relearning the music room

Making It Work: Relearning the Music Room

I have been having conversations with music educators that go something like this. “I am having so many problems with my classes this year. This has not been a problem for me in the past, I don’t understand why I am struggling.”

For most of us, school is not back to “normal” and now that we understand much more about how COVID is spread, we are back in the music room, able to use our classroom instruments and have a bit more freedom to move. We are excited to dig into as many of our favorite lessons as quickly as we can. The children are so excited to have instruments in their hands and to do all the things.

And then………disaster.

Let’s keep a few things in mind:

  • It has been a LONG time since anything about “school” has been “normal”
  • Just like the rest of us, the children have experienced a collective trauma as we navigate through the pandemic.
  • Many children have spent over a year either learning from home or spent a much larger portion of their school day behind a desk and a computer with limited movement to maintain social distance.
  • The children have changed.
  • WE have changed.

Here are a few suggestions for refamiliarizing our children with making music together in our spaces.

GO SLOW: I am guilty of being so excited to teach some of my favorite lessons again that I rush through the process because we are having so much fun. Then, the lesson breaks down, behaviors pop up and everyone is frustrated. 

Practice personal space. Define the space for the children. Use hula hoops, tape squares, shoe polish to mark the floor or large sections of yarn to make a circle. 

  • Spend time talking about the “personal space” in a playful way. 
  • Grab a drum and have the children move to the beat in their personal space. 
  • Make up a story that their space is “safe” from an unusually fast turtle with slimy feet who is lurking around the room waiting to “hug” little children and cover them in turtle slime. EWWWW The turtle is mesmerized by your drum, so it is safe to venture out while you are playing, and when you stop they need to hop back into their “safe space” or its SLIME TIME!
  • Play one beat for them to hop out, and then hop back in. 
  • Try a different direction, then another one.
  • Walk two beats away from the “safe space” and back.
  • Hop out and in, tip-toe, change levels, move with big and small steps.
  • Repeat this game over several classes for SHORT sessions (Always leave them wanting more!)

Plan shorter learning “blocks” in each lesson, and choose activities that teach procedures in a playful way. Like this one for older elementary students.

  • Use a short speech piece like Good, Better, Best by Michael Chandler
  • Chant the proverb in rhythm 
  • Compose body percussion ostinatos
  • Perform together THE END, Now go do something else.
  • The next lesson, get out just hand drums (If you have enough) or hand drums and rhythm sticks.
  • Take time to remind (even the older students) how to handle and care for the instruments. 
  • Plan time to teach them how to sanitize after they play.
  • Play the ostinato’s they composed the previous class while chanting the rhythm in three or four ways. THE END, Now go do something else. 

If we leave them wanting more, we can reuse this activity the next lesson and reteach the sanitizing procedure again. 

Advance in small steps. Perform the chant as a round while we play our ostinatos, the next class create an instrumental B section.

REMAIN CALM. Remember that collective trauma I was talking about? Find two or three moments in your work day where you can take 30 seconds to a minute just to breathe and clear your mind. These mini-breaks will allow your nervous system to settle and help us stay calm. Many of us are feeling over-stimulated after being home and isolated for some time. Many of us are experiencing conflicting thoughts and emotions that can be confusing to our mind and body making us feel unsettled. If we take some time to reset our own mind and body we can be better leaders and models for the children and remain calm when problems arise in the classroom.

Repeating procedures and routines in a playful and musical way, with short bursts of active music making and a heavy dose of patience and compassion for our students will help them to re-learn how we have fun while learning in our music spaces. Taking care of our own needs as educators will allow us to do the same. 

We would LOVE to hear about what has been working well for you and the mini-musicians you serve.

LeslieAnne Bird

LeslieAnne Bird is a music and movement educator at University Schools in Shaker, Ohio. She teaches general music and choir to fifth through seventh grade young men and is an adjunct Professor at the University of Akron. She has previously taught in North Olmsted & Cleveland Ohio as well as in Prince George’s County, Maryland. LeslieAnne is a national presenter. She has served as vice president and membership chair for the Greater Cleveland Orff Chapter and is currently serving as the content curator for the Teaching With Orff community. In addition, she is the owner and CEO of Three Little Birds Music Education Services LLC where she offers teacher training, coaching and musical experiences for children and adults. She earned Orff Certification from Baldwin Wallace University in 2014, and has completed Music Learning Theory General Music Level One, Level One World Music Drumming training, Level One Google Certification and has earned the Ohio Master Teacher designation.

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  1. Freda M. Sanford on September 15, 2021 at 11:32 am

    I’d love to hear ideas of how you and others are sanitizing instruments quickly

  2. Aron on September 16, 2021 at 11:03 am

    That’s what I need to hear this morning. This fall has been trickier than anticipated!

  3. LeslieAnne Bird on September 20, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    Hi Freda,

    I am using a high-quality sanitizing spray. We lay the instruments on the floor and I have classroom helpers who are “The Sanitizing Superheroes”. They spray the instruments (and chairs) and leave them there to dry while the next class comes in. They usually dry in time, if not I have paper towels available and the “Instrument Crew” from the next class wipes them off and puts them away or has them ready for the next group. The “Instrument Crew” uses hand sanitizer before wiping the instruments. Hope this helps.

  4. Tiera on February 20, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    Hi Orff Educators,

    Over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged educators to make more accommodations for students who do not have specific resources that will help them achieve success. As a music educator, how are we able to help accommodate students when the school district fails us?

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