Some Thoughts on Curriculum Planning for General Music

Dr. Rob Lyda • January 2024NAfME Neighborhood • January 8, 2024

Time is a precious commodity. In my experience, time seems to weigh even more heavily on general music educators! We generally see our students for a short amount of time. The variety of general music teaching schedules depends on staffing, student population, and overall school priorities. It’s terrifying to think our students often have more instructional contact time in a summer music camp than in a regularly scheduled music class during the school year. 

This article does not provide a one size fits all miracle approach to general music curriculum planning. Rather, it provides a starting point for you to think through curriculum planning. 

Overall Music Program Goals
Establishing your overall music program goals is an important first step in deciding the ins and outs of your music curriculum. Of course, the teacher’s knowledge base, training, and experience will weigh heavily on the setting of goals. However, other people in the school community will have ideas about what the school music program should look like. The school administration, the students, other teachers, and parents will all have ideas of what they expect students to learn and be able to do in the music program. 

Keeping students and their families central to our overall program goals is important. Some of the things valued by our students and their parents will be musical, societal, and some will be cultural. A primary goal of all music education should be that our students have opportunities to learn about music that is responsive to the variety of their needs. Students come to our classrooms with lived musical experiences. We must find ways to honor and incorporate students’ musical cultures into our classrooms.

It’s important to note when discussing culture, we aren’t always discussing ethnicity or cultural geography. It is equally important to students to give them opportunities to create, perform, respond, and connect to their popular music. Often, a student’s personal and school musical lives are separate. Ask your students what music they like and listen to at home. You might be surprised at the variety and complexity of their musical lives.  

Most schools will require music educators to follow either their state or the national 2014 Music Standards. The 2014 Music Standards do not provide specific guidance on what musical knowledge and skills to teach at specific grade levels. However, many state standards and/or created scope and sequence documents do provide music teachers concrete examples of musical knowledge and skills to teach at each grade level. 

The important thing to remember about any standards document is it is are not a curriculum, but a framework to help guide and give structure to the creation of a curriculum. The actual measurable objectives, knowledge and skills, and activities used to make up a curriculum are the tendons and muscles that move the learning forward. The four anchor standards (creating, performing, responding, and connecting) are common between all musical disciplines. In addition, it is important to note performing is on equal footing with all the other anchor standards. Performing is only one of the means of showing what students know and should be able to do in music. 

Designing a Scope and Sequence
Although there are many places you can find scope and sequence documents you may want to create your own. First, you know if your students are ready to learn certain concepts. Second, you know the time constraints of your program. Finally, creating your own scope and sequence document gives you the flexibility to design, structure, and determine the pace of your students’ learning. I have provided an example of my scope and sequence for second grade. For reference, I see my second graders once a week for 40 minutes for a total of 32 individual lessons throughout the school year.

The first thing you may notice in the scope and sequence document is certain months are shaded red and green. The red months are the transition periods of the school year when it is important to review previously learned material and reinforce classroom procedures.  The green months are the optimal learning times when I can teach new skills and concepts. As you can see, I have six green months each year. Roughly, there are 22 weeks when I can really focus on teaching and learning new material. 

I would caution that my approach to curriculum planning is not a one size fits all approach, but it is the approach that currently works for my teaching situation. I am certified in Orff-Schulwerk, Kodály, and have more than 20 years of experience teaching children. My approach is shaped by my experiences and training. Always keep your students’ best interest at the forefront of your curriculum planning. Ultimately, the best approach to planning curriculum is the one that is best for you, your students, and your school community.

Dr. Rob Lyda is the music teacher at Cary Woods Elementary in Auburn, AL. Throughout his 23-year career he has taught a variety of music courses for students in grades K-undergraduate.   

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