Strategies for Teaching Music to Elementary Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Teaching music to elementary school students can be exciting, but also filled with challenges! This lesson offers you some strategies that will help you succeed as an elementary school music teacher.

So You Want to Teach Music

Have you always loved music? Whether you're interested in listening to it, performing it, or learning about its history and theory, becoming an elementary school music teacher is a great decision. As a music teacher, you'll help your students learn to appreciate, meaning understand and admire, how music works. You'll also help them find themselves as emerging musicians, and you'll teach them to critique and love music from a variety of cultures and historical periods.

Yet teaching music in elementary school isn't always easy. Often, you only meet with your students once a week, so it can be pretty hard to develop a sense of continuity. Students might be in very different places in terms of their prior musical knowledge and willingness to engage. This lesson will give you some different strategies that will help you make the most of your job as an elementary school music teacher.

Goals, Goals, Goals

One of the first things you need to think about as a music teacher is how you'll plan your curriculum overall. It's a pretty good idea to make a vague map of the different units you will cover over the course of the year. As you plan, think about the following general domains of musical knowledge:

  • Music theory and literacy
  • History and culture as they relate to music
  • Vocal performance
  • Instrumental performance
  • Appreciation and critique of music

For each grade or class that you are teaching, decide on a set of goals under each of these domains. Think about what you want your students to know by the middle and end of the year, and design your units and individual lessons accordingly. This curricular strategy, known as backward design, is the best way to make sure you get your musicians where you hope for them to be.

Hands On, Ears On

In elementary school, the best way to keep your students engaged is to make sure they have plenty to do all the time. Try not to forget that some of your students are entirely new to the world of school, and even your oldest elementary school students are still developing self-regulation and control.

This means that as you plan each unit and lesson, you should build in as many opportunities as possible for students to be active and work with all parts of their bodies and minds. For instance:

  • Let students play with and experiment on a variety of instruments.
  • Instead of talking about music, let students listen to it.
  • Allow students to watch videos of musicians from different cultures.
  • Show pictures of historical musicians as students listen to their work.
  • Give students lots of opportunities to sing and dance; hopefully, they'll also love and benefit from opportunities to perform.
  • If students get wild, build in opportunities to stretch to different kinds of music.


One of the challenges that many elementary school specialists face is that of continuity. If you only see your students once a week, it can be hard to get to know them and develop a rhythm to your curriculum. Try these strategies to help you:

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