Help! I am Going To Teach Elementary Music!!! What Do I Do?!

What to teach in Elementary Music

a post dedicated to the music teachers who didn't expect to end up in an elementary teaching position

To make a long story short, I was trained to teach concert band/marching band and I ended up in an elementary music position. I was not prepared and I was intimidated. 

Now, 4 years into teaching elementary music, I would not go back to the upper grades. At the bottom of this post I will have some pros and cons for teaching elementary (I won't add them here because that's not why you clicked on this post). 

First things first...

Go to the classroom where you will be teaching and investigate. 
Ask these questions as you survey the room (or, even better, ask these during your interview)
  • What method/content books are available
  • What are the class sizes?
  • What instruments are in the classroom and how many of each are there? 
  • Are there complete class sets of any instruments?
  • What is the budget, has it been exhausted? 
  • What technology do you have access to?
  • Which websites are blocked from the school's network?
  • What are the performance expectations? (Concerts/Assemblies)
  • How much time will the students spend in your lesson and how often will you see them? (I see my students once every 7 days for 45 minutes). 

What to teach?

Please take this with a grain of salt. 
This is what has worked for me and it may or may not work for you
It will be best if you break up your music period into several different activities that are 7-10 minutes long in order to maintain student attention and engagements. 

Here's how I break down my daily lesson:

Line up - Students line up outside of my classroom. I don't let them come in if they're noisy. The homeroom teacher and I will usually cooperate in getting them to be quiet before entering.

Agenda - I review the day's agenda with the students. The agenda is posted on the whiteboard in front of them.

Musician Of The Week - in the first music lesson we talk A LOT about instrument families. That way when we watch the musician/band of the week, we talk about the instruments we saw in the video and which instrument family they fit into. This way, students start using music vocabulary from the beginning of the music lesson. Click here to see my instrument categories lesson plan.

Because this is the first activity of the day, I like to use a video that will captivate the students' attention. If I ever have observers in the classroom, they tend to come in the beginning of the lesson, so I also want them to be engaged with my video choice.

Here's one of the videos I share with my students during the Musician Of The Week portion of the lesson:

Rhythm Drills - reading rhythms is very important to me. I believe that reading rhythms reinforces the students' reading abilities in general. I also believe that reading rhythms in the early years will help them in musical ensembles they join later on in their educational journey. 

We practice our rhythms every day in music class. I have an entire post on reading rhythms that you can see here
When I first start teaching the rhythms, I teach them using rhythm cards, where the students only have to focus on 4 beats of rhythm. 

Once I see that the students are confident enough with each rhythm card, I move them on to reading an entire line of rhythm (16 beats). This is difficult for some students at first, but they quickly adapt. Level 1 only has quarter notes and quarter rests, which are very fun and easy for the students to do. Level 2 adds eighth notes to the mix and level 3 adds half notes.

Note: I did notice that the students who struggle with English reading also struggled with music reading. I didn't want these students to feel left out of the learning, so I created videos that accompany my rhythm drills book. 

I posted these videos for free on YouTube so that other people can use them as well! You can see those videos here or below. 

Boomwhackers - Your students will love this portion of the lesson! If you don't have boomwhackers, don't worry, they're SUPER affordable. Look at the options below:

This is a great first-day-of-school lesson because it requires very little setup. I go through some basic ground rules for using the boomwhackers with my students:
  1. Use the boomwhacker on the floor, your hand, or your leg. Please do not hit your neighbors, your face, or put the boomwhackers in your mouth.
  2. If you misuse the boomwhacker, you will lose it.
  3. If you use the boomwhacker correctly, you might get another one!
Here are the videos I use with my students
We play each one twice and this order. 

Xylophones - I found this AWESOME songbook PDF that is intended for boomwhackers, but I use with xylophones because of the note names written on it. You can see this songbook here

I usually have the students in pairs and I do not give them mallets at first. I have the students sit together and clap/sing the note names in the song. If I see them working together, they "earn" a mallet. If they are not working well together, I give them attention and direction. 

Most students will work well together because they really want to earn a mallet! Some students struggle with sharing the mallet, so it may help to have a timer in the first lessons to develop the students' sharing skill. This is elementary, after all!

Ukuleles - This is my favorite part of the lesson! I LOVE teaching ukulele because it's easy for the students to sound good. Once the students have learned a few chords, I have them pair up with xylophone and ukulele. The kid on the xylophone plays the melody and the kid on the ukulele plays the chords. I teach chords C and Am first using these videos

C Major Ukulele Tutorial

Then I have the students practice strumming their chord while reading rhythms

C Major Chord Playalong Practice

A Minor Ukulele Tutorial

A Minor Playalong Practice

Cleanup - I like to call the students by row or group. I let the students know that it's time to clean up and if they clean up quietly, we can re-watch the video we saw at the beginning of the lesson. I make sure that the volume on the video is really soft so that the students have to listen in order to hear it. I bribe my students... I tell them I will raise the volume if I see that they're listening. 

While they watch, I go to the part of the room where students will return instruments (like the ukulele shelf, for example), and I have them put the instrument away. I like being next to them to help them put the instrument away correctly. For the most part, elementary students want to put their own instruments away because it gives them the feeling of independence, so don't do it for them!

Lineup - Almost in a whisper, I ask the students to line up slowly and quietly. I open the door and hand them off to their homeroom teacher. 

Pros & Cons

of teaching elementary music


Elementary children (in general)
  • love to sing
  • love to dance
  • love to play
  • are not afraid to try new things
  • are not afraid to perform in front of audiences
  • want to please their teacher
  • will forgive their peers easily
  • will put things away exactly the way you train them to
  • will remember lots of details
  • will hug you
  • have the funniest comments and stories

Now that I teach elementary, I
  • have more time for my hobbies
  • have had more time for my home
  • go home much earlier
  • have smaller class sizes (compared to 70 band kids)
  • can try all of the wonderful techniques I saved on Pinterest
  • have more options for resources on TpT
  • have become much better at time management
  • have had to get more creative


  • not as many concerts/parades/competitions to host
  • I am not challenged musically (I joined an ensemble group to help this)
  • I don't see the students as often
  • I have many more students, but our relationship isn't as strong as it was in band
  • special needs students in elementary need a lot more attention that the middle/high school special needs students, in my experience

Still overwhelmed?

  • Join the "Music Teachers" group on facebook
  • Join the "Elementary Teachers" group on facebook
  • Send me an e-mail! 


  1. Hi Bernadette! I was wondering, do you do Boomwhackers, Xylophones, and ukuleles all in one lesson? I wonder, how much time is each class of yours? If that's the case, I like that the kids get a lot of variety, but I don't know how in depth we could get with such little time.

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Bernadette Etcheverry. Powered by Blogger.