Integrating Music in Elementary Classrooms

Much of what young children do as play - singing, drawing, dancing - are natural forms of art. These activities engage all the senses and help wire the brain for successful learning.
— David A. Sousa in How the Brain Learns

Integrating music into the elementary school curriculum occurs at varying degrees. At the very basic level students perform or respond to a piece of music. This is the kind of music integration that occurs in the classroom when we sing welcome songs as our students enter the classroom or play a simple melody when it's time to clean up. At a higher level of integration a piece of music can be used to teach a concept from the core curriculum. These kinds of integrations occur when we sing the ABCs, a counting song, or a simple melody to help children remember their math facts. The highest levels of integration ask students to learn music content alongside core content, learning music vocabulary, concepts, and skills in tandem with other academic concepts.

Here are some ways to integrate music in your classroom:

  • Listen to a piece of classical music. While listening, have students imagine a character that the music might describe. What does that character look like? What does he/she want? Write a story based on the character you imagined based on the music.
  • Add sound effects to a Shared Reading lesson. Use sticky notes to add cues in the reading to tell students when the sound effects should occur. For example, if the story includes a rain storm, have a student turn over a rain stick during the story when cued.
  • Create a soundscape with body percussion to accompany a science concept the class is learning about. Such as this soundscape for a rain forest:
  • Create rhythmic ostinatos to accompany a poem, shared reading, or guided reading. A rhythmic ostinato is a repeated rhythmic pattern created with voices or instruments. You can use a chart such as this one to help guide students as they perform the ostinato. In the first video, a rhythmic ostinato is being created by the cups. In the second video the students are chanting a rhythmic ostinato.
  • Teach nursery rhymes to develop phonemic awareness and then have students chant the nursery rhyme clapping once to the rhythm and once to the beat.
  •  Practice syllabication (and phonemic awareness) while learning rhythm through lessons such as this one by Jeri Crosby or these videos by Preschool Prodigies:

Want an easy way to integrate music into your preschool, kindergarten, or 1st grade curriculum? Try this Orchestrated Reader's Theater script! It includes Foley effects and Leitmotifs (sound effects and small melodies) that your students can include in their performance. You can buy it here or at Teachers Pay Teachers.