Musically Montessori: 13 Secrets To A Successful, Engaging, & Fun Preschool Music Lesson! (#11 is my favorite)


All photos in this article are from the artists at Dollar Photo Club 

In Preschool, children sing during every circle time and often during transitions, too. And, a seasoned teacher knows that giving "musical messages" gets the point across to a child like magic! (singing what you would like the child to do as opposed to telling what to do)

So, maybe you would like to actually FEATURE MUSIC as a WEEKLY CIRCLE. Music can easily be part of your Cultural Studies Curriculum. You can feature music, dance, drama and instruments from just about any cultural group in the world. And don't forget that Music is a curriculum area of its own and deserves as much attention as any of the others. In fact, the three r's, "reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic", are all part of Music, not to mention Science (how does sound happen?) and Biology (vibrations from the vocal cords create sound, ...and the diaphragm muscles support the lungs for breathing while singing). Young children develop language skills (vocabulary & rhyming words) through music by memorizing childhood songs. When playfully introduced to music notation, I've seen so many children have lots of fun "writing music" from tracing quarter notes in the sand tray, to creating note patterns with black sticky dots on large music staff paper, to spontaneously writing their own music out on little scraps of paper! (like Mozart and Beethoven did) And don't forget that music has a huge mathematical aspect: you can count out the beat or rhythms, music note values are based on fractions,  ensemble performance and poly rhythms are complex mathematical sequences, as well.

Below, I have listed some of my secrets of creating a fun music lesson for little children. I hope your group enjoys them as much as we have over the years!    


  • Establish HAND SIGNALS for "PLAY" (or "sing") and for "STOP" (or "rest" instruments). You won't be able to be speaking over the children's voices or instrument playing, (you'll also be singing & playing anyway!) so you need to have some hand signals that show the children when to start and when to stop. After all, you are like the conductor in your little music class!

I use a simple count down with my 3 fingers (sort of like "ready, set, go".) In fact, sometimes I will sing "Ready, set, sing," while I show the count down with my fingers.

You can also lift your hands (like an actual conductor would do) to indicate: "Ready, set, play."

Steven Sametz conducting the Lehigh University Choir, without a baton from Wikipedia site

Likewise, you can lower your hands for indicating: "And, Stop." 

For a wonderful lesson on conducting from a well-known conductor, Gerard Schwarz, you can click here to see the youtube video: Gerard Schwarz conducting Beethoven's fifth.

  • Establish HOW CHILDREN WILL GET INSTRUMENTS & HOW THEY WILL PUT THEM AWAY. When all the children are PLAYING THE SAME INSTRUMENT, I am the one who passes the instruments out, as I quickly go around the circle. (If you have a large group, then your co-teacher can help pass them and reduce some of the waiting time) However, I ask that the children "rest" their instruments until all the children have theirs & the teacher (me) indicates: "Ready, set, play." RESTING THE INSTRUMENT IS  having it sitting on the floor in front of the child...the child isn't touching or playing it. It is important to get the instruments passed out quickly so there is minimal waiting time and I always thank the  children for being so patient! Then, it's time to "play your favorite way" on the instrument. I invite the children to play freely (and respectfully) for half a  minute to a minute and then I indicate: "And, stop."  At other times, WHEN I OFFER THE CHILDREN A CHOICE AT INSTRUMENT TIME, that means just 3 or 4 different instruments that they are already familiar with playing. I set the instruments out in their own baskets in the middle of the circle, show children how to get the instrument they choose, and then I tap  each child on the head to indicate that child may go to the baskets and make his/her choice. Likewise, at the end of instrument time, I tap each child gently on the head to indicate it is his/her turn to put their instrument back in the basket. I demo how to BEND DOWN AND PUT the instrument away as opposed to throwing or dropping it into the basket. Recently, I started singing the ABC song during the time the instruments are being put away and now the children recognize that as a cue and also they are engaged with singing the song during this tricky transition.                                      
2. START & END THE LESSONS THE SAME WAY EVERY TIME. I start with a warm-up activity and then we sing a Hello Song. I have one I made up and I also like this one from Lynn Kleiner: "Hello, I'm Glad You're Here Today." I alternate between the two. Then, we always end our class with "I Have a Little Pony" Song that leads us into our Good-bye Song. I have a goodbye song that I made up and also we like this one that uses sign language. Click here to see it on youtube: "Music Is Done" song from 12 Goodbye Songs by Margie & Peach.
3. FEATURE A CONCEPT  or  AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF MUSIC. This is the secret that distinguishes an everyday circle from a circle devoted to Music. There are so many fun concepts and important features in music:

  • Loud & Quiet (termed Forte & Piano in the language of music)
  • Fast & Slow (in music, one term for fast is Presto & one term for slow is Largo...there are many music terms in between these extremes, too)
  • High & Low (this indicates Pitch in the language of music)
  • Steady Beat (the underlying pulse of the music, can usually be counted 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 etc. in children's songs) 
  • Rhythms ( usually matches the words: in music, a melody has an underlying steady beat, but it also has patterns of sounds & silences and music notes can be short or long.) In teaching young children, Music Teachers often start with the terms "ta" for 1/4 note, "ti-ti" for double 1/8 notes, and "toe" for 1/2 note. (Ex: Ta  Ti-ti  To-oe) Check out my quirky little video to hear some rhythm patterns for young children. Click here: Magical Movement Company Fun Stuff For Kids. 
  • Getting Faster (Accelerando in music language) and getting Slower (Ritardando in music language)
  • Getting Louder (Crescendo in music language) and getting Quieter (Decrescendo in music language)
  • Famous Composers & their music (many were child prodigies, like Mozart for example)
  • Instruments of the Orchestra (these are grouped in four "families": woodwinds, strings, brass, & percussion.) I think children like the fact that they are called "families"...something they can relate to! 
  • Beginning Music Notation (you can introduce young children to the music staff by having them hold their hand sideways, spread the fingers and count out five fingers and four spaces between the fingers, like the music staff with five horizontal lines and four spaces in between) See my post on Montessori style "Sand Paper Music Notes" by clicking the title link.  and my post on Montessori style "Moveable Music Notes" by clicking that title link.
 4. START WITH A WARM-UP. All professional musicians warm up on their instrument and/or their voices before playing or singing, and children really enjoy this professional approach in the Preschool classroom. I make it fun with silly vocal sounds, images of sliding up and down for controlling pitch, and easy copy-back rhythms. Please read more about these at my past post here: Musically Montessori #6 Warm ups for hands, body and voice in music class. 


After the first few minutes of warming up and singing the "Hello Song", I get the children moving to warm up their bodies as well! This also helps get the wiggles out, and you can choose a movement activity that goes along with the concept you are presenting. This is when I use my iPod and sound system (read more about what equipment I use at this post: Musically Montessori, Music Toolbox: My Stand-by Favorites.) I use recorded movement songs so that I can move along with the children to model how to do the activity. It is sort of like: the recording is the teacher for a moment and I assist by showing the children how to participate. Here's a list of my favorite children's artists and their movement songs:
Frank Leto

Hap Palmer

Greg & Steve

Lynn Kleiner

Ella Jenkins

 6. OFFER FUN, FOCUSED LISTENING ACTIVITIES. After our movement activity, the children are ready to sit down and do some focused listening (an important skill that little children love practicing to get better and better). Here again, I use recordings, and there are a variety of activities beginning with listening to everyday sounds (sound effect recordings) like birds or mice (high pitch) and frogs or dogs or cows (low pitch). Focused Listening Time is also a good time for children to listen to an excerpt from a famous composer, especially if you are featuring that composer. My favorites for children: Beethoven, Mozart, Camille Saint Saens, and Tchaikovsky. Another listening activity that children enjoy is listening to cultural music from your featured country or continent that you happen to be studying at the time. Even such experiences as listening to Rimsky Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee"  or Saint Saens "The Aquarium" can fit into your current curriculum studies in your group. ****LIMIT THESE FOCUSED LISTENING ACTIVITIES  TO a 1 minute excerpt! (see secret #12 below for more on this) Check out some of my favorite links for focused listening at my past post: here.


  • START WITH THE FAMILIAR and then EXPAND it. You can have fun with the "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Song" in so many ways to emphasize a new music concept. (ex: Invite the children by saying:  "Let's sing the Twinkle Twinkle song in a FORTE (loud) voice!" Or, when studying Mozart's Bird Catcher's duet (a man & woman singing together) from his opera, "The Magic Flute" you can invite the children to: "Sing the Twinkle Twinkle song in your high pitch 'opera voice' like the woman bird catcher, Papagena! Now, let's sing it in our low pitch 'opera voice' like the man bird catcher, Papageno!" Later, the "Twinkle Twinkle Song" can be accompanied with percussion instruments, while encouraging the children to pay attention to the steady beat of the song when they play. Simple, familiar songs like "Rain, Rain Go Away" can eventually be played on a pitched instrument (ex: Xylophone) when the children are ready (4 yrs old onwards).  
  • START WITH A CONCRETE EXPERIENCE before moving on to the abstract. Introduce a new animal song after the children have had a visit from the Zoomobile or after they've released ladybugs in the garden. Likewise, introduce the children to writing music notation by first offering them activities with the Montessori style  "sand paper notes". You can read more on this at my post: here.  "Visuals" (photos or pictures) of an unusual animal such as the slow-moving sloth (to feature the concept of Largo) help the children gain a better understanding of what animal you are referring to.      


Provide an instrument for each child and in the beginning weeks everyone should have the very same instrument and preferably one that requires using both hands.


Playing a pair of rhythm sticks (or maracas or sand blocks, etc) keeps both hands occupied and this is also how virtually every "real instrument" is played in the adult world. Using two hands is a must in music! Playing with both hands not only nurtures the developing brain, it also strengthens the child's hand & finger muscles. I have a lovely post about my favorite children's percussion instruments, and the brands I recommend, at this post here:Step Right Up and Choose Your Instrument! You can also check out MY AMAZON STORE to find all my favorite music supplies.

10. USE PROPS. Puppets can help children understand music concepts in a playful way. (ex: bird for high pitch and frog for low pitch) You can also use a favorite puppet to demonstrate to children how to sing a new song, how to move to a rhythm or a dynamic in a music selection...the list goes on. Your group may already be familiar with scarves (great for butterfly songs), small balls (to go with so many ball rolling songs in a group or partners), paper plates (fun to "wear" as ice skates while you play "The Skater's Waltz".) Here's a recording on youtube: Skaters Waltz. You can read more about props at my post here: Giant Rainbow Elastic  and here: Preschool Music Fun with "Music Babies".

11. "INVITE" RATHER THAN "INSIST." This secret is closest to my heart. I was a shy child and whenever I was pushed to perform (sing or play an instrument) I was struck with fear! I have a beautiful singing voice, but to this day, stage fright is still with me whenever I have to perform before any kind of audience. (even children) I've spent many years of my life overcoming this fear. As a music teacher of young children, I have found that my ENTHUSIASM in singing or playing a song is a BIG MOTIVATOR for children to sing and play. Encourage, encourage, encourage....but I NEVER INSIST that a child participate  in any activity in music class. Besides, as Montessorians, we are aware that young children ABSORB just about everything in the environment and you can be sure that the "OBSERVERS" ARE ABSORBING lots of information from each music lesson.  

12. KEEP EACH ACTIVITY IN THE LESSON SHORT. I have what I call the "One-Minute Law": I always aim to offer little music activities that last about a minute. You can always do the activity over again if it wasn't quite enough for the children. Of course, some recorded songs will be longer than a minute, and some activities need 2,3 or even 5 or 10 minutes...but my rule of thumb is my "One-Minute Law" so I try to plan as many of these as possible. (ex: Instrument playing time may last 10 minutes with time for distributing instruments, practicing rhythms and then playing several one-minute songs, rather than  one 5 minute long song) Also, you can always stop the recording if it is too long, by gradually lowering the volume on your speakers/iPod. I have also stopped the music, at times, if the children are getting so loud or out of control that they aren't able to really hear or do an activity the way it was designed. When the music stops, the children will stop and I quickly give them a message to gently rub their ears so they can hear the song and then, move to the music...rather than shouting or aimlessly bumping into others. Occasionally, we've stopped an activity entirely and I say: "We'll do this activity on another day when you all are a little older.." I also re-evaluate the activity to see if it is appropriate or if I can adjust it to work more smoothly for the children. Montessori educators are constantly evaluating lessons and shelf works and "tweaking" them to make them more appropriate for the child's success. No judgements...just making adjustments.

13. TEACH "WITH ENERGY"! I once took an Orff-Schulwerk dance workshop from Lily Cai, a renowned dancer from China. We were learning techniques for the Chinese Ribbon Dance and she would demonstrate the moves and then ask us to do them. After we did them once through, she would always say: "Now, this time, do the motions with energy!" it was amazing the difference it made to perform "with energy"...just the phrase was enough to bring our consciousness back to what we were doing. I often say to the children: "I want you to sing in your most beautiful singing voices and with energy!" (Sometimes, I even add: "Like this..." and then I sing in my most beautiful singing voice "with energy" to show them what I mean.) It works like a charm.


THE BIGGEST SECRET OF ALL:  It's showtime, so.... SMILE!

Photo by Jeri Jo Idarius Photography from Magical Movement Company archives

Most of the time, I can't hold back the smiles because these little ones are so adorable when they are exploring music. Today, my classes did the "Robot Dance" to emphasize the concept of STEADY BEAT...well, you can just imagine how darling those "little robots" looked!

I am so happy to have you visiting my Blog! I have just created MY NEW TPT STORE (TPT= Teachers Pay Teachers) and there are FOUR LESSON PLAN ACTIVITY PRINTABLES you can buy and download immediately to get you started with your weekly music circle! 
Here are the links:

Musically Montessori: Is it Piano or is it Forte? THIS ONE IS FREE!
Musically Montessori: Is it High or is it Low? ($2.99)

Musically Montessori: Is it Presto or is it Largo? ($2.99)

Musically Montessori: Is it a Steady Beat? ($3.99, THIS ONE COMES WITH A BONUS LESSON!)

I have lots and lots of posts filled with music activities for young children! You can check them out by clicking here: MUSIC. 

I'LL BE OFFERING A REALLY FUN eCOURSE WITH MY ALL TIME FAVORITE MUSIC CURRICULUM, "Music Room" from Bushfire Press in LATE SUMMER 2016. If you take my on-line course, YOU'LL BE ABLE TO GET CONTINUING EDUCATION UNITS, too! You can subscribe here (on the sidebar of this blog) so that you don't miss any of my updates! ----------------------->

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