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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Top 3 Units for Middle School General Music

Lesson planning for middle school general music classes can be tricky. There are not nearly as many resources out there as there are for elementary general music or middle school ensemble classes, and usually the students aren't easily impressed! I run my middle school classes very differently from my elementary classes- I use a lot more project based learning with longer units on focused topics. Today I'm sharing my favorite units to use with this age group. I hope it gives you some fresh inspiration for your middle school general music classes!

1. World Music: focus on 1 culture

If you've been around my blog for long, you've most likely heard me talk about this before. Rather than teaching a cursory overview of music from a variety of cultures, I like to plan more in-depth units focused on 1 particular country or culture. This way, students are able to connect more with the culture and better understand their perspectives and histories. My middle school students have loved these units, and they are great places to incorporate specific practice of melodic, rhythmic, form, or other musical elements in a fresh way. 

I've written extensively about my lessons on music from different cultures on this blog. My favorites to use with middle school are Brazil, Mozambique, and Japan, but any of the countries listed below would work well. Click on the pictures to see my detailed plans for each culture's music.






2. Composition

One of the biggest needs for all humans, but teens and pre-teens in particular, is the need to be heard. What better way to express themselves and "find their voice" than through creating their own music? I love getting into the fundamentals of chords and chord functions with my middle school students and having them create their own original song complete with harmony, melody, and maybe even some added lyrics or accompaniment parts. I have them write a basic chord progression, write a melody using chord tones, and then record themselves performing the whole thing. At the end of the project they get a CD to take home with their recording on it. It is a lot of work but so rewarding. I've had students perform the chords on keyboards, xylophones (I teach them to hold 3 mallets, which they think is cool), boomwhackers, or even using the computer ( is easy to use), but after getting new ukuleles last year through DonorsChoose, I now incorporate the project into my unit on ukulele. Here are the materials I use for the composition project:

The chord progression composition project is the biggest one I do with my middle schoolers, but I like to incorporate small composition tasks regularly into other units as well. Here are some of my top tips for incorporating composition into middle school (and upper elementary) lessons, including some of my other favorite projects for this age: Music in Movies and Music in Video Games.

3. Careers in Music

This is always a fun project when it's done right. I first invite students to name some careers that are related to music. Usually they don't come up with that many. Then we go on this website and scroll through the list of professions. There are tons listed here! Once they realize how many there are, the students usually get really excited about exploring some of them. I have students choose (either individually or in a small group) 1 career they are interested in studying (making sure every individual/group chooses a different one) and give them time to research some specific questions, like what the average salary is, what skills and training are needed for the job, what the work hours are like, and other specific information about that job. Then students create a wanted ad for an imaginary job in that field. They can create a TV commercial (where they act out the scene for the class), a radio ad (which they read/recite for the class), or a poster (which they create on large paper). 

These are just a few of my favorites but I hope they give you some fresh ideas for your middle school general music classes! What are some of your other favorites? I'd love to hear about your middle school units in the comments below!

Looking for more lesson ideas for K-6 general music and the materials to teach them? Here's my full curriculum set, which includes all of the units mentioned above.

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  1. Thanks for the great ideas! I am going to plan a lesson for one of my older classes on careers in music. The website you listed is fantastic.

    1. I was so happy to stumble on the careers website- glad you found the ideas useful, and hope they are effective and engaging for your students too!

  2. Hello. Are you still teaching? Do you still engage with your students for music learning with a global perspective? I have so many questions about how this functions in your district program. Please reply via email if and when you can.
    Many thanks

    1. Hello! Yes, I am currently a full-time K-6 general/choral music teacher in a public school in CT, USA. I am happy to answer any questions! You can email me at caldwell (dot) organized (dot) chaos (at) gmail (dot) com any time.

  3. Thank you so much! I was planning a unit on non-performing music careers and your ideas acted as another catalyst for the unit. I appreciate your ideas!

    1. I'm so glad this helped you plan out your unit! Thank you for taking the time to comment :)