Teaching Music Notes To Kindergarten: A Crash Course Guide

image teaching music notes to kindergarten

Are you a new elementary music teacher wondering what to teach Kindergarten? 

Do you want to teach notation to Kindergarten but don’t know how? 

It’s a common question, but don’t worry! We’re here to help you learn about teaching music notes to kindergarten. 

Whether or not you should teach notes to Kindergarten, if you want to, Kindergarten can learn basic music notation if they have a firm foundation of steady beat and matching pitch. To teach them notes, teachers should lead students through note understanding through movement, visual, and aural activities. 

Read on for more details, examples, and a debate on if you should try to teach music notes in Kindergarten. 

What Music Notes Should I Teach?

If you do decide to try teaching music notes in Kindergarten, you’ll want to be careful with what you’re teaching. It’s not enough to decide to teach music notes, you need to know which notes you teach. 

In the case of Kindergarten, you’d want to start with the simplest of musical concepts in regards to music notes. 

Many inexperienced music teachers will commonly (but incorrectly) assume that whole notes are the easiest. After all, whole notes are just four beats of one note, right? 

Yes, and no. Whole notes actually stretch over the beat which is the first thing they should be taught. 

So with whole notes, you’re actually asking them a fairly complicated task of keeping a rhythm value AND the beat in their head at the same time. Logically, it makes more sense to start with the rhythm that matches the beat. 

Note: Also, if you think about it, there are very few children’s songs which actually use whole notes. So why teach it so early? 

For rhythms, I recommend starting with this order: 

  • Quarter note versus quarter rest
  • Quarter note versus paired eighth notes

And that’s it for Kindergarten. 

For pitches, you may want to try this order: 

  • Sol-mi, mi-sol 
  • Sol-la

And that’s it. 

Note: I don’t actually recommend teaching music notes to Kindergarten (read bottom section). If you do, make sure they have excellent skills with steady beat and matching pitch before starting notation. 

How To Teach Music Notes In Kindergarten (With Examples)

For those wanting to teach music notes in Kinder, take care in the way you give the information. It should be kept fun, engaging, and reach as many students as possible through differentiation.

There are many ways to teach notes, but I recommend these main types of activities. 

Songs First

First, teach folk songs with the concepts you want students to learn. These songs should be fun and, hopefully, have some sort of game attached to them. 

Examples: 

For quarter note versus quarter rest: Bow Wow Wow

For sol-mi: Rain rain go away

Note: These songs have other rhythms and pitches in them other than the concepts. This is just fine as long as the targeted rhythms can be picked out easily. 

Movement/Kinesthetic

For these activities, you guide students in experiencing the concept using their bodies. Different movements are better as it helps students build more connections in the brain. 

Examples: 

Quarter note-eighth notes:

  • Students clap the rhythm matching the words
  • Students step the rhythms matching the words
  • S. pat the quarter notes, clap the eighth notes
  • S. create motions for the different types of rhythms

Sol-mi: 

  • Students show pitch contour with their hand(s) 
  • Students show sol by touching head and mi by touching shoulders
  • S. create new movements for each pitch
  • S. show pitch level by standing for sol and crouching for mi 

Aural 

In this area of learning, the teacher guides students by asking them to respond to the concept without being told how to. Students respond with their listening. 

Examples: 

Quarter note-quarter rest: 

  • Students walk when they hear quarter notes and freeze when they hear rest
  • Students echo patterns back from the T. 

Sol-mi: 

  • Students move their hands to show the levels the T. performs
  • S echo back patterns from the T.

Note: The newer levels help by building on the previous levels and encouraging students to think more independently. 

Visual 

In visual activities, the T. guides students in learning more about the concept by using visual pictures (or icons) to represent the concept. This visual step exists on its own as well as in combination with the previous steps. 

Examples: 

Quarter note-quarter rest: 

  • Dog for quarter note, sleeping dog for rest
  • S. read from the icons above
  • S. move pictures to match the pattern the T. sings

Sol-mi: 

  • Raindrops on two different levels for sol and mi
  • S. read from icons and move to show pitch level
  • S. move pictures to match the pattern the T. sings

Note: The icons can match the content of the song, but they don’t have to. The important thing is to have them representing the idea behind the concept. 

Show Notation

It’s only after this exhaustive, but thorough, preparation that I would show and practice with actual notation. 

It’s a common idea to use solfege and rhythm counting systems such as the standard Kodaly system or ta ti ti rhythms.

Remember to keep it simple for the young kids. There is debate on the issue of whether or not you should even teach this in Kindergarten (as discussed below). 

Should I Teach Music Notes In Kindergarten?

The answer to this is debated, but the generally accepted answer is no. Most major methods suggest waiting until at least first grade or often second grade as suggested by Conversational Solfege. 

There are two main reasons people suggest waiting to teach music notes until students are a little older. 

1. Students don’t have the foundation necessary to learn them. 

If you stop to think about it, rhythm is the length of a note in relation to the beat. Students who don’t have a rock solid understanding of beat may perform rhythms “correctly,” but their understanding will be flawed. 

It’s not just enough for students to tap the beat on their laps either. You need to develop this understanding in many different ways: 

  • Macrobeat (big beat) in duple
  • Macrobeat in triple
  • Microbeat (division of macro) in duple
  • Microbeat in triple
  • All of the above at slow, medium, and fast tempi
  • All of the above with a variety of songs
  • All of the above with a variety of classical music (such as Carmina Burana or Sousa marches)

Even this list just covers the skills and not the different activities and intelligences reached to fully grasp the concept. 

Similarly, while students may be able to say the solfege syllables for pitches, can they sing and match pitch in a variety of keys and tonal centers? Are they even singing in an appropriate child’s voice. 

If they can’t, then they shouldn’t be working on learning pitch or melody concepts yet.

Wait for this foundation to build after a year (or two or more) of good musical experiences, and then you can teach note concepts. 

Or if they’ve got it due to the large amount you see them or as a gifted and talented group, the go for the basics as outlined in the earlier section. 

2. There’s no need to rush into it. 

Let students experience music before “learning” about it. Kindergarten is awful young to be focusing on the more difficult concepts. 

It’s not that they can’t handle it, but why not let them play and sing and experience the joys and expression of music before delving into the heavy stuff. 

Sure, we can make the concept learning fun (and should), but I don’t know why you would need to get into it so early. Let kids be kids. 

If you’re unsure what to teach in Kindergarten without these ideas, I do love the lessons in The Music Effect Book 1. It provides lessons to help you feel like you’re teaching something while also letting kids focus on the fundamentals. 

You may also want to look at First Steps In Music (click link to look at the bundles). This curriculum focuses on building beat, pitch, and expression in all ages before they dive into notation.  

Conclusion

Now you know a little about teaching music notes to Kindergarten. While I don’t recommend it, you can do it with the right tools. 

Make sure you cycle through movement, visual, and aural activities to provide a solid foundation of understanding. 

What do you think about teaching notes to Kinders? Let us know in the comments below. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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