I have a deep, dark secret. I haven’t spent nearly enough time on music history in my studio. But, it’s something I wanted to change so I rounded up 6 music history group lesson ideas that students love … & are easy to plan!
(For those of you familiar with The Classical Classroom, you may be laughing. It might be one of the best intros to a podcast I have ever heard.)
Why group lessons?
Typically when I want to add a new (or new-ish) topic to my studio, I add it to group lessons first. Why? It’s a great opportunity to try it out & gauge how much interest my students have in that approach. If it fizzles, I know it’s back to the drawing board. But, if it sizzles then I know it’s a winner!
Group lessons are also a fantastic way to change up the schedule (something we all need from time to time) & go in-depth on a particular topic or concept. This means music history is a perfect fit!
I love planning multi-level group lessons so there are fewer scheduling issues (less admin time). And, even my neurodiverse students can have fun with in-person or online group lessons with these creative & practical tips.
Musical eras: the goal
To keep prep time short for group lessons it’s best to decide on a few things first. This is what the initial planning process looked like for me.
- Mission: Bring music history alive for my students in a fun way.
- Challenge: Plan activities for students ranging in age from 5 to teen. Most students are able to read & write, but some can do neither.
- Focus: Give an overview of different composers & what makes them special. End with a group challenge to encourage better retention. Bonus if my students are inspired to look up & learn more about these composers outside of group lesson.
We follow a set schedule for group lessons which makes things much easier on me & helps things run smoother. This has been the same whether these were in-person or online group lessons.
As we have done more group lessons, students easily transition from activity to activity since they always know what to expect.
P.S. You can also save admin time as well by using Google Forms to make registration for studio events (like group lessons) a breeze.
Idea 1: Warm-up activity
For in-person lessons, I usually had a theory-type exercise for students when they came in. However, this hasn’t always been the right choice.
If students are feeling a bit burnt out, colouring pages focused on specific musical eras work great.
Asking students to share about music history they already know … no matter how silly or obscure tweaks students’ curiosity.
Whether in person or online, if everyone arrives on time, movement activities to music from a specific music era get students ready to learn!
Idea 2: Trivia round
Learning random facts can get boring very quickly. But, bring in an element of competition & it becomes way more fun! Before beginning, make sure students have a bit of information. This could be from the colouring pages or sharing time I mentioned in the previous section.
For the trivia round, I love having students work together as a team to beat the teacher. Ding a bell when they get an answer correct to bring out the fun facor. If they get more points than me, they get a prize!
- In-person: Something tangible that can be brought home (i.e. chocolates, candy, stickers, etc.)
- Online: Points is the easiest option. My students work towards earning e-gift cards so extra points can be a big motivator.
I also encouraged students to compile a list of facts for each composer as well since then they can use these for later team activities!
Idea 3: Time capsule
I purchased a clear, paint-style can to use as a time capsule. By putting a picture of the composer around the inside edge the kids were unable to see anything inside. In between lessons, I can store additional time capsule items in extra-large Ziploc bags to save space in my office.
How to make a “featured composer” time capsule:
- Make a few cards with facts about your featured composer.
- Gather objects that represent those facts.
Easy, right? This is also a great multi-sensory activity that can be done for in-person or online group lessons!
When I did this activity, we ended up also going online since my students came up with even more questions or wanted to hear segments of songs our featured composer wrote.
Don’t you love when students engage with the material on an even deeper level? THIS is the big goal with music history. To inspire our students to learn more on their own!
Idea 4: Get moving
Every lesson needs at least one movement component to keep students engaged. I prefer to alternate stationary & movement activities throughout each group lesson to really keep things moving (pun was unintentional)
Some options are:
- Funny arrangements of classical songs
- Different tempos: either within the song or over the course of the group lesson
- Different areas of the world: even though musical eras are based on Western European music (typically), there is an incredible diversity of music for students to listen to
One movement idea is to use these songs for a rousing game of Freeze Dance. While I can’t remember exactly where I got my cards from, there is quite a list of freeze dance games on Teachers Pay Teachers.
I purposely chose funny or upbeat (mood) arrangements of songs to keep things lighthearted, but also show students that classical music doesn’t have to be stuffy or always played exactly as written.
Idea 5: Kahoot
Remember all those composer facts you used in the previous ideas? Well, this is the time when students can put that knowledge to the test!
Kahoot has long been a favourite in my studio. And, it’s something that I really need to add more of to my programming. In our music history group lessons, I ‘tested’ to see how much students retained of all that composer knowledge.
For in-person, I paired more advanced students with beginner students so the teams were even. Beginner students pressed the answer button so they stay engaged.
For online group lessons, I asked students if they wanted to work as a whole team or in family groups. If you go with teams, have students hold up objects that are the colour of the possible answers. Just let them know these are needed when you send out the group lesson link.
Idea 6: Digital escape rooms
Exploring aspects of musical eras with short, engaging segments keeps students interested. And, digital escape rooms have been a favourite in my studio for a few years. Especially since I designed them to be completed in 10 minutes or less (depending on the student).
While you can look at musical eras as a whole, you can choose a specific focus like:
At the end of this article, I’ll share 2 digital escape series that explore the multi-faceted aspects of musical eras from pre-medieval through to now, including music that isn’t often featured in our typical classical music canon. Digital escape rooms are one way we can draw students into the stories & interesting facts from each time period.
Bonus idea: snack time!
Who doesn’t love a good snack right? I like to end on a snack or visiting time so students can wind down from the activities & be ready to transition to the rest of the activities in their day.
This could be as simple as listening to the classical music playlist from Freeze Dance in the background while students snack or visit. Plus, this can lead to quite a few comments & laughs about several of the videos (if you had these playing through YouTube). Not only can it lead to a bit of review, but it ensures you are building studio community right to the end of group lesson!
Music history group lessons made easy
I remember learning about music history through textbooks & worksheets. However, now the research has shown that learning is much more effective (& engaging) when we use a multi-sensory approach. Using these ideas will make planning easy as you build in multi-sensory activities for each group lesson.
Which idea will you be using in your next group lesson?
To help keep your planning time to a minimum, below are 2 awesome digital escape room series that focus specifically on music history. They are quick to download, fun for students & basically mark themselves. Feel free to bask in the compliments on your creativity when you use these at your next music history group lesson!
NOTE: This article was originally published on March 17, 2017. It’s since been updated with more ideas (yay!) & resources to help you teach creatively while still having a balance between work & life (i.e. short prep times).