Notational Systems

After children can aurally plan and perform their compositions, they may be ready to use a form of notation to help them perform their composition. The notations that the child uses will be different depending on the developmental stage and exposure the child has had to standard notation. They may use different symbols and letters to represent their aural plan. Once the children have created their notation, it should be shared with other members of the class and be performed by other students to see if they can understand what the composer was trying to symbolize with the notation. There should be a discussion after each performance to see if the notational system was clear and if the performer interpreted it correctly. This can give  the teacher insight to the children’s abstract thinking development, an it allows the children to reflect on what they have created and how they can better represent their ideas, and it also encourages them to think more abstractly.  


It is very important to have children composing original pieces in their music classes. It helps give children a chance to be creative and share what they made with others. However, it is important for the teacher to give clear instructions on what the composition should accomplish and what resources the students will be able to use in their compositions. For example, by limiting children to just body percussion and the emotion “happy”, the students will be able to explore the sounds they can make with just their body alone, and then they will have to limit those sounds to something that fits a certain emotion. This way the teacher can asses the child’s understanding of the music they have made and how that music represents a certain feeling. By exploring the instruments and noises in the world around them, the children can grow musically and  developmentally.

This video combines a few good examples of composition activites for different age groups. The first activity is a first grade class doing a body percussion activity. It seems that the students had some time to prepare their performance because they are reading off some type of notation on the floor, and the student in the middle seems to be conducting and indicating when the others should play. The performing students are facing each other, which keeps them from getting distracted by their other classmates while they are performing. The next activity is a third grade class composing a soundtrack to a story. This gives the children a certain idea to guide them in their composition, and shows the students that music can be used to enhance stories. This activity also allows the students to learn with and explore the sounds that the keyboard can make. The next activity is a sixth grade class making compositions with sounds on the keyboard and notating the composition. This activity seems to be an individual activity while all the others were group activities. This activity is good because it again allows the student to explore and manipulate the sounds on the keyboard, and it has the student create a system of notation that they can understand. All the activities seem to work and are appropriate for the age groups that they are used in.

Listening Activites

When choosing music to use for listening activities, it’s important to draw from a variety of genres and cultures. This way children are not only being exposed to just “classical” music in the classroom, but also folk music from a variety of countries and popular music. As much as it is important to introduce students to Mozart and Beethoven, it is also important to show them that music that they hear in everyday life and relate to is important as well. Once music is chosen, the teacher should focus the listening activity to one specific aspect of the music, such as dynamics or the difference in voices, because the children may become overwhelmed trying to pay attention to everything that is going on and will lose interest. Movement is always a good way to engage students in the activity and to asses if they are understanding what they are listening to and if they are paying attention. For example, when doing an activity in listening to dynamics, have the children get lower or higher with the music. That way you can asses if the children are moving in an appropriate manner with the music and are understanding the concept that you are trying to teach. 

This example is a good listening activity to do with children to teach discrimination in sounds. I am assuming that the teacher taught the children which moves to do to which sound because all of the children did the same movements for each sound. By showing the children which movement corresponds to which sound, the children must then actively listen to the music to know which movement they should be using to go with the sound they are hearing. An improvement for this activity might be to instruct the children to use different movements for different sounds instead of giving them specific movements, so the teacher could better asses the students on their musical understanding of the different sounds in the music.

Evaluating students

When evaluating students, it is important to make sure the student has a set of goals and a sense of what they are doing right and wrong so far. It is also very important to make sure the students are evaluating themselves, and that you as the teacher are guiding them. It is helpful to ask them leading questions, such as “Did you play those rhythms accurately?” and “Did you play that with ease?”. By asking questions like this it brings the student’s attention to those aspects of their playing and they are more likely to concentrate on fixing it. It is also very important to give positive feedback and encouragement to students when the reach certain musical goals they have set for themselves. It may also be beneficial to record the student playing at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year so the students can see how much they have improved and how all of their hard work and concentration paid off. 

The playing child

Children are always eager to make music! Although they may sometimes not have the instruments to do so, it doesn’t stop them. Children can use body percussion to accompany and make songs. If instruments are available for them to use, they are usually very eager to try them out. Different children will be drawn to different types of instruments. Some children may be drawn toward non- pitched rhythm instruments such as drums or tambourines, while others will be drawn to melodic instruments such as recorder of one of the many band or orchestral instruments. No matter what they choose, instrumental study is a good way for children to learn about music by making it. It is usually easy to evaluate the student’s musical understanding as well because the student will be able to demonstrate what they know through playing the instrument. 

Rhythmic chants

There are many ways to use chants to teach rhythm. I was always taught rhythms by chanting numbers, such as ” 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +”, and this system worked well for me. However, when I was doing my practica at Mackenzie  Elementary school, the teacher, Miss Robinson, used a few different ways to teach rhythms with the different age levels. When teaching to the kindergarten class, she used colors to teach simple rhythms. Some color names only had one “sound”, such as “blue, red, and pink.” Others had two “sounds”, such as “yellow, orange, and purple”. She then had the children create their own “color compositions”, and the whole class recited them together. Starting with first grade she had the students using the french Cheve system of “ta’s” and “ti ti’s” for rhythms. Like the kindergarten class, she also had the first grade class create their own four bar rhythm compositions using the Cheve system. Another system that works for some students is to use fruits, such as “pear” for quarter notes and “apple” for eighth notes. All of these systems have strengths and weaknesses, and it is really up to the teacher to figure out which system is best for the children they are teaching. 

Children and Rhythm

Rhythm is all around us. There’s rhythm in speech, rhythm in the way we walk, and even our hearts beat out rhythms (steady ones hopefully). The challenge for teachers is to teach children to recognize these rhythms and understand their importance. Children have usually developed beat competence by first grade and are able to keep a steady beat. They also can usually discern fast tempos from slow tempos and quarter notes from eighth notes. Around third grade children can be introduced to the concepts of meter and syncopation. They can recognize sixteenth note patterns as well.  


As a teacher, it’s more than likely that I will have an english language learner as a student. I feel its important to encourage the student and have the student be involved and learning, but at the same time I don’t want to make the student uncomfortable or feel out of place or embarrassed in class. In order to do this, it’s important to use a lot of visual cues for these students and to exaggerate emotions and vary the voice while teaching. It is also important to talk slowly, and reassuringly, and to smile! A problem I may personally run into is keeping my frustration with myself under wraps, because if I seem frustrated while trying to teach an ELL they will think that I am frustrated with them, which will not be the case. Another good strategy is to tie the content in with language practice, and to have group work so the student can interact with and learn language from their peers.