Instrument Storage Ideas for an Elementary Music Classroom

When planning your classroom layout, you should consider how you will store your instruments for student use. Here I will outline some ways I store my instruments and make them accessible to my students to aid in their independence.

Small Percussion

Small percussion can sometimes be the worst to organize and keep neat throughout the school year, but I have found that keeping them in containers with lids is the best way to go.

When I put the instrument containers on my shelves, I consider the age of the students using them. I put the instruments that will be used by kindergarten most frequently lower to the ground and the instruments used by older students a bit higher on the shelf. As the year progresses, the kindergarten students will learn to get instruments off the shelf and put them away when they’re done independently.


In my classroom, I have various sizes of tubano drums, a few djembes, two pairs of bongo drums, a conga, and several hand drums. I organize the larger drums together and place the hand drums on the shelf with the other small percussion. I have a table in my classroom where I can put the larger drums on top of them and keep them off the floor. This isn’t the ideal location; however, it keeps the floor free for movement space.

Last year I used this table to store my drums.

I’m going to try this location this year (2022)

Orff Instruments and Mallets

I am fortunate to have 12 barred instruments and a menagerie of mallets in my classroom. I keep my barred instruments out all the time and use them almost every lesson. In past years I have kept the instruments in the back of my room behind the carpets my students sit on. This year I may put them off to the side of my classroom, but the only concern is that the students won’t be able to see the screen as easily. I keep the mallets on top of the instrument, ready to go. I keep all the extra mallets I use for my percussion ensemble in these small buckets I got from the Dollar Tree several years ago, and the buckets are labeled with pictures so that students know where to return them.


For several years, I have kept my ukuleles in their boxes. I have Makala brand ukuleles in my room, and they came in these nice cardboard boxes that I numbered to match my student’s numbers. The boxes are starting to age and still look pretty good, but I’m thinking this year I will hang my ukuleles using Command hooks and the storage bags that came with the ukulele. I may use my Cricut to label the bags with their numbers. If I do this, I’ll be sure to update the blog with a photo of the finished product.

Update: I decided to leave them in their boxes. The wall just wasn’t going to work. I will add a photo to the blog when I bring them out.

Instruments for Teacher Use Only

I have several instruments for only my use, including my piano, ukuleles, and various percussion instruments. I keep these instruments close to where I mostly stand in my classroom and on a separate instrument cart that the children know is for teacher use. I only let students I know take piano lessons to play on my piano as I tell them that it is a tool for teaching and not one that I have enough to share or teach them all to play.


I suggest labeling everything with pictures and words so students can return the instruments to the proper containers. I even have the labels on the shelves where the boxes belong so that my student leaders can help clean up the classroom after we finish the lesson. You can make labels as creative or simple as you would like, but make sure you label everything!

Here are some labels I’ve used:

As always –

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


Resilience: Will We Survive This Year?

I know this year is hard. I’ve been in education for 16 years and have seen and heard a lot of education policy come and go. This year is no different, except that it is. The difference here is that we are literally trying to survive a virus that is raging all around us while being asked to move mountains with children. I know at my campus we’ve been asked to implement a few new things and with every step I feel the same way, “how am I supposed to survive until the end of the year, both literally and figuratively?” I hope this post can shed some hope and maybe help you feel some sense of peace for our future. Here I offer five ways to increase student resiliency and in turn, help your own resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, and trauma. When students are resilient, they take healthy risks, do not fear falling short, are curious, brave, and trust their instincts. Resilient students know their limits, push themselves, set and reach long-term goals, and can solve problems independently. So how do we go about promoting student resiliency?

Classroom Routines

When you create a positive physical space for students, you promote calmness and positivity. When you give the students brain breaks, predictable greetings, transitions, and independent work time, they can rely on the routine to help face adversity. In your routines, allow for time to focus on character strengths to teach children how to identify, recognize, practice, and use those strengths. Foster a place where mistakes are not only welcomed but embraced as part of learning. When your classroom culture reflects diversity, encouragement is the norm, and student input is valued, students in your class will be more likely to take risks and accept failures.


The first step to resilience is acceptance. You need to accept and validate their emotions, allow them to feel and work through their emotions in a healthy way, and always let them know you are there to help. Do not tell a student to stop doing XYZ when they are expressing emotions. If a student is crying, for whatever reason, validate their emotions, acknowledge their feelings, and help them understand that crying and feeling what they feel is okay, and let them know you are ready to listen when they are ready to talk. I am not a person that allows students to cry at the same level for every issue they encounter. I try to incorporate a learning opportunity of the severity of the situation versus their reaction. We react this way when someone hurts me but when I do not get the color I want, crying is alright, but we do not need to explode and become angry or violent.

Product Over Process

Do not emphasize product over process, especially in the elementary music room. We want students to explore, create, and learn music within the confines of what is right, sure. However, when we “teach to the test” as they say, we ruin that process. When we stress over the final product, the performance, this takes away from the learning process from which the students are learning all their vital musical skills. You do need to of course measure right from wrong, teach correct technique, but also allow students to try again without negative consequences. Let the process be a place of creative thinking and trial and error, not a time to perfect and polish a performance. During the learning process when a student is frustrated, turn their I can’t statement into a resilient statement such as, I’m tired and need a break or I have solved this problem before and I can do it again. Teachable moments happen all the time during music class or ensemble rehearsals. We can use those moments to talk about resilience and how we can not only improve has musicians, but as humans. When we do this, we show that resilience is not the stamina it takes do hang in there and learn a difficult concept, rather a process we go through to affect the outcome.

Be an Example of Resiliency

Show students that you make mistakes and can find another path.  When you tell students what and how you’re feeling and how you’re overcoming your stressors, it helps them decipher their feelings and manage their stressors. Students need to know that we understand them because we also go through hard times. Even now, during the pandemic, we can demonstrate resilience. We don’t have all the answers, and it is alright to be scared. When we acknowledge our fears about the future and demonstrate that knowledge is power it will help them remember that it is okay to be scared and uncertain, but we can make it through and move on!

Practice Self-Care: No, not spa days, pjs, and coffee

Teachers can suffer from caregiver fatigue very quickly. When you teach in a trauma informed environment, this lessens our potential for caregiver burnout. When you care for others with trauma you can suffer from insomnia, fatigue, aches, pains, lack of motivation, lack of concentration, isolation, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness or anger. We can alleviate these symptoms by changing how we do things in the classroom to increase our own resiliency and our student’s. These are not permanent conditions, and you can overcome burnout. You can make simple changes like issuing trigger warnings before teaching a lesson. You can learn your students’ triggers (write them down if you need to) and do your best to avoid them or issue a trigger warning before proceeding. Allow students the chance to opt out of triggering activities without penalty. No, they can’t get out of work, but they can skip a song or lesson if it means they avoid being triggered and you avoid a trauma response. You can practice and teach a few grounding techniques by working with their classroom teachers or special education teachers to find out what helps the students calm down, reset, and move forward.

There are two camps about resiliency. Some feel resiliency is taught and practiced, much like learning an instrument. Others think resilience is something you are born with, like talent. As musicians we have a unique perspective on this as some of us are exceptional musicians because we worked at it, practiced, and became masters at our craft, others have raw, natural talent that helped along the way. We can see a struggling student and remember that resiliency is like learning music, either you have it easier with talent or you don’t, and hard work can move mountains.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


Social Emotional Learning in the Elementary Music Classroom

Social emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and mange emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. Today’s kids are distracted, suffering from mental illness, and in the social media more than ever. It is becoming the job of the teacher to teach the whole child, the whole learner. We are teaching more than our content now, including their SEL needs. SEL programs effectively improve students’ SEL skills, behaviors, attitudes, and academic performance.  SEL has positive effects on academic performance, physical health, improves citizenship, is demanded by employers, is essential for lifelong success, and reduces the risk of maladjustment, failed relationships, interpersonal violence, substance abuse, and unhappiness.

As music educators we already provide the perfect environment to implement SEL strategies into our classrooms and ensembles. After school activities (choir/Orff groups) are a great place for students to develop and apply new skills. Weaving SEL strategies into your existing curriculum and pedagogical methods sounds like a daunting task, but I assure you, you already do so many of these strategies, it will simply require putting an emphasis on a different part of the lesson. I began focusing on SEL strategies in my classroom about 2 years ago when I received a training on my campus about this “new way of working with student behaviors” At first, I was overwhelmed with something new but when I began to look at the strategies through a different filter, I was able to see how we already do so many of these strategies in our music rooms already. I will discuss several examples here to help you feel empowered to add these strategies to your classroom.

Lessons to Promote SEL

Let’s look at a lesson that focuses on self-awareness, the understanding one’s own emotions, personal goals, and values. Assessing one’s strengths and limitations, having positive mindsets, and possessing a well-grounded sense of self-efficacy and optimism. The way I incorporate self-awareness into my classroom is by using a rhythm activity in which students review a variety of posted rhythms and are asked to make a prediction about how successful they feel they will be. At the end of the activity, I ask students to discuss how they feel about being right/wrong in their choices and we discuss their feelings about getting more/less right than what they predicted.

Rainbow Rhythms is a great way to get students reading rhythms and to make a prediction about how they will perform.

            An additional self-awareness lesson for younger students uses the book, Happy, by Miles Van Hout. Happy is a book about feelings using illustration to show the labeled emotion. The illustrations are vibrant and colorful, and the illustrator chose color palettes that fit identified emotion, beautifully. This lesson is easily spread across several days as there are 17 emotions identified. The process is simple, play the audio selection for the emotion (ie: Content, Clair de Lune by Debussy), discuss what it means to feel the emotion, and how the music fits the emotion, you can close by asking the students, “when do you feel ___?”

            A great lesson for self-management, the ability to empathize, delay gratification, control impulses, and demonstrate perseverance, are any and all games played in your room. When you play games, the children learn so much about self-management and self-regulation. Again, just switch the emphasis here to have students acknowledge that they are learning to control their impulses, persevere, and delay gratification. You can ask students a series of structured questions such as, “why do we take turns”, “why do we keep trying even if we begin to lose”, or “how did it feel when the other team…” Get the students to label their emotions and feelings, validate them, and move on. Pro tip for when students do not get a turn, I use this chant: If I did not go today, it’s okay! This prepares their minds to bring the game to a close and remind them that they can wait their turn for another day.

            Social awareness, the ability to understand, empathize, and feel compassion for those with different backgrounds or cultures is so easily reached within the walls of our classrooms. When we teach songs from different cultures, we should advocate for an artistic approach to world music instruction. We should study the musical elements of the diverse musical genres and aims at improving students’ musical knowledge and skills using a variety of music. During the lesson process the teacher should discuss more in depth the history and meaning of the song selection and have students put themselves in the perspective of someone from that culture. When we do this, we lend ourselves to have a beautiful discussion about why it is important to embrace songs from other cultures.

A brief note about songs from different cultures, we should acknowledge that music is cultural, and we should support the sociocultural approach, which studies world music in conjunction with their sociocultural and historical background. We should have an approach that centers on the understanding of how music is shaped within its context, on the meanings it has for its creators and listeners, and on the way that it reflects their ideas and lifestyles. We cannot ignore how music makes people feel, we cannot use songs in our curriculum because it meets our specific objective. We must have compassion for the history of the music and select pieces that are culturally responsible.

The development of relationship skills helps students establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships and to act in accordance with social norms. We provide students the opportunity to develop relationship skills through active listening, cooperation when performing music, through creative dance and movement and when composing or writing lyrics. A website that I have found success with writing lyrics and composing is, youclick on lyric lab to create lyrics using SEL vocabulary words. Another great lesson for relationship skills goes along with the book, What if Everybody Did That? By Ellen Javernick. In the story we follow a little boy throughout his day noting times that people would do precarious things such as littering and not taking a bath, that make him question “what if everybody did that?” . Once you’ve read the story, practice the rhythm of the B section, then practice the rhythms of the A section which are created from sentences written about common broken rules in the music classroom, then perform A, B, A’ etc…

Being a SEL Model

            Make sure your SEL activities or lessons are sequence to foster skills that are active to help students master new skills, focused on personal and social skills, and target specific social and emotional skills. As educators it is our responsibility to model, practice, and apply SEL strategies and allow our students to witness the process. One way to do this is show your mistakes and failures to your students. I used to think my lessons needed to flow smoothly and be relatively mistake free so the students would get the best learning opportunity. Now that I am SEL focused when I make a mistake I model how to appropriately react to my mistakes, talk to the students about how I am going to learn from the mistake, and what it will look like for the students I see later on to benefit from what I’ve learned. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than something we should shy away from. When students would make mistakes, I used to focus on what they did incorrectly and work quickly to fix whatever the mistake was (mallet technique, pitch accuracy, recorder tone etc) and move on. Now that I am SEL focused I do not move so quickly, especially if the student is a perfectionist. I acknowledge their high standards for themselves but focus on the learning process and the fun. I let them learn the power of the word “yet” and we reframe our mistakes and say things such as, “I made a mistake when____ and I haven’t mastered that skill, yet.”  Promoting social and emotional development for all students in classrooms involves teaching and modeling social and emotional skills. We need to provide ourselves and our students the opportunity to practice and hone those skills and then a chance to apply them.

Impact on Discipline

Our students come from all different backgrounds and experiences. Often times their behavior is due to trauma and trauma often manifests itself in unwanted behaviors. We need to ensure our students that the school building is a place to safe, loved, and cared for. Children are allowed to feel their feels. Do not repressed a child’s feelings. Let them feel, express emotion, and how to go through the emotion. When students are able to label, identify, express and resolve their emotions, discipline improves.

Words of Caution

Misguided SEL curriculum is being highly researched right now to avoid the “quick fix” phenomena. SEL is not a quick fix, and we cannot fix all mental health troubles rather we can validate student’s emotions and make them feel safe. Incorporating SEL strategies can benefit student’s emotional health but doing so does not replace the help of a licensed mental health professionals. Watch and monitor your children and seek help if you notice behaviors or concerns that you believe should be addressed by a school counselor or other mental health professional. Everyone in the entire school building needs to participate for SEL to be the most effective. Communicate with your administrators on how you are incorporating SEL into your lessons and encourage your school community to do the same. I began adding SEL strategies to my lesson plans when I knew my lesson would provide an opportunity to do so. I communicated these with my administrator and also approached my school’s PBIS Team with the idea of incorporating SEL strategies school wide. As music educators we can begin these conversations and the hope is we can become a part of a larger whole.

This article was featured in the Southwestern Musician, a publication for the Texas Music Educators Association. You can find the link here, as it has a few more edits and thoughts.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!


3 Tips for Effective Classroom Management That Are NOT “Building Relationships”

I’ve been teaching for 16 years now and the only tip I ever hear for effective classroom management is “build relationships”. Every time I hear that I must fight the urge to roll my eyes. It’s not the I don’t believe in building relationships, I do, but I’m also a realist and know that I teach over 500 students, and it is impossible to build a strong relationship with each and every student. I need advice that I can implement quickly, efficiently, and effectively. So here I offer three tips for effective classroom management that does not include building relationships.

1. Be Authentic

In elementary it is often easy to become condescending in your tone. Keep your tone authentic, they’re tiny humans not dogs. Use an authentic tone of voice even when speaking to kindergarteners. Kinder kids do not need the baby coo-ing, singsong, sickly sweet voice if that is not who you are. When you’re fake, the kids know. They know if you’re uncomfortable with your vocal tone, choice of words, and things like that and they will absolutely take advantage of that insecurity. If you are not a naturally silly person, that’s okay, you do not have to be. You do not have to adopt an entirely different personality. Think about the movie Kindergarten Cop, the lead character played to his strengths and the kids responded to that authenticity, that happens in real life, too.  

2. Be Consistent

As specialists, we also inherit the classroom management flaws of our classroom teachers. It is important that we set boundaries with our students and be consistent in our routines and expectations to overcome some of those issues. Being consistent in your discipline and your content delivery will greatly impact the flow of your classroom. Do not give empty threats to the kids to get them to comply. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it. The worse feeling is when kids do not trust you or your word because you lack follow through. Own up to your mistakes and apologize if you make one.

Become a predictable, broken record, when delivering expectations and consequences.

Be consistent with your routines when handing out instruments, materials, playing games, making a circle, all the things! On my campus we use CHAMPS, which is a PBIS approach to behavior management. Not only does this build consistency in your classroom expectations, but it also allows the students to become independent learners.

When you try to change a routine, give it time. If you are constantly changing routines because something isn’t working, it never gets a fair shake. Try the routine for at least a month or two, it takes 21 days to change a habit, so give it time.

3. Be Respectful

Kids will give back the energy they are receiving. They pick up on your vibe. They will give back respect, if they receive it, even THAT kid. Behavior is communication, if students are misbehaving, the energy is off. This is what people mean by building relationships, be respectful all the time. Give kids a time to tell their silly stories, let the chatter box talk your ear off occasionally, you may be the only person that will listen to them.

Watch your tone of voice when you’re upset. It’s hard for me, too, to keep a neutral tone. Sometimes I say things that are sassy, I must check myself and apologize, which goes back to being authentic and consistent. It happens, you’re human. I repeat myself multiple times, that’s when the tone shifts, and I must remind myself to stay in check, keep my tone authentic and give reminders to stay on task, focus, or whatever expectations is my goal.

When a kid feels confronted or backed into a corner, they will of course respond and often they will respond in an inappropriate way. Children do not regulate thoughts and emotions the same way we do. They act first, think second, and this is where we get impulsive behaviors from. It is our job as the adult to keep our tone and behaviors neutral and respectful.

A word about power and control. Do not engage in a battle of power with a student. You know you’re the one in control and power in the room, do not lose that focus, what you want is a student to feel safe, valued, and ready to learn. If there is a student in crisis, remind yourself that your number one job is their safety and learn to let things go. Defiance is usually part of a bigger problem than we can solve in a forty-five-minute class. Document your attempts at redirection, get administrative and parental support and remember to keep them safe, value their feelings, and eventually they will be ready to learn. I’ve had to remove students in crisis from my room before and felt guilty about it, but ultimately my job is to keep the other students safe, as well. Do the best you can, but keep your tone neutral and try, try, try, to keep your cool. I know, it is hard.

I hope these three tips are helpful for you and that you also feel validated in whatever approach to classroom management you choose. Building relationships is such a catch all phrase, but I don’t believe it solves the problems of system classroom management problems. If you consistently have classroom management problems, then maybe try one of these tips and see if they effect change.

Sing! Say! Dance! Play! Care!