5 music lesson plan essentials

As a new music teacher, lesson planning was one of the toughest parts of my job. If I’m totally honest, some days it still can be! I teach Kindergarten through 6th grade and see each class twice a week. That ends up being almost 30 separate classes every week! I used to think that meant that I had to have 30 separate lessons a week, because even if I tried to do the same lesson with each grade level (which still only cuts it down to 14 lessons/week), some classes would get ahead, some would fall behind… and lo and behold, we’re back up to creating 20-some separate lessons each week.

After spending most evenings my first year teaching bringing home my lesson planner to try to create new lessons from scratch, I finally had a realization. If I could just create a template for my lesson plans, I could save so much time! So that’s exactly what I did. By adding 1-2 activities to each template section, I was easily able to fill my 30-minute classes. I also created routine for my students, which helps to reinforce expectations and ease the nerves of students who find change stressful.

These are the 5 essential parts of every music lesson plan!

1. Entrance Activity

An entrance activity sets the tone for your class.

Ideas for Entrance Activities:

  • Welcome song
  • Decode the mystery song
  • Clap the rhythm
  • Sing the melody
  • Dance it out

This year, I’m testing out the “dance it out” method with my second graders. Every day, I pick a new song to play as students enter the room and form a circle. One at a time, I silently choose students to come into the middle of the circle and lead the class in their favorite dance moves. So far, the students have been eager to lead and follow and it’s led to some great discussions about creative movement!

2. Vocal Warm-Up

The vocal warm-up portion helps get students using their head voices and (hopefully!) matching pitch. As I mentioned earlier, I teach seven grade levels, so this looks a bit different for each grade!

Ideas for Vocal Warm-Ups:

  • Vocal exploration slides (follow the line with your voice)
  • Animal voices (hoot like an owl, meow like a kitten, etc.)
  • Copy the slide whistle
  • Toss the ball (follow with your voice)
  • Storytelling with high & low voices (e.g. The Three Little Pigs)

With 2nd grade and up, I also use games like poison melody to practice solfege.

3. Movement Warm-Up

I like to use a mix of creative and choreographed movement for my warm-ups. Not only does being able to move help students focus better most of the time, but I also believe movement to be a core part of music education, particularly at the elementary level. Throughout elementary school, we build our movement vocabularies to talk about levels, locomotor versus non-locomotor, impulse vs impact, fast vs slow, showing emotion through movement, and so much more!

Ideas for Movement Warm-Ups:

  • Faeries and Giants (blog post coming soon!)
  • Fishing game (blog post coming soon!)
  • Just Dance Kids (plenty of school-appropriate videos on YouTube!)
  • “Dance it out” from entrance activities
  • Mindful moment with yoga basics
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

4. Student Voice and Choice

This is the most vague part of my lesson plan template, and I did that on purpose. I strongly believe that students should be encouraged to make their own creative choices. Obviously, there is some level of scaffolding involved, but the pride and ownership students feel when they’ve truly been allowed to influence their own learning is very much worth letting go of the reigns. Project-Based Learning (PJBL) and centers/stations both lend themselves to this style of learning.

Ideas for Student Voice and Choice:

  • Make your own vocal exploration out of pipe cleaners
  • Write a jingle to sell a product of your choice
  • Create a soundscape using instruments of your choosing (bonus: let students select one of a few pre-approved stories)

5. Exit Activity

Just as an entrance activity sets a tone for your class, an exit activity helps set the tone for the transition back to students’ homeroom, to their next special, or wherever their routine takes them once they leave music. I like to use calming activities as we exit – I think the homeroom teachers probably appreciate it!

Ideas for Exit Activities:

I hope this has spurned some ideas for you to help make lesson planning a bit less stressful! It still took me some practice, but now lesson planning is a breeze – I simply use this same format and scaffold up or down based on the grade level or what each particular class completed in our previous lessons.

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