The Maple Leaf Rag is a fantastic piece to teach students about steady beat, syncopation, and the genius of Scott Joplin. The concern I hear from most teachers, is that they just don’t know where to begin when it comes to incorporating Western art music into their elementary music classroom. If you have similar concerns, I’d suggest reading this post, where I share several different pieces you can use to teach tempo. You can also search the term “art music” on my blog to find more posts on this topic.


When I presented a new piece of Western art music to my students, I almost always started with movement. My students were used to playing the game “music freeze” with art music, so they felt comfortable moving to it. Depending on the focus concept, I would tell them to “move to the beat” or “show the dynamics” or “freeze on the rests”. If the concept was still fairly new, I would model by moving along with them. Plus, I just really enjoyed doing it!

Movement props are an excellent motivator for students who are new to active listening. Below are a few props you can try, along with links on where to purchase them:


I think Joplin’s piece in particular would be great for reinforcing the concept of syncopation. To help students really feel the difference, try playing a Sousa piece, like the one featured below. Then, play the Maple Leaf Rag, and ask students what they notice. Sometimes, the best way for students to understand a concept, is by showing its musical opposite. In this example, it’s the King of Ragtime and the King of Marches.


I often visit when collecting kid-friendly information on composers; though the site is woefully lacking in both women composers and composers of color. However, I do like that they have mini biographies of each composer along with examples of their music. They also have interactive quizzes that you could have the students complete as a class. Best of all, you can download the mini biographies and add them to your own personal digital filing system for easy access. You can visit the site and listen to the biography/podcast HERE. You can also download some activity sheets HERE, which would work well for a substitute.