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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Exploring Hip-Hop Elements in Elementary Music

Over the last several years I've been working with local hip-hop artists and hip-hop educators to learn how to appropriately and effectively incorporate hip-hop into my music lessons. While I still have a lot to learn and I am by no means an expert on the topic, I have found some excellent resources by people who are. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite resources for teaching the elements, or pillars, of hip-hop in elementary music class.

Teaching hip-hop in the elementary general music classroom can be difficult to do well if you haven't been immersed in the genre. One of the things I've learned over the last few years as I've tried to intentionally incorporate hip-hop into my teaching is the importance of context. Like most things in teaching, pulling one element out of context and teaching that in insolation is a disservice to the culture from which is was pulled. So many music teachers do this with rap- in an effort to incorporate hip-hop music in their lessons, they will have students write lines to say over a beat, or practice reading poetry with a drum loop. Rapping is not hip-hop, it is merely one small part of it! And even though we may be short on class time it's important to make sure we aren't giving students a skewed view of what the genre is about. 

In this previous post I shared some of my favorite resources for introducing hip-hop, including the history of hip-hop and the pillars, or elements, of hip-hop culture. If you haven't seen that post, you'll want to go back and read that after this one for some introductory resources on what the elements are and what they each mean. Depending on the amount of time you have (and this could of course be spread out across grade levels and taught over the course of a few years), you can dive more into each of the 9 elements, but the most directly musical ones are MCing, DJing, breaking, and beatboxing. MCing, including rapping, is the one people most commonly include in their classes, but here are some resources for introducing students to the others.

1. Breaking

Breaking is so much fun to teach, and there's a very good chance the students will be better than us, the teachers, before they even start! I find students (especially younger ones) want to "breakdance" any time we are doing any type of dancing activity. For upper elementary, this video is excellent for introducing students to the background and history of breaking:

Then of course, the best part is actually learning some moves! There are lots of tutorials out there that you can use, and often there are students in the class who can help the class learn some basic moves better than any video can, but here are a couple that I've found my students do well with:

2. DJing

DJing is another element that I've found many of my students are very interested in, and there are lots of tutorials online for this as well. I like to show the first 3 and a half minutes or so of this one to give students an idea of the basic gear DJs use and what they do:

For younger students, this Google doodle is an easy and accessible way for them to "try" DJing (the intro at the beginning is pretty great too, but you can skip it if you want to get straight to the turntables). For older students, this website is free for students to try it with more functionality (without needing to create an account to use it). I recommend giving students some tracks from YouTube they can use to try mixing- not all of the tracks that are loaded in the site are school-appropriate.

3. Beatboxing

It can be surprising for kids to learn that beatboxing was not one of the original hip-hop elements, but it has certainly become an important part of the genre now and this is another thing that I've found many of my students have already been practicing on their own at home before I introduce it in school. Again there are tons of great tutorials for beatboxing, but this is a great one for elementary age:

If you have time, especially with upper elementary, this video is great for digging into beatboxing a little more in-depth:

And this is another fun one to show lots of different beatboxing sounds in a shorter video that also showcases a beatboxer their age:

These are some of my favorite options for giving elementary students an introduction to 3 of the hip-hop elements, breaking, beatboxing, and DJing. After we spend a little time in class exploring, I usually give students more links and ideas to explore on their own if they're interested- the truth is all of these things, like most cool things in life, require a lot of dedicated practice! When students get frustrated in class, we always talk about the importance of practice and how much work the artists in these videos have clearly put into their craft.

I hope these resources are helpful, and I know there are a thousand more great ones out there! If you have other resources you love to use with elementary students please leave them in the comments. If you haven't already, be sure to check out my previous posts for important context that you will need for teaching hip-hop in music class:



  1. This is fabulous! I have quite a few 5th graders who are going to LOVE this lesson. Thanks for all your work on this and for sharing!

    1. I'm so glad the post was helpful, and I hope you and your students enjoy exploring the genre together!