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Music education for the classroom teacher

4 min read


Why music education? UCLA professor James Catterall led an analysis of a U.S. Department of Education database. Called NELLs88, the database was used to track more than 25,000 students over a period of 10 years. Catterall conducted a study and found that regardless of socioeconomic background, music-making students get higher marks on standardized tests. The study showed that students involved in music generally tested higher than those who had no music involvement. The test scores studied were not only standardized tests, such as the SAT, but also reading proficiency exams. The study also noted that the student musicians scored higher, no matter what socioeconomic group was being studied. So why not music education?

Having visited several classrooms, it appeared to me that in many cases, music education tended to begin in the third grade, for those that were fortunate enough to have a music instructor. Even then, the instructor was often stretched thin, being shared by several classrooms, and even several schools within a given district. This left our youngest students with little or no music education.

Educators in the earliest grades, specifically preschool to firstgrade, do not need to be music teachers in order to incorporate music into their classrooms. Here are six ways such educators can use music to enhance learning and engage our youngest students:

1. Don’t be intimidated.

Everyone is musical at some level. Your young students don’t care how well you sing or dance — really they don’t. Have them follow along with you singing simple songs. Then ask who would like to be the “leader” in a sing-along. Your biggest challenge will be who to call on!

2. Learn to play an instrument.

This one scares just about anyone who doesn’t think they’re “musical.” You may not turn out to be a concert pianist or violinist, but learn a few chords on a ukulele and amazing things can happen!

3. You can teach a lot with simple “instruments.”

Most people don’t think of egg shakers, rhythm sticks, a slide whistle or hand drum as an instrument but they most certainly are! You can teach a lot with these simple items.

4. Puppets are magic.

Young children love puppets! You can use a small animal, such as a mouse, to teach high and soft, and large animals, such as an elephant to teach low and loud. Let the students take turns being the leader in front of the class.

5. Buy some music CD’s that your class can sing along with.

Music CD’s for young children are readily available in stores and online costing between eight and 10 dollars. Make sure the songs are age appropriate as your young students have a narrow range. This will be marked right on the CD package. Don’t worry about playing the same songs too many times. There appears to be no such thing as too much repetition at this age!

6. Use crowd funding sites.

If you need to raise some money for these items you might look into websites, such as Donors Choose or Adopt-A-Classroom. People have a soft spot when asked to donate to our preK, kindergarten, and first-grade teachers for music materials.

I have witnessed the transformation of teachers who ranged from hesitant to downright fearful of introducing music on their own, become quite proficient at teaching the basic concepts. Check out your state’s music standards. You might be surprised how many of them you can address with inexpensive and easy to use and learn instruments!

Rourke O’Brien is the president and founder of the Children’s Music Foundation , creator of First Note, a music curriculum designed for students, ages 4 to 6., currently in use throughout the U.S.  Prior to founding CMF in 2009, he spent several years as president of America’s Foundation for Chess. Rourke is a member the National Association for Music Educators, The National Association for the Education of Young Children, ASCD and the National Association of Music Merchants. Rourke is slated to present a session at the 2014 International Society for Music Education in Brazil this summer.