Music Ed Mentor Podcast #021: Elementary Music for Secondary Teachers

Music Ed Mentor Podcast #021: Elementary Music for Secondary Teachers

Be honest: you had a dream job in mind when you graduated with your music education degree. Maybe you had your heart set on leading a major national marching program as a head director. Maybe you wanted to teach beginning strings. Unfortunately, your ideal position may not have been available when you did a job search. You may have ended up teaching elementary music.

Most music education degrees come with a K-12 teaching certificate, but that doesn’t mean you feel comfortable with the K-4 kids. Most of us focused on secondary school in college, and when confronted with the realities of teaching elementary music we have to make some adjustments. I’ve lived this – I play French Horn and focused on secondary instrumental music in school, but now teach elementary music.

In this episode, I talk with master elementary music teacher David Row about everything you need to know to teach elementary music. We go over how to get started, how to shape a curriculum for elementary kids, how to build lesson plans, and how to handle classroom management.

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In This Episode, You’ll Learn How To:

  • Develop a curriculum map appropriate for elementary school classes
  • Manage administration expectations at the elementary school level
  • Create a quality lesson sequence
  • Handle behavior management with younger students

Three Key Takeaways

“You need to determine what is important to teach and how you’re going to break up the year.”

A curriculum map is critical. Find out if your school or district already has one, but make one yourself if necessary. Most states have a set curriculum for all grades, so that’s a place to start. You’ll have to make adjustments based on how frequently you see the kids and the performance schedule at your school, but make sure you have a map! A pacing guide can help as well, and these are often included with commercially-available music curriculums.

“The students’ age plus two is the length of time you can spend on one activity.”

This rule of thumb helps David build lesson plans that keep students engaged and active throughout the class. Of course, this means that having tight, consistent transitions is critical to keeping the class on track. Have quick activities on hand to fill in time at the end of class if kids hustle through the day’s material.

“You need to have a clear plan for escalating consequences for bad behavior.”

Having things planned out ahead of time means you can be consistent in your expectations with kids, and by following through your students will know that consequences are real. Having a series of consequences also means you’re never stuck or scrambling to figure out what happens next. Stay specific with your rules and consequences, and post them clearly in your classroom.


Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, grow, and manage thriving school music programs. With an MBA alongside her degree in music, she is also a coach and consultant to small businesses and nonprofits around the country, and serves as the conductor of her local community band. She has been teaching music for nearly 20 years and currently holds the prestigious position of elementary music teacher at a private K-8 Catholic School in Grand Junction, Colorado. Elisa was a top presenter at the NAfME National Conference in 2017 and will be presenting at state conferences in 2018. She is the founder of the International Music Education Summit and the author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive.

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