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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Shaeffer

Planning With Purpose

Gone are the days of traditional music textbooks where you pass a grade level book out to each student, get all students on the right page (a daunting task), and teach songs. Sadly, many of these textbooks are the last thing the district has purchased for curriculum in years or even decades! My first teaching job I was given a set of books (I believe Spotlight on Music) and expected to know what to do with them. My thoughts: What concepts do I teach in which grade?! What are the students’ prior knowledge?! What songs are age appropriate?! I was filled with questions but had no answers. Fortunately I had some amazing mentors that guided me throughout my first few years building my own curriculum. Below is a broad overview of how to lay out your concepts and begin to build a curriculum that meets the needs of your school.

Lesson Plan By Concept

Before you start lesson planning, know what concepts each grade will need to master. As the education field is switching over to Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and Standards Based Grading, we need to have a spiral curriculum that will best suite our students’ needs. The great news is we already have highly effective methods to follow: Dalcroze, Kodaly, and Orff to name a few. I will be using the Kodaly method for this example but you may change the concepts according to whatever method you decide.

Constructing Concepts By Grade

Holy Names University has a great Sequence of Introducing Music Concepts/Elements. Naturally it is nearly impossible to get to every concept with 50 minutes a week with each class, but it is a great road map. Generally here are the concepts I focus on by grade:


Steady Beat





First Grade

2 meter

Ta ti-ti



Quarter rest


2nd Grade


Half note

Form: AB, ABA, etc


¾ time

Whole Note

Whole Rest


3rd Grade






Low La

Low Sol

Letter names staff

4th Grade

High Do


Basic Key Signatures

Dotted Half Note

Whole/Half Steps

Do not worry if your students are not at this level. When you first move to a building or start a spiral curriculum it takes a few years to initiate this process. It is common when moving to a new building you may need to start your 4th graders at a 2nd grade level and that is OK! The important part is they are building upon their prior knowledge and spiraling up towards success!

Schedule Concepts

Once the concepts are laid out for each grade, make a schedule of what concepts will be taught in each month of the school year. Remember to leave time open for school performances as that will take up a bulk of your instructional time. (Typically 6-8 weeks). If you do not know where to start, I highly suggest buying Yearly Plans by Ann Eisen and Lamar Robertson. It lays out what concepts to teach by grade, month, and even week! An American Methodology pairs with that book and provides activities and songs for each concept. It saved me in my first year of teaching and is well worth the money!

Find Songs and Activities for Each Concept

Once each concept is scheduled throughout the year, find songs and activities that go with each concept. Here are a few ways to find songs and activities:

School Curriculum- If you school has a curriculum series like “Spotlight on Music” or Silver Burdett’s “Making Music, look in the back of the book for an index. Many times songs are grouped by melodic or rhythmic material.

  • Google It!- Many times when I need a new idea I google “kodaly song ti-ti ta” or whatever concept I am looking for. There are many blogs that have great ideas that are searchable by content.

  • Blogs- Blogs are a great way to find songs by concept. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few of my favorite!

  • TeacherPayTeacher- There are many resources that you can buy to start adding to your curriculum. Amy Abbott at Muis a la Abbott is one of my favorites!

  • Feierabend Materials- John Feierabend has amazing materials that are easily accessible to both teachers and students. Here is a link to some of his materials!

  • Curriculum Books: Here are my favorite curriculum books I use in my classroom.

  • Take a Kodaly/Orff Course- I took a Level One Kodaly Course after my first year of teaching and it completely changed the way I thought about music education!

Organize Your Content

I almost exclusively show students songs on the Smartboard. Passing out books, turning to the right page, and collecting books takes too much instructional time in my opinion. Because I teach hundreds of songs in a year, I have to have them well organized. Save all of your ideas in a very systematic way. Not sure where to start? Planning and Organizing the Music Classroom is a blog post that shows you how to easily store all of your digital files!

But What About Music History, Composers, and Musical Theatre?

Musicals, music history and composers are a vital part of a child’s musical development. These should be taught alongside and interwoven with the musical concepts outlined above. Example: My third graders learn about Civil War songs and drummer boys. We then write out our own drumming patterns using tika-ti and tika-tika. There are endless possibilities of weaving in concepts while teaching music history!

Hopefully this has given you a foothold to start building a curriculum that is effective for your students. Building a spiral curriculum is a long process but totally worth it! Remember to plan with this question: what music concepts do you want your student to know by the time they graduate your program? Building a spiral curriculum will help lead your students towards life long musicianship! Good luck!

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