Awesome Centers for Elementary Music
Updated: Jun 17
Centers in elementary music class are so important to exploration and skill building, and they’re just plain fun! You don’t need to be fancy, either. Simple, easy-to-assemble centers can be very meaningful for the kids and low-stress for you to set up and run.
In this post, I’ll share 7 [updated from 5 when I first published this] simple but engaging centers for your lower elementary students, plus tips and free printables for you to implement them in your room when you’re ready. Read all the way through so you don't miss these resources (don't worry- I've organized it well!).
We all need a centers day every now and then.
If you think back to your elementary school days, weren’t centers the best? No matter the class, exploring and playing was so much fun! Now, as a teacher myself, I see their benefit in preserving my energy while letting me circulate and get to know my students better in smaller settings.
As I sat down to plan my centers, my biggest concern was that students could run them themselves with minimal help from me.
We’re talking kindergarteners and first graders. Everything needed to be straightforward and set up well, plus I needed to be able to explain them clearly before setting students free.
I settled on four centers in our 45 minute class period, one of which I switched out for first graders (that's where the fifth center comes from).
Because I share a room with the art teacher, I was able to use tables, which helped a lot. One station was on the floor, while the other three were at the tables, so we had plenty of space. I labeled each location with a big number, though we ended up using just the station names instead.
Center #1 - I Spy
During one of the recent sales, I bought this great instrument clip art set from Charlotte’s Clips. As my younger students learn about the instrument families, I print them out in big sizes to put up in the room. But most of my elementary kids don’t know many of the instrument names yet. That’s why this station works great in K and 1!
Prep & Setup:
I printed 20 instruments out in small sizes, cut them out, and laminated them. They went into a bag or small basket, and students set up the game themselves by spreading them all out face up on the floor.
Students will take turns describing each instrument without using the instrument’s name. For example, I spy a gold, circular instrument; or, I spy a gold instrument with no buttons. The other students have to guess which one is being described. That instrument can then be turned face down one it’s been guessed.
Center #2 - Pom-pom Rhythms (Kindergarten)
Pom-poms are a great, cheap manipulative to use in music class. We use them as a physical way to represent the rhythm of words (i.e. their syllables) with either one or two pom-poms. (I have a blog post on how I introduce and teach rhythm in kindergarten, and this center is a natural extension.)
Prep & Setup:
I print out a bunch of themed graphics (animals, vegetables, beach-themed) for students to decode individually and then construct rhythms from (similar to these seasonal Rhythm Decoding & Composing Worksheets I also use, or this one specifically for Kindergarten). You can print one set for each student, or just keep a stack of them in the middle and have students draw one at a time.
Students take turns decoding their word and placing the correct number of pom-poms underneath it. Once the stack is gone, they can sort by number of sounds, or combine pictures in sets of 4 to make longer rhythm patterns to say and clap.
Center #3 - Secret Songs (with online or physical boomwhackers)
There are two options for this center: a tech version with one computer per student, or a non-tech version with printables and boomwhackers. Either way, your kids will LOVE this!
Full disclosure: this is a product in my store. It's also my best-selling product, and it gives you a lot of mileage.
It's called Secret Boomwhacker Songs On a series of slides or printouts are written the fixed do, color-coded solfege syllables for 8 different common songs (think nursery rhymes and pre-school songs).
With the boomwhackers, students must figure out using their ears what each song is! Make it more challenging by removing the song bank list. Answers can go in a Google Slide page, or on a piece of paper.
Center #4 - Sing a Story (with puppets or stuffies)
I happen to have a bunch of finger puppets I’ve never really used, but small stuffed animals would also work. And you only need a few- as many as there are students in each group.
Prep & Setup:
I place the puppets on a paper plate on the table. Easy setup, easy cleanup.
Students will choose a puppet and have conversations with each other… but everything must be sung! I model this in my explanation with two puppets and give lots of examples. Asking questions is a great way to get the conversation moving. Things like “What did you have for breakfast?” or “Where do you live?” or “What’s your favorite snack?” are fairly easy for kids to answer, and they can answer as themselves or as their puppet character.
Center #5 - Xylophone Composition
Since getting these awesome xylophones a few months ago, students have been begging to play them. Because they’re fairly loud, centers is a good way for everyone to try them in small groups. Much quieter! (Plus I use different mallets depending on this group’s proximity to everyone else.)
Prep & Setup:
I put out as many xylophones as there were students in each group, plus a yarn mallet for each one. I also set out crayons on paper plates and composition templates in a pile.
Students will color each circle on the template with a color from the xylophone (or a letter if you don’t have color-coded xylos). Then, they’ll play their songs! This works the other way too- students can experiment and then color in the circles based on the sounds they like.
Center #6 - Popsicle Stick Rhythms
Popsicle sticks are cheap and effective manipulatives you should definitely have in your classroom! I use the mini ones and get mine at Wal-Mart or Michaels. This year, I’ve gotten so much mileage out of them with grades 1 and 2 doing different rhythm activities that translate really well to centers.
Prep & Setup:
I put out 8 popsicle sticks on a plate per kid in the group. I also have a stack of these “secret” rhythms that students must decode into quarter and eighth notes using the popsicle sticks to build them.
Students will decode the 4-beat graphic rhythms into quarter and eighth notes based on the syllables in each word. I make the rhythms so that they only ever need 8 popsicle max at a time. If you have access to Canva or another clip art source, you can make and print your own. I make mine in different themes, like summer or camping. Here are a few sample rhythms for you to try.
My students have experience doing this in a class activity called Secret Rhythms, where I put up a series of different themed graphic rhythms for them to decode. I put a few samples from Secret Camping Rhythms in the freebie in the previous paragraph, but you can check out the full version here. I love it because the kids get so excited, and it's a great formative assessment.
Center #7 - Cookie Rhythms
If your students are familiar with rhythmic notation, Cookie Rhythms is a delicious way to practice composing in meters of 2, 3, and 4.
With a cutout tray as their template, your students will place different cookies on the tray to make patterns or 2, 3, or 4 beats.
Trays come undivided, or split into sections to represent beats of a measure.
In a center, students will compose and then practice speaking or clapping the pattern. A peer can check their answers, or they can pair and share by performing each other's rhythms.
You can also put yourself at this station to assess students' understanding of rhythmic values.
As of early 2023, I'm working on an expanding bundle of different cookies for this activity. Follow me on TPT so you don't miss when this and new materials for your classroom debut!
If you haven't tried centers, my call to you is to try them THIS MONTH! Gather your supplies, or grab the resources I've linked (the purple links!), assemble your classroom items, and go for it. Your students will have fun experimenting and practicing, and you will gain valuable information from circulating and observing them in small groups.
Questions about prepping centers before the kids dive in? Send them my way!