Music Madness Brackets – a Fun Music Listening Lesson

Growing up, I always felt like there was a dichotomy between sports and music. There were the orch dorks and the jocks, the band geeks and varsity football players. 

It doesn’t have to be this way!

As teachers, we know to use students’ prior knowledge to help them make connections and hook them on the learning experience. Every February/March, I transform boring, old listening lessons into fun, engaging Music Madness brackets!

What is Music Madness?

Music Madness is based off of March Madness, an annual college basketball tournament. As somebody who has never followed sports myself, I was shocked how many of my students are really into March Madness! Even kids who haven’t heard of March Madness love the idea of pitting songs against each other to choose a class (or school!) favorite.

Creating a Music Madness Bracket

First, consider how much time you have. I like to do one face-off per class. If you’re starting from a 1/16 final, that’s a big difference compared to starting from a quarter final! It may also vary depending on whether you’re doing a separate bracket with each class or with the whole school. (Personally, I like getting the whole school involved.)

Once you’ve decided how many rounds you’re going to have, choose whether you’d like a theme. You could theme the entire competition (e.g., Disney songs), theme each bracket differently, or go completely random.

I’ve changed it up every year, but one of my students’ favorites was when I pitted genres against each other. I love using Music Madness to introduce students to songs they probably wouldn’t otherwise hear, so I made sure to choose genres they weren’t super familiar with, like EDM, Bollywood, and gospel. (What your students are familiar with will be personal to your school population – choose something your students don’t know as well!)

Listening Procedures

My kids knew that as soon as they walked in, they needed to grab a bingo chip and sit down so we could listen to the bracket of the day! They were excited to do it and it gave them an entrance routine. I’ve also had students grab short SQUILT (listening) sheets so I can get a responding to music grade from the activity. (Doing this for every round of listening may be overkill, but it would be good to grab at least a couple!)

This is also a great opportunity to review audience expectations. I like to explain how audience expectations vary based on the genre and venue. While sitting still and waiting until the end to clap is proper at a classical concert, it’d be really weird if the audience did that at a rock concert.


You can set up voting in any way you’d like. Personally, I’d go for whatever is the least effort for you! I like voting with bingo chips and two different baskets because it makes the voting process a bit more anonymous – less peer pressure. Having students raise their hands is probably the quickest and easiest way, but students definitely like to influence their friends! You could also have students provide their answers on their SQUILT sheets and count up the votes later.

Need Help Getting Started?

If you’re like me, you’re stuck in that loooooong stretch between winter break and spring break. (Our spring break isn’t until April!) Music Madness just doesn’t need to add one more thing to your plate.

That’s why I’ve created this free Music Madness template, including both blank, editable versions and one that’s already done for you. All you have to do is project it on the board or print it out and you’re all set!

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