Mission Possible! Actionable Ideas for Active Music Making in the Elementary Music Classroom Pt 1

The list was long. I had a column for rhythmic, a column for melodic, and a column for all the other things that didn’t fit into the previous two. It was daunting. I had not yet learned to develop my own style of teaching, I hadn’t yet embarked on the wonderful world of levels trainings and summer workshops, and I was just working on getting through my list of stuff.

Music making? Joy? That was mission impossible.

Nope, I had too many things to teach, and not enough time to do it, and I needed to check off all the things in all the columns and collect all the data to show all the learning and progress and growth and… UGH. Do you ever feel this way? Do you ever feeling like you’re spinning, and covering, and never really taking the opportunity to get past the nuts and bolts of what you need to cover to just allow your kids to make music?

Well you’re in luck, because the month of April here on the ol’ blog is just for you.

This past week on TAP, I published an episode entitled “What is Active Music Making.” It’s a term I hear tossed around here or there in the elementary music space, particularly when talking about different pedagogical approaches such as Kodály, Orff-Schulwerk, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, or Gordon Music Learning Theory. But my interpretation of active music making isn't tied to any one approach, nor is it a specific destination in and of itself. Rather, it is a series of possible paths, possible voyages if you will, that you can travel with your kids to bring your kids closer to status as musicianship explorer.

Okay, is the mission/voyage/explorer analogy or metaphor or storyline too much now?

If you’ve listened to the podcast episode, I dove into what active music making is, how I define it, why we should use it, and I briefly touch on what it looks like in the classroom. In this blog series, I’m going to get much more specific, with actual lesson ideas and concrete ways you can implement different modes and media into your teaching and, more importantly, your students’ learning pathways in the elementary music room. But first, let’s outline those things really quickly for anyone who’s new to the party.

What is Active Music Making?

It’s exactly what it sounds like. Kids, actively. making. music. Think beyond the sitting and singing. Think beyond the worksheets and the symbols and the definitions. I’m not implying that a music classroom should be absent of either of those things, actually quite the contrary. Singing is a fundamental part of our identity as music makers, and literacy components (i.e. symbols and definitions) are essential elements we need to teach our children in order to teach music like a language.

But we also need to teach them to be fluent in that language.

Sure, we prepare and present concepts so that your elementary music students can see, hear, and feel how a rhythm or melody is sung, but active music making takes them beyond that. Active music making takes your kids beyond the literacy component and into a space where they can explore, discover, and create as participants in musical experiences.

What does Active Music Making look like?

… or sound like, or feel like? Imagine kids taking knowledge of reading and writing rhythms and applying it to create their own music. Or a group of students choreographing a beautiful movement piece to highlight the form of a piece of music they have analyzed. Or taking a series of speech chains and turning them into an unpitched percussion piece, where the whole class participates.

Over the course of the next four weeks, I’m going to take you through four concrete examples of how I interpret active music making within the context of my classroom. This series is all about giving you not only motivation, but tools and concrete steps to begin slowly releasing control and giving your students more agency in the elementary music classroom. Here’s a peek at what’s coming:

Get ready to activate your music classroom and stop simply covering concepts. We’re about to level up, friends!


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