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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Elementary Music Center Activities

I started incorporating centers into my elementary general music classes about 3 years ago and have loved using them. My favorite way to use them is as an incentive for classes to earn for their behavior- you can read more about how I use centers to give students something to look forward to, while also continuing their learning and incorporating a broad range of learning styles and interests, in this post. Today I wanted to share some of my favorite center activities to hopefully give you some fresh ideas to incorporate into your own classroom!

1. iPad apps

Of course the iPad is always a fun and easy way to incorporate skill practice and composition in a way that students enjoy. My favorites include Rhythm Cat, Music Tutor, Monster Chorus, and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. You can read more about tons of different awesome iPad apps for elementary music on the website Midnight Music.

2. Music books

I keep a small milk crate full of reading material related to music. It includes everything from a music encyclopedia to Music Express magazines and storybooks related to music. This center is a favorite of my quieter students, but everyone seems to enjoy the change of pace! I keep some pillows nearby for students to use while they read as well, and it creates a nice, cozy space for students to relax.

3. Boomwhacker mystery songs

This one is simple: I give the students a melody to play with color-coded notes and they practice playing it together on the boomwhackers. There are a few different ways I give them the music depending on their age. For the youngest ones I just use circles or dashes with the matching colors. I have made my own with colored markers and have also used these from the Elementary Music Methods blog (I just have them look at it on the computer or project it on the screen for them). For older students I print out a song that is notated in standard notation and color the noteheads with markers. I've also used pre-made ones online on the computer for this.

4. Kaboom sticks

I use this game for rhythms, note names, and music vocabulary, and the kids LOVE it. Basically they draw a stick, answer the question, and if they get it right they keep the stick. You can read more about this game in my blog post here (which also has some other fun letter name center ideas).

5. Card and board games

There are so many options here, and they are all fantastic fun for students! I've made my own cards for matching games (like find the staff note that matches the letter, or the picture that matches the instrument name), and found tons of great card and board game printables on TeachersPayTeachers as well. I'm also working on a few new centers using regular board games that I am modifying for music, like Twister and Jenga. You can read more about how to use traditional board games as music games in my blog post on things to make for the music room.

6. Seasonal rapping rhythms

The basic idea here is to have students use manipulatives, like little erasers or foam cutouts, to create rhythm patterns. Find a collection of items that fit a particular season or holiday that have different numbers of syllables in their names (like the hearts and cupcakes in the picture above). Students line them up in whatever order they choose, then "rap" the words by saying each name on a steady beat. You can also have students then clap the rhythms of the names instead of saying them out loud! Read more about using manipulatives for composition (and where to find them) in this blog post.

7. Dancing

This one is simple- put on a playlist of fun songs and give students the space to dance! Click on the picture above to see some of my favorite dance songs that are school-appropriate but not boring :)

8. Draw with music symbols

I have found this to be a great one for students to be able to practice writing music notation. I wrote out several different music symbols, including different clefs, articulation and dynamic symbols, and music notes, on different cards, then I give the students a blank sheet of paper. They are allowed to copy any of the music symbols on their paper to create their own picture. Many of them make a face (by using the fermata symbol for the eyes and a crescendo for the nose, etc), or just doodle different symbols randomly on the page, but they all really enjoy this activity!

There are, of course, many other center ideas that I like but these are some of my favorites. I hope you found some new ideas in this list! What are some of your favorite center activities? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below (and I'm sure other readers would benefit from your ideas too)! You can find more ideas for centers to practice rhythms here, and centers to practice note letter names here. Stay tuned for more new center ideas too- I'm working on some new ones that I'm excited to share once we've had a chance to test them out!

Thinking about using centers in your music classes for the first time? You might want to check out my post on organizing the logistics of centers for more ideas on how to manage the process and set things up to make things as smooth as possible for you and your students.

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  1. My biggest challenge with center related lessons is when I have 7-10 blocks of classes with 0 minutes of transition (to change out grade level appropriate learning materials, games, etc) I do have a lunch in the "middle" after 5-7 class blocks but in reality it's more like 10 min. to 'shovel' it in. I'd love to use centers but changing out resources has always been the challenge I can't problem-solve. Any ideas?

    1. First of all, many of the materials could be used across the grade levels- I use the same resources for every grade 1st-6th on a regular basis (books, card games, ipads, etc). Second, I always include clean up as part of the students' responsibilities. We take time to put everything away before the end of each lesson. I also don't usually have things set up before class- I set each center up as I am going over what to do at that station. Third, if you have the space to do so, I would have all of your center materials (the ones that wouldn't already be sitting out for regular class) organized in one location, and sort them either by activity type or by grade level. That way when you're pulling stuff out you can easily find what you need. Try it out sometime- I would do one day where every class does the same centers and see how it goes. You can build from there if you want. Start with a book station, iPad, the symbols drawing, and boomwhackers. You can use the same ones for every grade with those. Hope this helps! I know these crazy music teacher schedules make everything so much more difficult :(

    2. These are great suggestions. I too would often put out the materials while I was explaining each center. That way, I could also anticipate questions they might have and answer them before they get started.

  2. I love that you have a center with music books. I never thought of doing that. Great idea!

    1. The kids really love it. A lot of them like to take turns reading to each other! <3

  3. How long do the kids stay at each station? My classes are 40 minutes.

    1. It depends, but I've found about 7 minutes is ideal in most cases. 5 minutes is a little short, but 10 is too long. I talk more about the logistics of running centers in this post: