and getting through a lot. You may find the opposite depending on behavior, time of day, class time, class size, maturity level, and more.
So use these two samples as just that– samples.
Also know that I don’t have everything on this list– there are a lot of things that we intuitively do and learn that I don’t feel I need to specifically say that we do. For example: dances. We do check all of the boxes of movement and dance that are outlined in my standards, but I don’t feel like I have to put that in my sequence, because it usually just happens. You may want to spell those out in your sequence.
Things to remember about your sequence…
- It’s a guideline. It’s there to help you. Don’t stress about following it to a T– if your district is doing a special project and you need to switch the order of something, do it. If you gain a bunch of kids who are behind where your kids are, don’t stress. Start where they are.
- Quality is better than quantity. It’s better to teach less concepts more fully than to teach tons and tons of things but your kids do not fully understand them. Make sure that you go for quality and depth.
When do I teach all of these things?
Each year after going through my scope and sequence in elementary music, I like to make a rough plan. I figure out how many times I’ll see each class, and group the concepts into units. I like to do them on a monthly basis– this month we’re working on quarter rest and this month we’re working on do.
I also layer them, so there’s one new concept while we’re reviewing another concept. For example, it may look like this:
- September- quarter rest preparation (I haven’t told them what it is, but we’re prepping by using songs)
- October– quarter rest introduction
- November– quarter rest practice and do preparation
- December- do introduction
And so on and so forth. I typically switch back and forth between rhythmic and melodic concepts.
This is just a guideline– if I don’t end up following it to a T, that’s ok. But it gives me a starting point when planning. And if I get to December, and we need more work on quarter rest, we’ll keep going.
I suggest you make a time line like this one in order to keep you on track.
Alright friends, I hope this was helpful. It really is that simple… Just make a plan! Don’t forget to sign up for the FREE mini course to get you started in elementary music!