Differentiated Strategies

In his article for the Music Educators Journal, Nathan Walby outlines five strategies for learning and comprehending vocabulary words in the general music classroom.

Direct Quote:

  • Fill-in-the-blank questions: Not only do these questions reinforce meaning, but they also offer multiple examples of context.

  • Matching pairs: This technique requires students to connect a list of terms with a subsequent list of definitions. Beyond strict definitions, teachers can also use this technique to connect better descriptors to words, such as connecting allegro with “quick and full of life.”

  • Sorting words: Students are asked to reorganize a series of words based on like-types. This technique helps students better categorize the words they know and, in the process, refine their internal definitions.

  • Odd man out: In a group of four to five words, students circle the word that least relates to the group. This is another categorization technique that can help students develop a hierarchy of relationships.

  • Partnership words: Students are given one term, followed by a group of four partnering terms, and are asked to select which from the group of four can (or cannot) be partnered with the primary word, for example, “largo: tempo, dynamics, beat, ending.” This type of exercise helps students realize the multiple roles and varied contexts a word can take by exploring various partnering relationships.

Walby, N. (2011). Tell Me What You Hear: Vocabulary Acquisition and Application in the General Music Middle School Classroom. Music Educators Journal, 98(2), 55–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/0027432111426784


In his article for the Music Educators Journal, Nathan Walby outlines five strategies for retaining vocabulary words in the general music classroom.

Direct quote:

  • Word wall: Once a word is formally taught, it is written on a large index card with (or without) a short definition and posted in the classroom where students can refer to it throughout the lesson and beyond.

  • Word tree: As an alternative to the word wall, the word tree also displays words taught in class, but with an extra level of categorization by organizing like-minded words on corresponding “concept branches.”

  • Alphaboxes:7 Developed by Linda Hoyt, alphaboxes function like word walls, but on an individual basis. As students learn words that could be used in their listening assignments, they copy these words onto an alphabet worksheet, created by a 4-by-6 table holding all the letters (with XYZ in the last box). As new words are introduced, the alphaboxes become a more valuable resource to the student. Along with technical vocabulary, alphaboxes work well with storing and retaining emotionally descriptive words, like inspiring, cheerful, and jolly, which a teacher may want to highlight but not add to the word wall.

Walby, N. (2011). Tell Me What You Hear: Vocabulary Acquisition and Application in the General Music Middle School Classroom. Music Educators Journal, 98(2), 55–60. https://doi.org/10.1177/0027432111426784



In his article for the Journal of General Music, James L. Reifinger Jr. outlines five steps or parts to learning to read notation.

  • Singing accuracy - Students are taught solfege with accurate intervals. This can be done through patterns of do-re-mi or so-mi-la. The teacher demonstrates a pattern with hand signs and cues the students to sing the pattern also with hand signs. At first, the teacher should continue to gesture the hand signs while the students sing but should not sing the pattern with the students so the teacher can focus on listening for accuracy. After time, the teacher should stop continuing to gesture the hand signs while the students sing so that they rely on what they are singing versus what they're seeing.

  • Aural identification - Students are given the opportunity to identify pitches without the visual hand signs and use of solfege. The teacher instead sings on a neutral syllable. The students are tasked with repeating the pitches on solfege and with proper hand signs.

  • Formulating aural images of pitches - Students are taught to internally hear pitches without the presentation of them. This can be done by engaging in the activity above but eventually, the teacher only demonstrates the pattern with the hand signs and without singing them. The students still respond with the pattern vocally and with hand signs.

  • Iconic notation reading - Students are introduced to notation identifying and interpreting letters such as the starting letter of each solfege syllable (D for Do, R for Re, etc.), before simply the noteheads on different lines and spaces.

  • Notation reading - Students now read melodies using iconic notation and then proper notation. They utilize every skill mentioned above and continue to progress.


Reifinger, J. L. (2020). Teaching Pitch Notation–Reading Skills. General Music Today, 33(3), 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1177/1048371319891419


In her article for the Journal of General Music Education, Kathy Bawel discusses a strategy for a listening activity. Five of the steps are as follows:

  • The teacher introduces the title, composer, and genre of the example.

  • Questions are given to the students to guide their listening.

  • The teacher plays a 3-5 minute-long example.

  • The students answer and discuss the questions.

  • The class creates a note of the listening with unfamiliar terms kept in a designated subsection.

Bawel, K. (1992). Four Strategies for Middle School General Music. Soundings (Reston, VA), 6(1), 33–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/104837139200600110


When given an excerpt to read, students can also be given a worksheet created by the teacher that ensures the student finds the most important information.

Example:

Given the above excerpt, a guided worksheet could look something like the following:

Forney, K., & Machlis, J. (2011). The enjoyment of music: An introduction to perceptive listening. W.W. Norton & Company.


In her article for the Music Educators Journal, Sheila J. Scott outlines three forms of assessment and explains how they are different. These forms could serve as a means for teachers and students to monitor comprehension of materials.

  • Assessment of learning - This assessment is traditional in that it is summative and measures what the students have achieved and what they know. It is criterion-referenced as well as norm-referenced. This means that student success is compared to the intended outcomes of the lesson(s) and the sucess of counterparts.

  • Assessment for learning - This assessment is used as feedback to inform future learning. Teachers will use results to change future instruction. It is formative as well as criterion-referenced. Scott discussed including students in the creation of the rubrics.

  • Assessment as learning - This assessment is self-reflective by the students. It is criterion-referenced as well as self-referenced and formative. Students assess themselves and adjust their plans for their own future learning.


Scott SJ. Rethinking the Roles of Assessment in Music Education. Music Educators Journal. 2012;98(3):31-35. doi:10.1177/0027432111434742


In her article for the Journal of General Music Education, Kathleen Diane Frasher discusses six strategies to incorporate when exposing students to various song selections. Frasher discussed these strategies to be combined with a visual such as a PowerPoint that would set objectives and give prompts for students.

  • Schema - This strategy builds on background knowledge because songs are intentionally chosen with their subject in mind. The idea is to choose songs of an appropriate subject for students. The lyrics should be relatable and understandable.

  • Inferring - This strategy describes the choosing of songs where the skill of inferring can be incorporated. Questions can be asked to provoke the inferring by students. Frasher cited McGregor with the explanation that schema + evidence = inference.

  • Questioning - This strategy incorporates provoking students to question what they are experiencing to learn more. Frasher describes the simple who, what, where, when, and how.

  • Determining Importance - This strategy helps students learn to find the important information. Frasher discusses the modern world as full of information. This literacy skill is vital to the achievement of students in any opportunity to learn. Frasher suggests choosing songs where perhaps the most important information needs to be sound and isn't perhaps that obvious.

  • Visualizing - This strategy incorporates the use of a drawing activity or group discussion to recognize the imagery of songs.

  • Synthesizing - This strategy acknowledges that music lyrics often build verse upon verse of information, similar to chapters or paragraphs of a book. To experience this synthesizing, students could be tasked with drawing or describing the ideas of a single part of the song.


Frasher KD. Music and Literacy: Strategies Using Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor. General Music Today. 2014;27(3):6-9. doi:10.1177/1048371314520968


In his 1983 article for the Music Educators Journal, Michael L. Tanner highlights the importance of students to develop their reading skills in anticipation for high school graduation. He lays out activities that can be done in the music classroom to assist students in this development. One of the strategies is as follows:

  • Using student questions - Tanner asked students what questions they have before playing a performing a piece of music. He suggests that having students generate questions will help the teacher understand where the student's frame-of-reference is and gauge their interest. Then, the teacher can write out objectives and make plans for sessions based on the questions. "The teacher would teach toward the answers to these student questions in future sessions," (Tanner, 1983).


Tanner ML. Reading and Secondary Music: Let the Concert Begin. Music Educators Journal. 1983;70(4):40-45. doi:10.2307/3400820


Scaffolding is consistently used in the rehearsal process. If a director is not simply playing the parts on a piano and having the students sing along or learn by rote, then essentially a rehearsal is scaffolding. This is only true if while rehearsing, students are utilizing, practicing, and developing their music literacy skills.

An example of an effective scaffolding sequence in the choir rehearsal would be as follows:

  • Students perform the rhythm of a section on a neutral syllable and without pitch (chanting)

  • Students chant solfege in rhythm

  • Students slowly sing the section on solfege

  • Students add text to the section

Each task layered on top of the last and further advanced the students' achievement. Each sequence was required for mastery of the overall performance and development of music literacy skills (rhythmic sight-reading, melodic sight-reading, diction, etc.)

Scaffolding in the general music classroom is an effective approach to developing skills and understanding concepts with many parts. Take the reading and performing of rhythmic notation for example. A very general overview of that sequence would be as follows:

  • Quarter notes and rests are introduced in the context of common time using "ta" for the notes.

  • The teacher demonstrates performance of various combinations of quarter notes and rests while also gesturing to the visual in time for students to follow along with what he/she is performing.

  • After each demonstration, students repeat the given arrangement as the teacher gestures to the visual in time to keep the students in time.

  • Eventually, eighth notes are introduced using ti-ti.

  • The teacher demonstrates performance of various combinations of quarter notes, quarter rests, and eighth notes while also gesturing to the visual in time for students to follow along with what he/she is performing.

  • After each demonstration, students repeat the given arrangement as the teacher gestures to the visual in time to keep the students in time.

In her article for the Journal of General Music Education, Ellary A. Draper discusses strategies for the music classroom for teaching students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

One of the strategies is the following:

  • Consideration and adaptation to the sensory needs of students with an ASD. This could include sensitivity to the light requiring light adjustments. This could include sensitivity to loud noises such as that of listening examples or live performances by peers or the teacher. This could require the use of noise-canceling headphones or a different space where the sound wouldn't be as intense. Draper also pointed out that just specific instruments could overstimulate students thus requiring the use of different-sounding instruments.

Each student will be different and have unique needs in order to learn and grow. This is just one example of many to consider and anticipate.


Draper EA. Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Strategies for the Music Classroom. General Music Today. 2020;33(2):87-89. doi:10.1177/1048371319880874


In her article for the Music Educators Journal, Stephanie L. Standerfer gives an example of how to use the concept of learning centers within the music classroom. It is a way for each student to be challenged and to grow.

Here is a directly quoted table from her article:

Notice that each group of students is defined by where they are with the materials new, on-grade-level, and advanced. Each student has something to do that is appropriate for them.


Standerfer SL. Differentiation in the Music Classroom. Music Educators Journal. 2011;97(4):43-48. doi:10.1177/0027432111404078