How to Teach Students to Memorize Music and Be Concert Ready

Checklists, incentives, and games to make memorizing concert music more effective.

Having elementary students memorize music and be concert ready can be tricky and time-consuming. This post will give you multiple tips and techniques, including incentives, checklists, and games, for learning and memorizing music to prepare your students for a concert.

Learning the Music

Rhythm, Melody, and Lyrics

  • Project lyrics using Google Slides or PowerPoint in grades 2 and above. For PreK-Grade 1 you can project some key words/image icons that begin phrases although many times, I taught the songs by rote with no projection. I tried to pick songs for the younger kids that had lots of repetition so learning the text wasn’t a problem.
  • Have students analyze the text looking for repetition, similarities, and differences.
  • Let students find the rhyming words and use color-coding on your slides.
  • Depending on the song, you may want to echo sing phrases, learn by listening to a recording, practice a few probable melody or rhythm trouble spots with echoing.
  • If the song is wordy, learn the chorus first and then slowly add the verses.
  • Sing a cappella sometimes so they can really hear themselves and the class.
  • As much as possible, do not sing with them. They will become stronger singers as you get away from singing with them or using full-performance tracks.
  • It’s really hard for kids to learn a song by repeatedly singing with a full-performance track. A full performance track can be an introduction to the song. Use the accompaniment track if you aren’t using piano, guitar, other, etc.

Now that the melody/rhythms are sung correctly…

Memorizing the Music

  • Hide the last couple of words in each phrase to begin the memorization process. Hide more words and eventually, you will be down to the first word in each phrase and then I’d sometimes take it down to the initial letter of the first word in each phrase.
  • Adding choreography or some kind of motion (especially with younger children) will help bring the words to life and help them remember. (sometimes this can occur in the learning the melody/rhythm phase)
  • Play an elimination passing game with the song. Sitting in a circle, pass a single item (such as a ball) around the circle to the beat as you sing the song. By the time you are down to your winner, they will KNOW the lyrics! (Beat-passing game tips)
  • Use small circles-Have students stand in small circles with their friends (or not) and see if their group can sing through the entire song. If needed, put a ringer in each group as a “leader” to make sure that it isn’t an entire group of non-singers who almost immediately give up.

Incentives & Checklists: Performance-Ready Tips

Create and display a checklist. This really drives home some finer points to teach your kids appropriate concert practice. It adds a little subtle competition too that kids usually enjoy.

The goal is to get everything checked off in the top rows and once that is done, the STARS! area gets a big CHECK or STAR in it. Some areas are subdivided because once is just NOT enough to say they have that down.

This checklist is for ONE song in four classes of fourth grade.

A blank checklist table for classes to keep track of their progress as they prepare for a concert.
This will also help you keep track of the progress of each class so you know where to begin the next time you see them!
  • Sing with lyrics means that they can correctly sing melody/rhythms while looking at the projected words.
  • Memorized-Correctly sing melody/rhythm and all lyrics with no aids.
  • Know motions-If most had them down I’d check it off. If only 2/3s performed the motions correctly, I would not check it off.
  • Begin & End Quietly-It is some kind of unwritten kid rule that as soon as a song is over it means, “Let’s turn and talk to anyone and everyone.” If anyone talked during the introduction or 5 seconds after the last note ended, they did not get this checked off. I subdivided this area because doing it one time did not drive home the point.
  • Expression-This is a hard one. I just said to use your eyes and remember that you are telling a story for the people in the audience. At the end of songs sometimes I’d use a student as an example. “I kept looking at Dominique because I could tell from her eyes and how she was singing and moving that she wanted me to love the song. Great expression, Dominique.”
  • Focus-Look at the teacher. Ignore people around you who are distracting.
  • Stars! If all the above items are checked off, this is the final one to end the checklist.

The Finer Points

Do you need 100% perfection to check it off? Here’s my take.

On the memorization, as a group, YES!

On motions, no. I’d tell the kids that if most all of you had it down, I’d check it off. They always breathed a sigh of relief because they really wanted that check and didn’t want someone who was having a bad day or being obstinate or shy or whatever to hold them back.

If they do not deserve a check, don’t give it to them. However, I kept the forward momentum going by using PENCIL checks. Instead of our colorful marker, I’d put a pencil check and tell them it was SO close and I knew they’d get their marker check soon!

Here’s a checklist made from chart paper and taped on a closet door of my classroom.

A checklist for learning dances as a class incentive.

If your checklist is on a slide instead of hanging in the room, how cool to use fun icons for your checks!

Using smiley faces or checks to keep track of progress when learning music for a concert.

In Case of Emergency

If you didn’t start learning your music soon enough or stuff just happened, here are some emergency measures.

  • If the kids don’t know the words, especially the verses, put a strong singer on a microphone for the verses as the rest of the kids sing along too. Not a true solo but just support.
  • Put key first words on a giant piece of paper and hang it on the back of your music stand (or piano) or somewhere where they can see it but is unobtrusive.
  • Quietly speak the first word or two of the next phrase, a beat or two before they sing it. You can feed them their lines like this in a pretty unobtrusive way.
  • Begin motions a beat or two BEFORE the kids are meant to do them. This gives them thinking time to get THEIR hands in place.
  • You are going to have some classes that have a big beautiful sound and some classes…that do NOT! It’s amazing how each class has its own musical personality! If you have 3 sections of fourth grade, I’d put the strongest in the middle of the risers and then the other two classes on either side.

If you need any help or have any questions, send me an email or comment below!

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Author: lbbartolomeo

I'm a mom, wife, teacher, reader, gardener, trekkie, sci-fi fanatic, musician, dog lover, and a Christian. I hope my contributions bring some joy and happiness to your life!

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