A few days ago, I was greeted with a question from a music teacher. She wanted to know what musical pieces would work best to teach tempo. And since sharing ideas is one of my favorite activities (besides drinking coffee), I happily shared some ideas with her, including the link to this blog post.

Since then, I’ve been inspired to continue exploring the different concepts we can teach using art music. I’m hoping that some of my ideas will inspire you to spend a few minutes on art music in your own classroom. I will be using pieces from The 100 Most Essential Pieces of Classical Music as my source material. Also, let’s just ignore the album title and agree that we know what they mean by the term “Classical” in this instance. While this album is fine as a starting point for my own purposes, I encourage you to seek out the best recordings of any art music you plan on introducing to your students. They deserve the best!

And with that, let’s get started!

Carmina Burana: O Fortuna by Carl Orff
performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus


The dynamic contrasts in this piece are perfect for discussing piano and forte. Also, it’s worth pointing out that soft doesn’t mean a lack of energy. This piece articulates this fact very well.

Students often associate excitement with a fast tempo, but this is a good piece to show how a slow beat can build tension and anticipation.

Ask students how this music makes them feel. Then, ask how they’re able to interpret the mood of the piece when the lyrics aren’t in English. This is a good opportunity to encourage them to use music vocabulary to explain their answer. After they’ve discussed the mood of the piece based on what they hear, show them the video above, which has the English translation alongside the original Latin.

If you follow Orff’s approach to music education, your student’s may be interested to know more about Carl Orff’s music, life, and how he came to influence music education.

I used art music A LOT in my classroom, but I always made sure to do the following things first:

  1. I told students what musical concept to listen for before they started listening.
  2. I prepared a movement activity that helped them focus on that concept.

The more often you ask students to move to art music, the more comfortable they’ll feel doing it. If you do these types of listening/movement activities starting in kindergarten, you’re less likely to hear any moans or groans from the students once they’ve reach upper elementary. Plus, you’ll be better at gauging what type of movement activity works best for each grade level.

Here are a few ideas you can try:

  • It’s simple but effective, have your students move to the steady beat. It’s best if you move around with them. Bonus points if you make goofy faces to show the mood of the music (I speak from experience).
  • Tell them to “pretend to be a conductor”, using their pencils as batons.
  • Incorporate dynamics by asking them to tiptoe during piano parts and stomp during forte. Don’t do this on muddy days or you’ll need to bring in a plate of treats for the custodian who will be working overtime to clean up all the dried mud chunks from your floor.
  • Give students basketballs or tennis balls to bounce along with the tempo of the piece.
That’s it for today’s blog post, but I do have an announcement to share before you go. I’m hosting a giveaway in this month’s newsletter (along with the customary freebie). If you’re a subscriber, be on the lookout for a newsletter to arrive soon to your inbox. If you’re not a subscriber, no worries, it’s not too late! You can sign up for free here.
While you’re waiting on your newsletter, be sure to share your thoughts on today’s post in the comments below. I’d love to hear your ideas on incorporating art music in your daily plans!

6 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing these ideas. I'm in a chorus singing Carmina with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra next week… I can have my students listening while secretly practicing my part! hah!

  2. Thanks for another great lesson idea. Can't wait to try this with some of my classes soon. I want to do more listening of classical music but am often unsure how to connect it to what we are doing in class. Looking forward to more posts like this one.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I'm so glad it was helpful. I love coming up with new ways to introduce art music to students. I'm writing another post on this topic this week too, so be sure to check it out 🙂

  3. I love your point about taking one musical element and planning a movement activity to focus on that element while listening- that is generally my strategy as well and I think the students get so much more out of it that way. Thanks for sharing these ideas- I have never used this piece in my classes before but it sounds like a great one to add! 🙂

    1. Same here. My students would've barely made it 30 seconds into listening if I didn't have something specific for them to listen for or do 🙂