Tag Archive: elementary general music


Many elementary general music teachers are faced with the daunting task of putting on a performance, singing at an assembly etc. without much notice. As we all know getting our students ready for a performance at any level is a challenge, but at the elementary level it is an extra challenge. Michelle Przybylowski elementary music teacher at School District of Cheltenham Township presented a wonderful workshop at PMEA entitled: Performance Practice in the Music Curriculum. The goal of this workshop was to give elementary music teachers tips and techniques to help produce a performance by the end of a class period. One thing Michelle emphasized throughout the workshop is that you can take almost any piece and turn it into a performance. The key is to let the students be a part of the process!! Michelle gave many general tips and shared a few specific pieces that work very well for performances.

Tips for a Successful Performance

Michelle gave a lot of tips on what she does to create performances in her classroom. Most of these tips are great for any elementary general music teacher, whether you are interested in creating a performance or not.

  1. Instrument Resources– As we all know classroom instruments can really enhance the general music classroom. The company Music Is Elementary is a great resource for elementary general music teachers and they work with you and your school if you don’t have much of a budget!
  2. Our Role in the Classroom– We need to see ourselves more as a facilitator than a teacher at times. This is especially important when getting ready for an elementary performance. We need to let the students explore and create and we facilitate the whole process.
  3. Speech Pieces– While not songs, speech pieces can create easy and fantastic performance pieces and are great teaching tools. With speech pieces you can add movement, un-pitched percussion instruments, movement etc.
  4. Recorders– Recorders whether alone or added to a speech piece can make for a great performance. One tip is starting with A and C is sometimes a good choice because students only have to move 1 finger.
  5. Assessment- It sometimes can be hard to assess student performance in general music. Get your students up and moving to music in some way or another. This is a great way to assess whether they are internalizing the beat and understanding the concept of steady beat.
  6. Jobs– Give your students jobs or small roles in everything you do. This will help the students rise to the occasion and help to create a performance with short notice.
  7. Involve Your Students– To help teach a song quicker and get a performance ready quickly make sure to give your students something to sing or a part of the song to do even the first time. Michelle called this a “catch line”. Give them something the students can sing on the first time through. This gets them involved and helps to make them performance ready.
  8. Movements– Allow your students the opportunity to create movements to the song. Again this gets the students involved, but it also introduces them to the concept of improvisation.
  9. Exploration– Give the students time to explore and use their creativity before just telling them what to do. Letting students explore will make them more interested which will lead to them putting forth more effort in learning the song.
  10. Organization-A great tip to help save time and even may help when dealing with classroom management is to number and label the bars on your Orff instruments. This way they won’t get mixed up or lost when you or the students remove them.
  11. Sing First– When teaching students a song always start with the singing before you add movement or instruments. I definitely learned this the hard way during student teaching. If you start with the movements or percussion the students won’t want to learn the song. This saves you as the teacher a lot of time and headaches!!
  12. Words/Lyrics– If you find a perfect song don’t let the words stop you from performing or using that song. You can always make up your own words or tweak the words a little to fit your students or the performance. Don’t let the words limit your creativity!
  13. Percussion Instruments– When adding percussion instruments to a song have the instruments laid out in the room and allow the students to go to the instruments and pick their own instruments. This allows students to show their creativity. Don’t stifle creativity by dictating everything that has to be done.
  14. Ownership– Let your students be the owners of the performance. It should be THEIR performance. This will only happen if you allow them to take ownership in the classroom first.
  15. Performance Practice– When you add a new step to a song learn that step and then perform as much as the students know. This helps them learn the song quicker and gets the students used to performing from the start.
  16. Chaos– Confusion and chaos is OKAY in the elementary general music classroom as long as it is controlled and the students know their limits and your expectations. These must be clearly established from the start.
  17. Planning a Lesson or Performance– Planning a lesson or performance can be compared to baking a wedding cake. You must start with the basics and the foundation and then you can begin to add-on all the decorations!

Songs That are Performance Ready

As sated above, almost any song can be made to work for a performance, but as with everything there are a few songs that seem to work really well. As part of the workshop Michelle shared a few songs that she has found over the years make great performances! Below are some of the songs Michelle shared and some of the concepts that you can teach through these songs. I also had the opportunity to talk with Michelle after the workshop and she gave me permission to put the songs and directions from her handout on my blog as a resource. Check out the PDF links for each song below. Feel free to try these songs in your classrooms and create a performance with your students!!

  1. Look The Sky is Full of Pretty Colors: A speech piece that focuses on rhythm. Also a great piece to discuss form with your students and show them how pieces can have many forms.
  2. Alabama Gal: A simple pentatonic folk song that can be used as a singing game. Use this piece to explore singing and dancing, plus add instruments for the accompaniment.
  3. Plant a Seed in My Garden: A simple diatonic melody that explores various stages of planting a seed. You can use un-pitched percussion instruments, movement, and singing to create a wonderful performance.
  4. Sleepy Bear and Chimes of Dunkirk: Sleepy Bear is a great piece to tie literature and music together. Chimes of Dunkirk is a folk dance that can help you explore movement in various ways with your students.
  5. Sleepy Bear Lesson Plan: A detailed lesson plan full of ideas of how to incorporate a children’s book into your music classroom.

If you have other pieces that work great for performances in the elementary general music classroom please share!! I hope many of the tips and resources from this session at PMEA will be helpful whether you are an undergraduate, beginning teacher, or experienced teacher. I tried the song Plant a Seed in My Garden while I was student teaching and the students loved it. We didn’t complete every step, but after we learned the song I let them explore with instruments to fit the words and I was amazed with what they came up with!! My next PMEA session blog post will be on using children’s world literature in the general music classroom.

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“The experienced teacher invited rather than compels the student and is pleased by the emergence of differences.”- Ernst Bacon

Unfortunately last week I was unable to post my reflection for the week so I am hoping to post both last weeks and just this past weeks experiences over the weekend. Last week I began to take over a few classes, but I was still mainly observing. While, of course I want to teach and get hands on experience there is a lot of valuable knowledge that you can learn just by carefully and closely watching to veteran teachers. It has also been a great experience because I am getting the opportunity to see two completely different approaches to elementary general music and two different styles of teaching. Teaching elementary general music is a completely different world than high school instrumental music is, but I am really enjoying it and feel that this placement is really challenging me and helping me to grow as a music educator in many ways. Since during last week i still didn’t take over many classes, I thought I would use this post to share a few of the main differences that I have found between teaching high school and elementary music.

Schedules-

At the elementary level the schedule is completely different than in high school. Below are some of the scheduling differences I have found between my two placements, bust I am sure these vary from every elementary to high school. One big change is with elementary I am at school a lot less. I arrive at school around 8 and leave at 3:30. In my high school placement I arrived around 7 or shortly after and usually stayed to close 5 for after school activities. It is great getting out earlier, but with that being said my schedule throughout the day is much busier at the elementary level. Most days we do not get a planning period throughout the day. Our only planning period is in the morning when the teachers get there and while the students are getting settled in. This makes for a long and tiring day. At my high school placement we had 1 planning period plus 1 or 2 study halls a day which was a great break. Travelling between buildings also makes the schedule at my elementary placement busier. Because of the lack of prep time most of the preparation has to be done outside of school because the morning is usually taken by helping students and laying out all of your materials for the entire day because most days we do not have ANY downtime between the classes.

Amount of Students-

At my high school placement I was able to get to know the students on a much more personal level which is something I really enjoy and feel is important. One thing I am struggling with at my elementary placement is not getting to know the students as well. I feel like in some of my classes I barely know the students and I am still struggling with learning names. This is a big change because a the high school level I saw a lot fewer students and most of them I saw a few times a day because they were in different ensembles. Now I only see the students once a week for 40 minutes and am at three different schools throughout the course of the week. I have 30 general music classes throughout the week which leads to me seeing close to 600 students in a week. This is definitely a challenge for me, but is part of what comes with teaching elementary general music.

Energy-

Another difference between high school and elementary general music is not only the amount of energy the students have, but the amount of energy that you must have to keep the students excited and engaged during the entire class period. Unfortunately at the high school level many times the students do not want to be there, but are forced to be there for some reason or another. Also the students at the high school level often have less energy because they have much more going on in their lives. On the other hand, elementary students have a ton of energy and for the most part seem to really enjoy music class. I really love this aspect because as the teacher you can feed off of their energy and really have a lot of fun. Going along with this I am more exhausted after teaching multiple general music classes than I was when I taught high school ensembles. I feel that elementary general music requires more focus and energy at all times. I am not saying that high school doesn’t require energy because it definitely does just in a different way.

Back to Basics-

The last major difference that I have noticed is at the elementary level you have to remember that you are going back to basics. This was a big adjustment for me because at the high school level we were working more on being musical and all the technical elements of music. With the elementary students you are working on all the extremely important fundamentals such as rhythm, melody, and steady beat. I have caught my self a few times going to much in-depth with a concept, not explaining something clear enough, or using too many musical terms that the students have not been introduced to yet. As elementary teachers we have to remember for some of the young students this is some of their first formal encounters with music. I love teaching the basics and beginning to instill a love of music into the students, but it is a completely different frame of mind from teaching high school. It is important to remember though, without these basics and teachers to teach our students these basics we would not be able to get into the higher level concepts with the high school students.

While switching from high school to elementary has been a huge change I am still really enjoying it. I love working with the younger students and love how much energy and excitement they bring into the classroom. Going into my student teaching experience I was hoping that I would get a better idea of what level I wanted to teach at. Unfortunately I have still don’t know. There are aspects I love about each level and now I am just enjoying teaching music no matter what level. Look for a post at the end of my experience reflecting what I enjoy and don’t enjoy as much about each both elementary and high school. This past week I just finished was full of challenges and a lot of lessons learned as I began to take over most of the classes. Look for another reflection post coming soon.

“Without music, life is a journey through a desert.” – Pat Conroy

This past week I switched placements and am now in elementary general music. I currently am in the Franklin Area School District in Franklin Pa. I travel between three of the elementary schools in the district and have two cooperating teachers; Mrs. Ann McCauley and Mrs. Jo Lynn Curll. Besides elementary general music we also have fifth and sixth grade and lessons. This week was definitely a week full of transitions and changes, but I am enjoying my experiences in the elementary classroom so far. This week I mainly observed, but I did get the chance to get in front of all the classes and tell them a bit about myself and I participated in all the class activities. Since I have not really gotten the opportunity to teach any classes yet I thought I would use this post to share  what I enjoy about this placement so far,  and the challenges I have faced and think that I am going to face in the upcoming seven weeks.

What I Enjoy About Elementary General Music

  1. Variety– With elementary general music there is so much variety and options in what you get to teach. Each week and with each grade level you are teaching different songs and concepts. General music leads itself to a plethora of options when it comes to what you want to teach and how you want to teach it. I love this because it helps you as the teacher to not become bored and it also keeps you on your feet because your are constantly teaching different lessons. Also with elementary general music there is such a variety of materials that you can use which gives you even more options and possibilities.
  2. Creativity– Elementary general music is all about creativity, which is something that I love. Not that you can’t be creative in high school, but there are only so many ways that you can run a rehearsal. General music allows and requires you to think out of the box and create lessons that will be fun and memorable for the students. You get to be creative in not only how you want to teach the material, but also there is some creativity involved with what you teach. If you are not creative when making lessons for elementary general music I believe that both you and your students will be bored and nothing will get accomplished.
  3. Teaching Lessons More than Once– Some people don’t like having to teach something more than once because they get sick of the songs, but personally I really enjoy that aspect of elementary general music. Getting to teach a lesson more than once is a great way to reflect and figure out what works and what doesn’t and how you can make the lesson better for the next class. With teaching a lesson multiple times you get the opportunity to go back and fix things that did not work or add things that you feel might make the lesson even stronger. For example, this week I haven’t done much teaching, but I have introduced myself to the classes and taking 10 minutes to tell the students a little about myself and answer any questions they might have. I caught myself changing things each time I did the introduction depending on how the students were reacting, what types of questions they were asking, and what I saw was working and what was not working.
  4. Student Energy-Teaching elementary general music takes a ton of energy, but this is one reason I love teaching this level of music. The students are so energetic and for the most part love coming to music class and singing. I love being able to play off their energy and just being able to have a lot of fun with them while still making sure that they are learning. In elementary classes the students are willing to do a lot more than high school students, because high schoolers feel that it is uncool to sing and be silly in music class. Because the students have so much energy I believe that gives the teacher even more energy and reflects in their teaching.
  5. Balancing Act– I believe that being and elementary general music teacher is a balancing which keeps things challenging, but also exciting at the same time. Elementary general music requires you to multi-task and be the wearer of many hats. You are required to sing, do silly motions, play piano, guitar while managing a class of 25 energetic five-year olds. This is why it is important to be a well-rounded musician and take advantage of all the learning opportunities you are given in your undergraduate career. General music often takes you out of your comfort zone which is another aspect that I like. I constantly like to be challenged in new ways and I feel that elementary general music does just that.

Challenges

  1. Less Down Time– One challenge from switch to elementary general music from high school is that there is much less down time. In high school we had a prep period, plus one or 2 study halls. In elementary general music you don’t have these and you have many more classes. For example a few days a week we have eight general music classes and the only break we get is twenty minutes for lunch. This makes for an exhausting day.
  2. Travelling Between Buildings-While I do enjoy this because I get to see how the building differ even within the same district it makes the schedule more challenging and busy. The days we have to travel cuts into the limited amount of prep time that we get. Also travelling is challenging because you have to make sure and take all the materials you need. An example of this is that last week my co-op forgot a book for her fifth grade lesson and the other elementary school. She was unable to teach the lesson without this book so she had to change her plans on the spot.  General music teachers have to be extremely organized and plan ahead due to travelling between multiple buildings.
  3. Multiple Cooperating Teachers– While I really enjoy having two cooperating teachers and getting to see two completely different teaching styles and approaches it is also going to be a challenge. First off they both want things done a little differently which makes things more challenging. The biggest challenge is that they don’t teach the same lessons so I am going to have almost double the amount of lessons plans than normal each week! While this is going to be a challenge and very time-consuming I am hoping that I will learn a lot and in the long run it will help me become a better music teacher.
  4. Planning-Elementary general music takes a lot more planning and organizing materials. Each week you have to prepare seven completely different lessons and most of the time each lesson includes anywhere between three to five songs or activities. With elementary general music not only do you have to write the lesson plan, but you also you often have to create supplementary materials, learn how to sing the songs, practice with CD’s, and be able to play the songs on the piano.
  5. Getting to Know the Students– Elementary general music teachers see tons of kids each week. I am going to be seeing close to 600 kids a week. A big challenge is going to be getting to know the students and learning their names. I really enjoyed getting to know the students in my high school placement, but I feel that I am not going to get to know these students as well just because of the sheer number of them.

While this experience is completely different from what I just came from, I am extremely excited to learn under two wonderful mentors. Also I am looking forward to being challenged in new ways and continue to grow as a music educator. I am really looking forward to the coming week as I will be beginning to take over part of the classes and will be teaching kindergarten, first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade lessons. I am sure that this week will be full of new challenges and learning experiences which I will share in next weeks reflection post.