• Janis Aston

ELA in the Elementary Music Classroom?

Teaching music vocabulary


The understanding of music vocabulary begins in preschool, kindergarten, or before. Music is a language that is learned in the same way any language is learned. Children experience, listen to, and feel before articulating, reading, and writing. There is an important sequence to developing these concepts. For example, children experience and demonstrate with their bodies an understanding of loud-soft, high-low, fast-slow through many activities, specifically movement, using large motor skills.

  • Begin with words students already know like loud and soft..

  • Guide them in discovering the association of familiar words to what they hear or see around them—high-low or fast-slow.

  • Transfer that knowledge to how it relates to sounds in music.

  • Encourage students to discuss and verbalize their discoveries using age-appropriate terminology. 

  • Use age-appropriate vocabulary word cards—high-low or fast-slow—to correspond to their movement experiences. Words they already know but have not associated with music.

The music standards are in tandem English Language Arts (ELA) standards and using these standards will be a HUGE bonus for the classroom teachers—Making connections!


As students progress in their understanding and have demonstrated comprehension of soft and loud (K-1st grades), introduce correct music terminology—piano and forte. Older students learn to distinguish and discuss the finer differences and changes in what they hear—mezzo forte, pianissimo etc.

If you present concepts in a natural progression, students will easily learn how to use the terms to describe listening selections and the finer nuances. Give students many sequential and fun activities to introduce and reinforce their learning experiences. Use the age-appropriate vocabulary when talking with the children and describing music. Eventually, it becomes second-nature.  Basically, you must have a plan with long-term and short-term goals that begins on the first day of music class in kindergarten.

4th Grade Word "Wall"

Every aspect of what is taught in any classroom has specific age-appropriate vocabulary to accompany the understandings. Keeping vocabulary words visible on Word Walls is a wonderful way to help children develop these skills.

I used color-coded Word Walls in my room and it was so fun for the older students to look at the K-1st grade words such as "soft" and "loud" and be proud that they were using piano and forte and easily knew the meanings and spellings. 

Because I came to realize the importance of this language arts element in the elementary music classroom, I developed a system of vocabulary cards, picture cards and games. By 3rd grade, my students were easily able to analyze, discuss, and even write descriptions of musical selections using terms such as tempo, accelerando, crescendo, piano, forte, tone color. 


Suggestions for virtual, online, remote learning experiences

  • Use Powerpoint by sharing your screen.

  • Put word cards on a poster, board, or wall behind you, just as you would in class.

  • Use a fun activity to reinforce.

  • Ask questions to evaluate students' comprehension.

  • Play Powerpoint word games.


Check out these fun activities for teaching and assessing music vocabulary from K-6th grades—Card Set Bundle, High-Low, Fast-Slow, Loud-Soft, Vocabulary Powerpoint Game.

Be on the lookout for next week's post—"Let's Have Some Spooky, Scary Fun!" How do you incorporate great activities that teach about mood, tempo, and dynamics? Sign up for the most recent posts!

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