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Who is your music classroom for?

While classroom music teaching can often be a nomadic lifestyle, there are those who are fortunate enough to have their own music classroom. If that is true for you, then I am absolutely delighted.

But how do we create these spaces?

A quick Pinterest search reveals perfectly curated boards, with bright colours, laminated to perfection, with western art music terminology on neat little cards, and an obligatory treble clef.

These are all beautiful, and look very pretty in a classroom.

I need to ask a question though. Who is all of that for? For the students? Or to make our classroom look ‘good’?

I’m certain many wonderful music teachers are starting to feel cross right about now. Please, hear me out.

One of the most frustrating things about these displays is how long they take teachers. And every teacher knows that they don’t easily stay looking good. They take maintenance, need to be replaced, and often get rearranged to add something new.

And even after all that work, who are they for?


When I first became a classroom teacher, I had a very big classroom, but with hardly any wall space. This meant that I had to get creative with displays. In my teaching degree, we had spent a lot of time discussing the actual worth of displays, with the conclusion that the only displays that we needed were ones created with, by and for students, that were updated regularly.

As a result, when my students came into the classroom, we discussed what we thought we would need as a class, and spent a year updating and improving it as we went. And I never once made an art display of their work. They did. It was their work to show off, after all.

This was not a perfect system, but I could guarantee all my students could explain what we had up in the classroom.

And more importantly, they could read and understand all of it, because they were there when I wrote it down. Rather than attempting to decipher a beautiful brand new poster and figure it out on their own, they gave a quick glance, remembered being taught that exact lesson, and applied their learning.

For music teachers, as we teach all year levels, this can’t be quite the same. But the principle still stands.

The best displays are the ones created with, by and for students.

Once again, the focus is moved away from that perfect finished product, to the learning.

The best advice I can give here is give yourself an ‘organised’ blank slate. Have a grand staff ready, that you can build with the students. Allow them to create their own, and put a few up with yours. Not with a pretty border, just stuck on the wall.

You are not just showing them what it looks like, you are teaching them how it works and how it is made, so let them do it with you.

And remember that a pretty music classroom doesn’t automatically equal a good music classroom. You are a wonderful music educator, not an interior designer.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

teacher asking a question to the class

Independence in classroom music

There are so many worthwhile conversations going around right now about classroom music. How can we teach valuable skills? Should we change what we are teaching? And the slightly more frustrating, but ever important discussion of the importance of teaching music in the first place.

This topic, though, I think is one of the most frustrating topics for teachers.

How do I encourage independence in a music classroom, when students cannot move on without my input?

Music teaching is exhausting, partly because it requires so much input throughout the entire lesson. I am by no means saying that teachers shouldn’t have to engage in the lesson. They should. But the difficulty of a music classroom is that everyone often requires ongoing input, rather than being able to move around and support students individually.

The answer to all of this lies, as it usually does, in effective music lesson planning. The reason why your students are not independent is not their lack of capability.


It’s that you are not giving them a task that is achievable for them to complete independently.


In other words, we are not very often willing to give up control of our music classroom.

I have been in this position. Rather than allow a tiny bit of chaos to reign, I have exhausted myself by being up the front the entire lesson, not getting students to stay still and listen by any means, but definitely not relinquishing my control over their choices.

The biggest cost paid in this bargain is your own. Your energy cannot sustain throughout the day at that level. The students will very often enjoy the lesson, but it is not sustainable for you.

So what then, can we do? What music activities can actually be independent in a music classroom?

The answer is many. Remember that the outcome is not always a beautiful performance, but rather rich and powerful learning. Their independent learning should not be something new that they have never before tried; it should be something that they have already learned how to do, that they can do mostly without assistance, to reinforce their learning.

It’s time for me to offer up a humble example of one such task. This task is for students who are comfortable with technology, reading, and understand the concept of electronic creation of music. As it’s classic free resource Thursday, today you can download it, for free! May it lighten your load of planning, teaching and classroom management.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

green typewriter on brown wooden table

Meaningful goals in music lessons

I’m sure many of you had instrumental lessons like it.

The ones where you leave feeling utterly defeated, as if you will never be good enough.

Where everything went so tragically wrong that nothing could ever fix it.

Sometimes, I deserved to be firmly reminded that I needed to practice. That in order to improve, I actually had to put the time in.

This time though, I didn’t deserve it. I had worked hard, made improvements, but it simply wasn’t enough. It never really was. Spoiler alert, I changed teachers after a while.


The reason why I felt so defeated was simple. I had been set a task that I had no idea how to achieve. A task that I didn’t even know if I was capable of achieving. You could just as easily have said to me to refreeze melted ice cream by sheer brainpower, and I would have felt just as lost.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that even though I know this feeling well enough, I have been guilty of passing it onto my students.

Which is why I am so grateful that I am also trained in general classroom education. Because although perfectionism is a definite problem everywhere, it is not as pervasive as in music.

One of the most valuable skills I gained from this education is setting meaningful goals that students can pursue independently.

So often as music teachers, we send off our students to practice a set list of exercises, repeat a bar a certain number of times till they get it right, or just practice that crescendo.

Just PRACTICE.

That is not an achievable goal by any stretch of the imagination.


Which brings me round to my advice. Rather than just give the exercise, explain to the student exactly what you want them to achieve through the exercise. Model it, explain its purpose, give them a try, model it again. And then crucially, WRITE DOWN what you want them to be achieving, and how you want them to get there.

In example:

This week, make the melody line stand out more clearly above the accompaniment. Do this by practicing ghost fingering with your left and right hand, reinforcing the fingering and playing the melody on its own to make clear decisions about the phrasing. By next week, you should be able to hear the melody clearly over the accompaniment every time. Check your progress by making short recordings.

That example is significantly too long, but for your own students it would be possible to shorten it, due to the understanding that you know is already in place. But if your student received that, they would know exactly what needed to happen, and what to do if they were struggling.

This may seem harder in the short term, but in the long term I guarantee you will not regret the new found independence, confidence and growth in your music students!


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

black father playing piano with little daughter

Music teaching and work boundaries

Did you know that most instrumental music teachers work from home?

Well, they do.

From their own living room, in their own safe space. They invite music students in, and they teach them.

Music teachers have been working from home since long before COVID.

Now, I know this is not true for all of you. Some of you might prefer teaching in student’s homes, as I once did, or you may even be fortunate enough to have a studio.

But many of us work from home.

There are so many good reasons why; that’s where the music resources are, it cuts out the commute, and (especially if you teach piano) you can control the quality of the instrument being played by the student at least once a week.

But how do we switch off?

All teachers struggle with this. I hear it every day at work, and I’m sure all of you do too.

“I just wish I had a job that I didn’t keep thinking about all the time!”

all teachers.

Students demand our mental and emotional energy. Seemingly always.

So how, when they are coming into your own home, do you set good work boundaries?

My most terrifying mentor teacher had a saying. I’m certain you’ve all heard it.

‘Work smarter, not harder.’

Her theory was that there was always a simpler way to achieve the same outcome. And most of the time she was right; there was no need to reinvent the wheel.

So why, music teachers, do we constantly do it? We push ourselves to create a new resource, just for that one student who needs it, or plan for several hours to make sure that little Johnny finally stays interested this week.

There’s no quick way to stop this. It takes discipline to switch off.

But as you know, it’s classic free resource Thursday, and I have something for you that I really do hope will help.

Presenting our Lesson Notes Template!

Packed full of advice, as well as a snazzy template to support giving your students meaningful guidance through the week, may it begin your journey to be a more rested music teacher.


Oh no, it looks like you missed out on our free resource! Don’t worry, if you look through our most recent blog posts, you will probably find another one, and it’s always available in the shop.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.

wooden cabinet and stereo

Reinvent the wheel?

I was sitting in a masterclass for composition students, listening to someone’s doctoral update. We listened to his beautiful music, and then it was time to discuss it and give him feedback. He had discussed how he had in fact ended up quoting an old melody he wrote, because”

“There’s not point reinventing the wheel, it’s all my music anyway.”

a truly wonderful composer

I was quietly inspired by this, as it present an excellent moment when hit with writer’s block. I wasn’t hit with writer’s block 6 months ago, how about I use that idea right now as well?

We reached the discussion section, and another doctoral candidate stood up.

He said:

“First of all, I completely disagree with you about not reinventing the wheel. I believe we should entirely reinvent it. I also think you missed opportunities to make your music more interesting and modern.”

a very different composer

(this is a definite paraphrase)

To give context, we had also listened to his music on an earlier occasion. Never had I seen such a complicated approach to creating sound. It was fascinating. I can’t pretend that I enjoyed listening to it, but it was fascinating, and for what it was, very well done.


Why are you hearing this story, you wonder? You’re a music teacher, not a composer, right?

Well, sometimes I wonder if we apply that same thinking to what our music students create. We look for perfect, when it doesn’t exist.

If you studied music in higher education, especially classical music, you know the pressure well. The pressure to create something perfect, infallible, but also never before heard.

I am not entirely ungrateful for that pressure, but it also did a bit of a number on my music output. I created some music that I deeply disliked for the sake of being ‘new and interesting’.

My point here is really very simple, and is something for you as a music educator to chew on.

Why are you pushing your students to make something new?

Is it for their learning to develop, or are you buying into the idea that music must be new and modern to be interesting?

Because if it’s the latter, stop yourself.

The problem with what the second doctoral candidate said wasn’t the part about not reinventing the wheel. It was that rather than discussing the considerable craft that had gone into the music, he instantly discredited it because it didn’t fit his “standards”.

Music is more than you, and although there can be such a thing as a composition that needs work, don’t destroy someone’s creativity to make them fit your idea of ‘good music’.

Let your music students create, be it good, bad or ugly. Their voice is not yours, and it really shouldn’t be.


Feeling overwhelmed with the never-ending responsibilities of a music teacher? Us too! Go to our shop to find reasonably priced music education resources designed by experts to make your life easier.