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Your first grader and music

In music class, first graders sing, play instruments, listen and move to music.

By Miriam Myers , GreatSchools Staff

In Your Child's Classroom

Exploring music

In first grade your child develops her singing voice and rhythmic skills. She plays instruments and moves to the beat. Through these activities she learns the artistic, cultural, scientific and mathematical foundations of music.

Research has shown that the benefits of music education include improved reading and reasoning ability, self-esteem and vocational preparation. Paul Bakeman, our teacher consultant and award-winning music teacher, adds: "Recent research done at the University of California, Irvine, indicates that young children involved in consistent music instruction have a greater ability to grasp concepts that are also essential to the understanding of math and science."

Music may not be taught as a separate subject in some schools, but most states require that it be included in the curriculum. Most states have music standards that are based on the National Standards for Arts Education.


First-graders sing songs with repetitive words and melody patterns, such as nursery rhymes and folk songs. Many songs will be connected to the holidays. Others reinforce what your first-grader is learning in class, such as songs about neighborhoods, money or shapes. Typical songs include "Down by the Bay," "Jim Along Josie" and "She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain." Your child learns to blend his voice with others by singing in a group and develops his own voice by singing alone.

"First-graders love to sing alone and will jump at the chance to use expressive voices to dramatize a story," Bakeman says.

Your child learns to sing expressively, on pitch (high and low) and with correct dynamics (loud and soft). He sings an increasing number of songs from memory and with improved accuracy. The class plays singing games that combine music and movement.

Playing and listening to instruments

First-graders play musical instruments, such as drums and xylophones, individually and in a group. Your child works with rhythm to find a steady beat. He will be able to maintain a steady beat as he plays instruments alone and in a group.

"First-graders are able to make connections between math and playing simple rhythms on instruments that sound on the steady beat and sound on subdivisions of the beat. Quarter-notes are the steady beat - one sound per beat - and eighth-notes are twice as fast - two sounds in the space of one beat," Bakeman says.

Moving to music

Your child skips, hops, marches, claps, tiptoes and steps to the beat. She makes creative movements to music, showing her understanding of rhythm, beat and the feeling of the music. She may make up hand movements to go along with songs.

Comments from readers

"I am looking for lesson plans for 5 Yr olds. I would love a collection by Mirium Meyers. Lauriann Heisler "
"My daughter, when started kindergarten, had difficulties with her fine motor skills - cutting, coloring and writing, in general. At the age of 5 and a half she started taking piano lessons. Her fine motor skills improved immensely in a few weeks time. A major concern of course, yet this was not the major improvement. She became more serious and mature by taking her music seriously and her commitment to it is very natural so far. She does use music terminology naturally which increases her vocabulary level; she enjoys music more and loves to learn about composers and history. For example, her music teacher told her that Beethoven was her hero because not only he was a great composer, bu that he believed in democracy and freedom of men - and my daughter immediately made a connection with Lincoln - learning the word democracy and connecting the dots in history. I guess music alone can fill in many gaps in children when presented with love and honesty. My daughter adores her mus! ic teacher - in fact, the only class that she runs to with a face full of smile. "
"No Child Left Behind has KILLED the music and arts programs in our schools in America. It teaches to teach to the mediocre child- everyone should be learning at the same level. There are limited opportunities for students to shine. Students that want to do more are discouraged because (1) there is no time in teacher's schedules to do something creative (teach for the test! teach for the test!) (2)students are drilled in math for a whole month before being drilled writing for another month in order to take the standardized tests (teach for the test! teach for the test!) Therefore, a school musical, or a chorus program, or drama production is out of the question because principals need to see results and teachers need to make it happen. I have been a music teacher for over 10 years and have seen the downward spiral. I have worked in Greenwich Village, Italy, Long Island, NY and now in Charlotte, NC. Students should have the opportunity to be creative and have outlets d! uring their school day to do so, but testing means MONEY and that seems to be more important than our students education and mental well-being. "
"Get real. I teach first grade. There is no time or money for a music program. In a perfect world, or maybe one without NCLB..."
"I love what you write. Why do I see no evidence of these ideas in our city's public schools? Where is the music?"
"That's great, I sing a lot with my first graders, however, the district only wants me to do reading first for 2 and a half hours, then math, science social studies and science, so I try to squeeze music whenever I can and nursery rhymes. I feel it is important, and I love music. I have been singing in my church choir over 20 years, at St. John vianney Church in Hacienda Heights. I wish I had a music BA, but I have a minor in music from Cal st. LA and East Los Angeles College. Arleen Dodson"