A Beginner's Guide To Elementary General Music |

A Beginner's Guide To Elementary General Music

For the last four weeks, I have had a student teacher in my classroom. She is the third student teacher I've had, and the experience always reminds me of those little things that have just become second nature to me after years of teaching. My current student teacher isn't new to music education--her mom is also a elementary music teacher--but some of these discoveries have still been surprising, as they were for me in my student teaching! Some thoughts and observations about elementary general music:

  • Break it down: Kids in elementary school need things broken down, and broken down again, and yes, again! They are capable of more than some give them credit for, but the material still needs to be broken down into small steps--built from the ground up. 
  • If you hesitate, they will talk: Even if you pause for five seconds to figure out what is next in the lesson, they will take the opportunity to talk! It's not that they are misbehaving, it's just human nature. Have you ever been to a staff meeting where there is a momentary pause? Adults will talk just as much (and sometimes, even more!)
  • Periods of relaxation after concentration are very important!: If the students are asked to concentrate for a few minutes in a very focused setting, they need a break! (Don't we all?) Give them a break by singing and playing a game. They need that breather!
  • Rehearse your lesson: I just told my student teacher today that I have at times rehearsed my lesson--after school, sitting in front of the computer, in the car. Maybe the person in the car next to mine thought I was crazy, but I knew that lesson inside and out by the time I taught it--what I was going to say, how I would transition, how many times the students would play the game. Rehearsing allows us to think through every aspect of the lesson.
  • Pacing is key: If you don't stick to your lesson, your pacing will fall behind and you won't get through everything. And if you talk too much....your pacing will fall behind and you won't get through everything! Talk little, sing lots, and keep the lesson moving! The students will be more engaged and will be far less disruptive.
  • Planning takes time: Those of us who have taught for even a year know how laughable it is when someone says, "Oh, so you're a teacher. Must be nice to only teach until 4 every day AND get the summers off!" Planning lessons (and the million other things we have to do each day) takes much longer than 8-4 every day. It takes late nights, weekends, and summer days. It takes dedication and time. Especially those first couple years, when writing a lesson takes at least an hour (and you have ten to write in a week!)
  • Teaching is like acting: Sometimes, we are having a horrible day, and we just want to sit in front of the T.V., crack open a gallon of Ben and Jerry's, and cry. But when you're teaching, you just can't. You have to smile and put on that happy face and act like you want to be there. Sometimes, you actually act yourself into reality, and you decide you really do want to be there! (And other times, well, you just act, and hope the kids don't notice your forced smile!)
  • Kids are funny: My student teacher has a "Funny moment of the week" in her journal entries. A few funnies: When she observed a friend of mine teaching music, she watched several kids pick their noses...and yes, eat what they found (Ewww!). A first grader just told us the other day, "I know where babies come from....your B-U-T-T!" (Uh...quick change of topic was in order there!) This year, I was showing my 2nd graders the "What a Wonderful World" book and explained that the song was sung by Louis Armstrong. "He's the guy who walked on the moon!" a student yelled. "No..." I said, "That's Neil Armstrong." The excited reply: "Is that his brother?!?!" One of my faves from years ago...when a fifth grader asked me if I was pregnant, I told her, "No, I'm not pregnant-- I'm not married." Her response: "That's not the way it's done in my family!" Ah, out of the mouths of babes!
  • Teaching is WORK, but when it becomes second nature, it feels more like fun!: As stated above, teaching is really time-consuming, and it can be hard. But when my kids are singing beautifully, and smiling, and laughing, I think, "Really? I get PAID for this?" 
Any other observations to add? I'd love to hear them (or just hear your funny moment of the week!)


  1. Establish how students enter and exit your room. I have a set of warm-ups that, once taught, can be done while I am grabbing things, finishing set up (no time to do so between classes). It's been a lifesaver!

  2. Oops, one more. My philosophy is that, since music is a performing art, students should be taught how to perform. I start this the first day of school, positions for relaxing, rehearsing and performance. Then -- I play it as an "out" game (like Simon Says). Kids of all ages love it -- and you've trained them to words that set them up for success. Play it often -- it only takes a few minutes (I use it as a reward at the end of class a lot).

  3. Thank you Aileen. I am going into student teaching soon and these are excellent tips.