Music Teacher's Helper Blog

“Themes” Add Focus to Your Teaching

I try to pick a different area of study for my studio each year to help me focus my activities. Below are some of the areas we have studied in depth.

It can be fairly easy to chose an “era” of music on which to focus. We have done Medieval/Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic. Within each era you can choose to study specific composers of that era, stylistic considerations, and concurrent world history. I use this to help focus my group lessons, special events, recital pieces, and history study.

Going in depth with one or two specific composers can be fun. Last year we studied George Gershwin by watching movies of his life and his musicals, reading books about him, learning to play some of his music, attending an all-Gershwin concert, studying about the culture and society that helped to shape his life, and posting pictures of him in the media area. The students also wrote a report about an aspect of his life and did an original composition. There are so many composers to choose from that I suggest studying a composer that especially interests you as a teacher. That way you get to learn and share about something you love!

A few years ago I did something entirely different—a six month study of Country & Western music. We studied the origins and history of C/W music, made a timeline on the wall of famous C/W musicians, read books, watched movies, and had a “western” music concert with a local musician just for our studio. We also listened to music samples to see how the styles evolved. The students played a C/W recital and wrote their own country song. Other styles might include Jazz, Rag Time, Blues, Rock & Roll, Hip Hop or Rap, American Folks Songs, Operas, or Hymns. Again, choose a style you personally would enjoy learning more about.

Elements of Music
You could choose a specific element of music to study in depth. How about scales, key signatures, or chords? How about modal scales? Have the students write a piece in a different mode than ionian or aeolian.

A theme can be built around the music from a specific country. More exotic music might be from China, where the intervals sound very different to our American ears. Mexican or South American music brings interesting rhythms and harmonies. African music also has interesting rhythms and unusual instruments to study. I hate to say it again, but… chose something that interests you! It is great if you can schedule a special event to coordinate with your theme, such as a local musician, private or public concert, or student recital.

More Ways to Use Your Theme

  • Medieval Theme Decoration Ideas

    Medieval Theme Decoration Ideas

    decorate your studio

  • library books, CDs, DVDs
  • student music selection
  • media activities
  • field trips
  • student assignment books that include history pages and activities
  • vocabulary lists
  • concerts
  • guest speakers/ artists
  • music camps
  • group lessons
  • rewards and incentives

About the Author


  1. Robin Steinweg

    You have enough suggestions to keep teachers going for a long while, Sandy. Good article! Hey, did you know that today (the 27th of March) is National Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day? 😀

  2. Sandy

    Thanks Robin. Interesting day!

  3. Leila Viss

    I LOVE to use themes in my studio. Such an easy way to keep things unified when there are so many different ages and levels of playing within my student base. Thanks for the terrific ideas, Sandy!

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