Why I Love Elementary Music (And You Should Too!)Dec 15, 2020
As I think back in my own music education, it is kind of surprising that I do not really remember elementary music. I remember we had it….and we sat in chairs….maybe we used textbooks? We definitely had recorders! Who can forget recorders? But, all the details are not really clear in my memory.
My road to making music education my career started in middle school. I LOVED my middle school choir director. She was electric! She made even working with middle school boys look fun! We sang such a variety of repertoire from state contest classics to Broadway, the Beatles and more current pop music, and pretty much everything in between. She provided us opportunities to sing in large groups, small chamber groups, musicals and even had a red clad show choir.
Come to think of it, she must have been superhuman! How did she get all of that done in a day? Not to mention on a rotating schedule where she had to share kids with the band! Mrs. Janet Patty Benedict really started my love of music and my dreams of teaching it someday.
When I decided to audition for programs to complete my undergraduate degree in Music Education, it is her I dreamed of being. I wanted the choir, the masses of kids singing together and, obviously, a costumed and dancing show choir. I went to my college classes every day with that dream in mind until I had to do a placement in elementary music. At the time, I thought it was pretty dumb. I knew what I wanted to do and it was not elementary music. But, from the moment I walked into arts magnet school in Columbus, OH where I was placed in an elementary music classroom, I was hooked! And now, I have taught elementary music education for 16 years.
5 Reasons Why I Elementary Music
1. Excitement for music
Did you know elementary music teachers get to spend the day singing songs, using instruments and playing games? And, we get paid for it! This is how I got hooked. In my first placement, the students were excited to be in the room. There was laughter, singing, dancing and all sorts of active music making.
More importantly, there was not any concern over chair, solos, or really any pressure in general to perform the best you could. There was just the expectation of performing and enjoying the act of making music. This was a HUGE shift for me.
Elementary music is more about finding the way each student can feel the most musical, as Anne Mileski would say, and not who is the “best” or “first”. I still see this excitement in my classroom every day.
2. Freedom to try new things
My Insta-friend, Bethany Johnson (@missgeneralmusic), mentioned to me that the reason she really loves teaching elementary music is because there is so much joy and freedom in the curriculum. I have to agree!
Yes - elementary music has standards and curriculum that we need to follow just like other subjects. We need to assess student learning daily and report out on their progress. But, there is a lot of room for teachers to use many different strategies for teaching that required content.
You are not restricted to a concert schedule or state approved pieces. You have a whole world of musical opportunities you can access. I love designing lessons to make sure key concepts are presented repeatedly throughout the curriculum, but with deepening layers of complexity, or in different applications. It gives me the freedom to try new things and really tailor the activities I choose not only to teach the standards but to accommodate students’ needs and interests along the way.
3. Seeing students grow as people and musicians
Elementary music teachers get to see their students grow from tiny humans who are most often in their first school setting to young adults ready to head off and conquer middle school. That is a lot of growing in 5-6 short years. I love seeing students grow in size, thinking and, of course, musicianship.
Think about it! I begin by teaching 5 year old kindergarten students about musical opposites (fast/slow, high/low, long/short). By the end of 5th grade, they can read music from written notation and even perform a piece with multiple parts! That is pretty amazing especially when you consider the amount of time that is devoted to their music education each week.
Maybe more importantly, I also have all of those years to build relationships with kids and help to foster their unique skills into music. That feels pretty powerful! It is always exciting to see how their learning and interests lead them to choosing how they want to continue to study music after elementary school.
4. No day is EVER the same
Since elementary music teachers usually see all of the kids in a building, rather than just the kids who choose to take music, students' interests and skills can vary greatly from year to year. This means that no day is ever the same. Just when you think you have a foolproof lesson that is a hit, you find a group of fifth graders just too cool to even try! Or, you are in the middle of the best lesson of your life and it starts to snow...
Needless to say, working with elementary students is unpredictable which is one of the things that I love. It is so exciting to know that you are never done learning! There are always new challenges, new songs or music trends and new technologies. Sure, unpredictability can keep you from being able to laminate your lesson plans but you can always count on being young and hip!
The unpredictable nature of teaching elementary students leads to a lot of fun! Not only can they see the joy in everything, including snow, they are truly built to learn from play. Is there anything more fun than that?
Of course, I could probably keep going because I love elementary music. And, you should, too! What reasons would you add to the list?
Be sure to get your free copy of “5 Ways to Better Serve Students with Exceptional Needs”