How to be an Awesome General Music teacher!

If you enter the teaching profession as a musician then there is a good chance you will have to teach some general music classes and not just your own specialist instrument. For many this can seem a daunting prospect but truthfully you are better equipped than you can imagine!

Having taught general music for nearly 25 years to middle and high school students, the following top 5 tips have worked in a variety of different school environments.

  1. Curriculum planning – blocks of 6-8 weeks

Every school has a certain amount of curriculum time given to music. So plan out topics that last 6 – 8 weeks (or a 1/2 term). Always allow for one lesson of this block of time to be lost to school trips, public holidays, exams, etc!

When planning the unit or topic in more detail always start with the end in mind. What is it that you want your students to understand, demonstrate or improve at? For instance, if you are creating a topic to teach The Blues, what specific skills should the students demonstrate? Is it playing the blues scale, chord sequence, walking bass line, playing a blues piece as a small group, composing a blues piece or the history of the Blues? Truthfully, you could probably spend a year teaching the Blues with your classes but by picking a few musical outcomes and skills you want your students to develop from studying the Blues then this will give you the end in mind. It will then make planing the individual lessons much easier.

2. Varying the Tasks

Students, particularly in middle school, do not enjoy doing the same task or using the same piece of equipment every week. So make sure you are varying the tasks in each unit. When curriculum planning consider how you are going to use performing, composing, listening and analysing in the lesson plans to help students meet the unit outcomes. Variety in general music teaching is important.

3. Include Musical Elements into your planning

You have the unit theme; the end in mind for the outcomes; the types of tasks; and then you want your students to be musical too. So including musical elements and specific terminology is important in each unit. It will help your students see connections between their individual instrumental lessons, ensembles and what you do in the classroom. Try to only include 1 or 2 elements as a focus for each unit. Remember in a general music class you won’t have that much contact time to get through everything so keep it simple and be careful not to get too focused on complex music theory.

4. Varying the resources and instruments

Again, try to vary the resources and instruments for each unit. This can sometimes be hard if your school doesn’t have much funding, space or equipment but it is worth pushing for. Popular at the moment are ukuleles, bucket drumming and using chrome books for composing. However, you have to plan for what you are comfortable teaching and what works for your school. I have always loved including recorders, tuned and untuned percussion with middle school students as it works brilliantly. But I also love keyboards, music tech and encouraging students who play instruments to use them in class, particularly in composing topics. Opening up variety will keep students engaged, motivated and interested. Also, don’t be afraid to try something complete new and out of your comfort zone. Students love watching their teacher learn too – it shows them that everyone has to start somewhere!

5. Include opportunities for Student Self-Reflection

I can’t stress enough how important this one is for student development. If students are performing their composition live in class, record it and allow them a chance to watch it back. You will be one of the very few classes that does this but the learning for the students is huge. They will visually and audibly hear what they are doing well and where they can improve. It helps with their confidence and controlling their nerves. The first time you record your students they will get nervous, giggle and make mistakes, which is all very natural. We all do this when we are under pressure and learning to control this is an amazing life lesson that music offers students. Remember to get students to focus on the positives of their performances – many will tell you what they did wrong and not what they did right.

If you want to know more about curriculum planning and how to be an awesome general music teacher, check out my video on Passionate About Music Education’s Youtube channel.

I also offer coaching for anyone who wants more assistance with this area of music teaching.

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