Teaching Music is so much more than getting students to perform music. One of the greatest gifts music teachers can give students is the tools to turn to music to work through hard emotions during hard times. I’m happy to share some strategies that I have implemented in teaching elementary students in my private studio that make space for their hard times, and lead them towards music as a source to work through it. 

Kids are different. Some want to talk it through, and others are private. Teachers know when something is off. Here are some ideas to be there for students:


Improvisation Rolls: *no improvisation experience needed by teacher or student. Roll a drone while your student takes a deep breath (or two), closes their eyes if comfortable, and begins rolling. Ask the student to go slow and move notes with their breath, rolling one note at a time to start with. Match dynamics and let them lead. There are no wrong notes. The student can move back to the drone note when they are all done. I’ve found that keeping to all the white keys and droning on A to be a great way to start. 

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

-thich nhat hanh

Drumming to Your Students Favorite Music: Ask your student what their favorite music is. Turn it on and up, think up a great beat, and drum together. Try to let go of critique or much instruction and have it be more about feeling the music. (easier said than done, I know)

This doubles as an exciting way to end lessons and is especially helpful for those times when the clock seems to move in fast forward and you’ve been pushing a student hard and you want a fun goodbye. During these lighter times, I love asking students to dictate the rhythm I’ve thought up onto a sheet of paper for their binder. It’s nice for them to be able to recall at home, and to have on hand for future lessons. I’ve also had fun with having students compose several beats and then picking one they like best, or moving between beats. You don’t need to be great at improvisation, or have drum circle experience to feel the music and enjoy the beat. 



Adjust Your Lesson Plan: Kids have a whole lot of sources of tough love and while sticking it through is an important skill to develop, sometimes adjusting the lesson plan helps facilitate growth. This is easier for teachers with a process-based philosophy rather than those with a product-based philosophy. Learning how to use music to work through emotions is an invaluable lifelong tool. 


Pause the lesson and draw: Sometimes if I know a student needs to be in the studio but can’t pull themselves together, for example in the case of the student who just found out their parents are divorcing, I would pull out colored pencils and paper or coloring pages (the intricate beautiful ones) and we can do listening as we color, or listen, talk and color. I love Susan Hong’s coloring pages for easy last minute printing. 

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

~ Pablo Picasso


I hope you enjoy connecting with your students. -K.E. 

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