How to Teach Melody in Elementary Music

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I have a theory that most music teachers feel more comfortable teaching either melody or rhythm. They seem similar, but they are completely different. I, for example, find rhythm so much easier to teach. Other elementary music teachers find it the opposite. Because I had a harder time with melody, I really had to work hard to find a good system to teach melody in elementary music class. 

And in this blog post, I’m sharing all that research and systems with you!

We’re going step by step through how to teach melody in elementary music, starting with the basics. 

Specifically, we are focusing on melody in relation to solfege and solfege patterns. If you don’t want to use solfege, than there are other things that you can do, but that is how I teach melody in my elementary music classroom. 

Before we get started, if you are a first year or new music teacher– or you just want extra support– then come join the FREE mini course for new music teachers! We’re talking all about how to get started in elementary music and survive your first year– including what to teach, when to teach it, how to teach it, and more. 

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How to teach melody in elementary music class for first year elementary music teachers Becca's Music Room


High and Low

To teach melody in elementary music class, you’ll need to start big and work your way in. Specifically, start with high and low– simply identifying high and low. 

I typically do a pre-test where I play notes on the piano, and the kids put their hands up if they think it sounds high or low if they think it sounds low. This gives me a good baseline for what we need to do. 

After that, we will incorporate high and low into many different lessons. We can talk about instruments being high and low, use high and low voices in our chants, and play high and low on the instruments. 

Here’s a few of my favorite lessons for high and low: 

  • Fairies and Giants: Listen to the piece Fairies and Giants by Edward Elgar. Have the kids pretend to be fairies on the high parts, moving around the room flapping their wings. On the low parts, we pretend to be monsters– I want them to scrunch down and walk to the steady beat. I purposefully use monsters instead of giants, because I want them to think of the fairy sections as high (we will walk on our tip toes), and I think it’s less confusing. 
  • Different sounds: Play a sound on an instrument or computer, and have kids hold up a sign for high or one for low depending on how it sounds. 
  • Drumming: Have students use drums to practice high and low sounds! Play a pattern on the rim of a drum for it to sound high, or in the middle to sound low. Have the kids echo you in the correct place. 


Up or Down

After you’ve established high and low (which shouldn’t take too many class periods), then move on to the melody moving up or moving down. This is a bit trickier, because melody can be low, but move up or vice versa. 

My favorite way to show this (I got this from David Rowe at Make Moments Matter!) is to take a xylophone or a glockenspiel and turn it on its side so that the high part is at the top. I call this the mountain– when you go up the mountain, you get higher. When you go down the mountain, you get lower. This is a great visual representation of the concept of high and low. 

We then play xylophones or glockenspiels with a number of chants that talk about moving up or down. Some include Hickory Dickory Dock, Jack and Jill, and The King of France. (Click here to read about those AND download a freebie!)

Note: Before we put these on instruments, we put them into our bodies. We will say the rhyme and move our hands up when it says go up and down when it says to go down. This always helps your students to do it correctly on the instruments. Plus, it gets the wiggles out. Win-win. 

Other upwards and downward lessons include: 

  • Vocalizations: Have squiggles on the board, and have kids trace the line and move their voice accordingly. When the line goes up, they go up. When it goes down, they go down. You can also have them draw their own on paper or white boards OR you can use pipe cleaners to make the lines. (You can check out vocalizations on TPT here)
  • Rollercoaster: Similar concept. Have the kids echo vocalizations while moving their bodies as if they are on a rollercoaster. When it goes up, they go up. When it goes down, they go down. 
  • Scarves: Listen to a song and have the kids move their scarves along with the contour. Some of my favorites for this are O Mio Babbino Caro (Pucchini) or Im Herbst (Robert Franz). The second one means In Autumn, so it’s perfect if this lesson falls in October. 
  • Mortimer: The book Mortimer is really great for up and down. Have the kids play the glockenspiels or xylophones up when someone goes up the stairs or down when they go down the stairs. (Grab the book here)


Sol and Mi on High and Low

Next, we’re bringing it in. Into a minor third. 

After we understand up and down, we bring it into sol and mi– but we call sol and mi high and low. 

To practice, we will echo sing patterns, and the kids will tap their shoulders for sol and their legs for mi. This helps them to get it into their bodies, and it’s easier than the hand signs for the little kids. 

We will use this process to help with learning out new songs. We practice melody cards with high and low. We echo sing. We make up patterns. We do all of the things to get that minor third into their brains. 


How to teach melody in elementary music class for first year elementary music teachers Becca's Music Room


On the staff

Next up, we’re looking at sol and mi on a staff– a reduced staff. We typically start with a two line staff. It’s quite a process to learn about the staff, so here is the general order we follow: 

  • Pointing: Students get a two line staff, and they point to the notes as we sing. Bonus points if they are pointing to the contour of the song we’re learning!
  • Identifying: Students then start to identify the notes on the staff– is that sol or mi? We use games like these ocean themed solfege games or these tropical themed solfege games for them to identify the different notes. 
  • Helping: Next up, the kids help me to put the notes on the staff. I will put a staff on the board, and they will “help me” to figure out where to put the notes on the staff. 
  • Manipulatives: Next up, the kids get bingo chips or mini erasers with the reduced staff and THEY put the notes on the staff. We usually start by decoding a song that we’ve been working on, and then I’ll do different patterns and they will put the notes on the staff. Pay close attention to where– they will want to stack all the answers on the left side. We have to talk about how the notes need to be next to each other, not on top of each other. 
  • Writing: Finally, we are ready to write the notes on the staff! This is the final step because it’s the hardest– we’re taking away a lot of the different helpful hints that they have had. 

It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. This is a process, not a quick fix. 

After this, you can move onto a three line staff annnnnd finally the actual staff. Use the same process. 


New notes!

After the kids have FINALLY gotten sol and mi, then you can move onto different notes– specifically la. La is a bit harder because it’s only a step away and not a skip away (so you may want to talk about that before you introduce la).

And then keep going. 

Here is the proposed sequence on notes based on this Kodaly sample sequence. You do not HAVE TO do them in this order, but I would definitely start with sol mi, then la, then do. 

  • Sol mi
  • La
  • Do 
  • Re (Pentatonic)
  • Low la
  • Low sol
  • High do
  • Fa

Remember, always do what is best for your students, so if you want to switch a couple of these (doing low sol then low la), that’s allowed. But this should give you something to go off of when lesson planning. 

For reference, sol-mi and maybe la is all that we typically get to in first grade. Do and re are usually all we get to in second grade. They don’t all have to be done immediately!


How to teach melody in elementary music class for first year elementary music teachers Becca's Music Room


Now I want to know– how do you teach melody in elementary music class? Find me on Instagram (@beccasmusicroom) and let me know your thoughts and/or questions!

I can’t wait to meet you!

And don’t forget to join the FREE email course all about teaching elementary music. 

Happy teaching!

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