A Composition Sequence for the Elementary Music Classroom

There is no better way to find out how your students have truly processed information than by asking them to create something with it. By asking students to create with rhythmic and melodic concepts, you can take a teeny tiny peek inside their brains, and make a call on whether or not they own the process or need to take another lap. One of the most effective ways to assess is to provide opportunities for melodic composition. But what does that look like in the elementary music classroom?

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Improvisation & Composition.

Two big, long, scary words.  Admit it, do these two little words wrapt their arms around you like a great big hug, or sneak attack like a ninja? If you’re anything like I am, it’s the second. Or at least I used to feel that way. But guess what, y’all. I’ve figured out a super simple way to get your kids to leave the station and get to their destination on time when it comes to the creativity train. Success with these two tricksters has everything to do with sequencing.

I’m sure you’re shocked to hear the “s” word from me. But all joking and sarcasm aside, isn’t sequencing and appropriate scaffolds the key to #allthethings?

Improvisation and composition are no different. As a matter of fact, in my music classroom, improvisation is a scaffold to composition; they exist on a continuum. Improvisation really functions as brainstorming or playing with information to see what feels and sounds good. Improvisation is spontaneously inspired. Composition is where we formalize the play and make decisions about what felt and sounded the best. You could say that composition comes from being inspired to do the same thing more than once, and then writing it down and sharing it.

Curious to know more? Here are the steps I use in my music classroom to facilitate melodic composition, through exploration and improvisation.

Step 1: Start With a Familiar Folk Song

Just like any other concept you would practice in the music room, start with a song & game! Choose one of your favs that has an extractable pattern for whatever concept you’re about to practice, that your kiddos can notate.

For example, the song “Apple Tree” is perfect for manipulating quarter note and two eighth notes. There are about a million others, but for this post, I’m going to go ahead and stick with one of my favs. The only rhythms in the entire song are quarter notes and two eighth notes. Also, the opening line uses the text “Apple Tree,” which is the perfect extractable pattern for the next step!

Click here to get these manipulatives!

Step 2: Improvise Speech Patterns

A simple way to get kids moving and grooving with improvisation is through speech. It’s a much more accessible entry point compared with formal notation or rhythm syllables, and jumping right into improvising rhythms with melody right off the bat is like skipping from the first floor to the thirteenth—bad news bears.

“Apple Tree” has the perfect two words built right into the song for quarter notes and eighth notes. But say you wanted to add another rhythm that students could improvise with. What other words go with “apple” and “pie”? How about cinnamon? Just remember, if you are planning on taking this sequence all the way to the composition phase, make sure students will be able to derive whatever text you choose to make word chains with. For example, my second graders probably wouldn’t use “cinnamon” because I don’t teach eighth and sixteenth note combinations until later on in third grade.

Step 3: Set Rhythmic Content 

Rhythms provide framework for melodic content. Unless you are embarking on the wonderful world of melodic composition in free time (which I don’t recommend with elementary students), it’s essential to create rhythmic (or speech) parameters before turning to melodic improvisation. Have students use manipulatives or pencil and paper to establish which speech pattern they liked well enough to do twice and then write down. To move even further along the composition continuum, have students write down their most favorite rhythm patterns in formal notation. Once they have made these rhythmic decisions, it’s time to move on to the melody!

(*NOTE: This doesn’t necessarily mean the rhythms are completely set and unchangeable, but the following steps are more accessible for students if they have a rhythm or speech pattern with which to manipulate melodically.)

Click here to get these dictation staffs!!

Step 4: Improvise within Tonal Parameters

Creating melodies is a much different process than improvising rhythmic patterns. With my younger students, we spend lots of time moving manipulatives up and down on staff lines and singing what they would sound like to make melodic decisions.

With older students, who likely know the complete pentatone (do re mi so la), I like to give them the opportunity to play on barred instruments. If they have their speech patterns, and the instruments are set up in a pentatonic scale, they are usually good to go. I often tell students they can find the notes they like that go along with their speech pattern, as long as the final note is the home note “do.”

I usually provide them some visual aids to make sure this happens, which lucky for you are in the resource library! Click here to get them!!

Step 5: Compose the Melody

After students have found the melodic combinations they like best (and after I’ve reiterated that repeated patterns and elemental forms, i.e. ABAB are their friends), I ask them to commit to their favorite patterns. This means that they like it and can remember it well enough to play several times in a row. If they take away the speech patterns used to create the melody, and decide they want to change the rhythm, that’s a-ok—just as long as they can still notate it.

Step 6: Write It Down and Share It!

Once students have finished their compositions, give them the opportunity to both perform for their peers, but also have students perform each other’s compositions. This is such an invaluable process for all of the students. Yes, a musical composition is much like a journal—it is very personal and students should feel ownership over what they have created. However, it is also important to remind our kids that music is really truly meant to be shared!

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Music Teacher Inspiration for the New Year

Welp, party people, it's officially a new year. And as with any new year, there's about a million and one resolutions floating around. I'll run a marathon. I'll start to purge some things and become more minimalist. I'll read 100 books. I'll do all the things. (Note: These are resolutions that I've heard here or there, not necessarily my own. Except that book reading thing. I need to do waaaaay more of that.) But as I was reflecting on 2017, I realized that it was seriously different than any other. And it made me reconsider the same old, same old resolutions.


Last year was the biggest year of my life, pun somewhat intended. I was either pregnant or a new mom the whole year--which is no joke. Becoming a parent was the most wonderfully terrifying experience of my entire life. I remember sitting in the labor and delivery ward at the hospital, hours away from delivering our baby girl, staring at my husband and thinking omg we're going to have a baby. I mean, that's sort of what the whole pregnancy thing is about, I realize.

But it didn't become real to me until she was literally crying on my chest.

Those first few weeks were a blur. Between the typical new mom struggles (that no one really talks about) and the lack of sleep, I was a hot mess express. Everyone talks all about the labor and delivery, but I felt blindsided by the first few days of motherhood. It was beautiful and rewarding, and all of the amazing things, truly. But I was completely overwhelmed and swimming trying to find myself within this brand new identity.

Y'all it was hard. I struggled. I still struggle.

Becoming a mom is the hardest and the best thing I've ever done. Anyone who's a parent will say those exact words--at least in my experience! The other thing they say, as frustratingly true as it is, is that there's no way to understand it until you've actually done it.

I think most things in life worth doing are this way. You never know how strong you can feel on mile 8 until you build up to mile 7. You never know how free you can feel when you have the hard conversations  with those that you love.

And you never know how much you can get out of teaching until you put as much as you can into teaching.

Now don't get me wrong, this is not a guilt trip about what you are or are not doing. I'm not about to tell you to spend more hours at the school. You don't need to spend more money on resources that are going to sit on your shelf unopened. And you don't have to have each and every word you're about to say in each lesson scripted, with every "i" dotted and "t" crossed. It's all about mindset. And for me, it's three little words.

Purposeful. Sequential. Joyful.

Now if you've looked around here at all, you'll notice that these three words come after Anacrusic throughout this website. There's a reason these three words are the core of my teaching practice. They provide the clarity I need to set my intentions every morning before school. They define my goals for each day, each lesson, and each interaction with my students. They are simple, but heavy.

I want to be purposeful with each and every moment I have with my students. They are often few and far between, or even fleeting. I might be the only music teacher they ever have, the only voice they ever hear sing, or the only person who lifts them up that day. I want everything to be sequenced beautifully. I want my kids to be fully immersed in each and every musical experience, by doing music. There's clear intention, but it unfolds organically from lesson to lesson. But most importantly...

I want each and every student, each person, that I make music with to feel the inherent joy that made me want to make music my life's work.

There's a reason that I became a music teacher. And it's not so that I could teach 2nd graders to identify a half note. I mean, that's a great literacy goal, but that is absolutely not why I get up in the morning. Once I reconnected with the real reason, joy, I never dreaded getting up another day. I never had to force myself out the door. I still needed my morning coffee, but I drink it with a smile.

So this year, I challenge you to stop spending hours and hours pouring over what to do next, or how to fill time. Don't allow yourself to get bogged down with #allthethings. Give yourself the grace you need to be the inspired musician you are and the joyful music teacher your kids deserve.

Find the purpose, be thoughtful with the sequence, and choose joy.

My Favorite December Books for the Elementary Music Classroom

Today I’m sharing with you my absolute faaaaavorite books to sing in the elementary music classroom in December. Although a few are holiday themed, there are certainly a couple that you can use if you don’t feel comfortable or aren’t permitted to do holiday themed activities at your campus… so really the title says five, but there are a TON more than that in this post!! #ninjaskills

Without further ado, here are my five favorite books to sing to my elementary music students in December!

(*Disclaimer: the amazon links in this post are affiliate links! Can y’all say 2-day shipping?!)

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1. Ten on the Sled written by Kim Norman & illustrated by Liza Woodruff (by the same author/illustrator & winter themed: She’ll be Coming Up the MountainIf It’s Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws!)


If you use "Ten in the Bed" with your kids (  so-mi-do practice song, anyone?) then this is a super fun extension that my kids go absolutely nuts over. It's all about a caribou who has all of his friends on the sled. They "exit" the sled a lot of different ways, and there are lots of different animals, providing about a million different things to chat about outside of the rhyming words and alliteration.

2. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell written by Lucille Colandro & illustrated by Jared D. Lee (similar: There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow)


This is truly one of my very favorite series of books. There are about a million (okay, not that many, but a lot) for every season and every holiday. This one is perfect for the holidays and for audiating do at the end of each verse. I also love to give my kiddos bells to ring as we sing the story. 

3. The Littlest Reindeer by Nicola Killen


This story I use shamelessly when I want to do a Reindeer themed lesson. (Reindeer Vocal Explorations and Reindeer Games Melody Practice are peeeeerfect if you want to play along!) There are a couple of reoccurring sounds that are perfect for un-pitched percussion integration, similarly to how I use The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything. (I talk about it in this post!)

4. Hush Little Polar Bear by Jeff Mack


I looove to talk about lullabies with my Kindergarten kiddos, especially when we talk about loud/quiet & fast/slow comparatives. This is a really fun variation on "Hush Little Baby," and takes the reader on a trip through the narrator's dreams. The kids always pick up on (and go nuts over) the fact that the story book cover in the book is the same as the cover of the actual book. So meta, right?

5. Jingle Bells by Iza Trapani


Iza Trapani books are seriously pure gold. I think I own every single book by this author, and I always snatch them up when I see one I think I might not have! (As a matter of fact... I might have accidentally bought doubles of a few!!) I just about lost it when I found this one--it's so good y'all! I love all of the different verses and the warm themes throughout the book. And the illustrations are to die for. Not to mention that your kiddos will love singing the chorus 800 million times--pass out some bells to make it a real party!!

That about wraps up this round up for December books! If you love round ups like this and want to be the first to find out about them, sign up for my newsletter below! You'll get instant access to the FREE resource library, which has all sorts of goodies!!

Reindeer Vocal Explorations in SeeSaw

This is the shortest and sweetest little blog post I've probably ever written... because the video below is going to tell you eeeevvvveerrrrthing you need to know about the latest and greatest resource in the FREE Resource Library: Reindeer Vocal Exploration Templates for Seesaw!

This digital resource is the first venture as to what I hope will be many digital components to resources, something many of you have been asking for! Check out the video below, download the templates, give it a try, and let me know how it goes!!