Strategies for Teaching Music to Middle School Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

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

Middle school can be an incredibly rewarding time to teach, but it also comes with its challenges. This lesson offers some strategies to help you succeed in teaching music to your middle school learners.

Profile of a Middle School Student

Middle school is one of those ages that usually gets extreme reactions; people either love it or they hate it. Of course, no two middle school students are exactly alike, but there are some general characteristics that tend to be developmentally true of this age range. Middle school students often display these characteristics:

  • They are concerned about peer relations and what others think of them.
  • They are becoming newly capable of abstract and higher-order thinking.
  • They want to test or defy authority, especially the authority of adults.
  • They feel self-conscious about the ways their bodies are growing and changing.

Taking these ideas into account, what is a music teacher to do? How can you teach music in ways that are developmentally appropriate, or suited to the needs of the age group you are working with? This lesson offers you some great strategies for teaching music to middle school students.

Get to Know Your Students

Of course, the content of your instruction is important, and you have standards to think about and school procedures to follow. But for students in the middle school years, learning is often relational, or dependent on the connection they have with classmates and with you as a teacher. This means that before diving into music theory or history, you will want to know something about your students. What are their likes and dislikes? What previous musical experiences have they had? What kinds of music do they listen to or play in their free time? Taking some time to ask your students questions, meet with them individually, and have them write you letters can go a long way toward cementing your role in their life.

Incorporate Popular Culture

As a music teacher, you are actually uniquely positioned to access students at the middle school age. Music changes with the times, and your students will feel invested in learning about music if your lessons incorporate the different types of music they actually enjoy. This does not mean that you should only use R&B or pop music if that is what your students like, but it does mean that these styles can give you a starting point for thinking about musical concepts and ideas. If you are interested in getting your students singing, playing instruments, and dancing, they are more likely to be active participants when you let them choose the songs.

However, here is a word of caution: not all middle school students like the same music, and it is important to make your class accessible to everybody! Do your research and choose genres and pieces with diverse appeal, talking through the choices you make alongside your students every step of the way.

Get Silly

Every middle school teacher struggles with the new self-consciousness of this age range, and this can be especially difficult in a music class. Young adolescents may feel shy about participating and worried about how they look in front of their peers. One of the best ways to combat this is with humor. Try not to be afraid of taking risks and looking silly or even ridiculous in front of your students; they will respond in kind. Laugh a lot and encourage your students to laugh, too. If they see that you are making a situation comfortable and light-hearted, they will start to relax and join in the fun.

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