Image Map

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Teaching Older Beginners

What do you do when your older students haven't been taught the concepts you would normally expect them to have learned when they were younger? Maybe you just took a new job and there hasn't been a certified music teacher in that position for a while, or maybe you teach in a school where the students don't even get to start music class until they're older. Today I want to explain my approach to teaching general music to older beginners.

One of the most common questions I get is some variation of this: do you have any lesson ideas for teaching Kindergarten concepts to 6th graders? I just started a new job and my older students have never had music class before, so I need to start back at the beginning with everyone. 

The short answer: no you don't.

There are a few different music education methodologies out there that give us a general sequence for introducing fundamental musical concepts in the elementary grades. Whether it's Orff, Kodaly, Music Learning Theory, or something else, the sequence that is laid out in each of those is based on what concepts are appropriate for each age. Regardless of their previous musical background, your 6th graders are just as developmentally ready for the 6th grade concepts as any other 6th grader. Of course any skill takes practice, and practice takes time. And you need to understand beat to understand the divisions of beats- concepts build on each other. But the concepts that are age appropriate don't change based on their background knowledge- they change based on their overall development.

But obviously you can't just jump straight into eighth-sixteenth note combination rhythms if the students have never seen music notation before. So what's the answer? 

2 things: review, and modeling.


The good news about any sound general music curriculum is, there is A LOT of review built into it. Because it's assumed that usually students are not getting music class every day, all year, music curriculum is spiraled (meaning concepts are revisited repeatedly with increasing complexity) and it's always assumed that students will need to review constantly to retain things they learned. 

For older beginners, they're just going to need more review more frequently, and treat it less like "you should know this already, I'm just reminding you" and more like "let's practice the fundamentals". Songs that would be in a 6th grade lesson on sixteenth-eighth combination rhythms probably also have quarter notes, paired eighth notes, and steady beat. You just need to point those out more explicitly and focus most of your practice on those fundamental concepts than you normally would, throwing the new 6th grade concepts out there without expecting them to grasp them as quickly.

That brings me to the second component:


No, 6th graders who have never had music class before are not going to be independently reading sixteenth-eighth combination rhythms right away. But their brains are developmentally equipped for the concept. If the lesson in the curriculum resource you're referencing says students should be counting and reading the rhythms independently, have them echo you reading them instead. If they are supposed to be independently composing a syncopated rhythm, talk through it as a class, model how to write it, and have them copy yours to create a rhythm together. 

Think about it this way: when you get a new student who moves into your school mid-year and never had music class before (or even just hadn't been exposed to specific concepts you already covered before), you expect them to need some extra support from you or a peer, you make sure to explain things to them more, but you still give them the same work and you expect that they'll catch up eventually. You're certainly not going to put them in another grade level's music class because you can't! Most of the time they aren't going to be your top students academically- at least not right away- it's all about making sure they don't get frustrated by assuring them that you understand they are catching up and that you will help them whenever they're unsure. What I'm talking about is essentially just applying that same philosophy to an entire classroom. 

If you are looking for an appropriately sequenced general music curriculum that includes all of that review practice, I have designed the Organized Chaos K-6 Curriculum to do just that, and I have used it successfully with my students for decades. What are your thoughts on teaching older beginners? Have you ever been in this position, and what did you find worked for you? Let me know in the comments!

No comments :

Post a Comment