How to Implement Successful Music Centers

Whether you call them music centers, workstations, stations, or group activities, kids just call them FUN! Learning stations give kids a variety of activities to explore a single objective or many musical objectives. Here are my best tips on implementing music centers.

Music center idea implementation using instruments and manipulatives.

Why Centers?

Centers were always a HUGE hit with my students! I think there are a couple of reasons.

They loved the variety of the day but also the variety in the music curriculum. It was a SPECIAL day! I usually set them up about 4 times a year, once every 9 weeks.

Centers offer kids a chance to explore lots of musical objectives and is a valuable and engaging learning tool.

Center Ideas

  • iPads, Chromebooks, other technology WITH HEADPHONES!
  • Puppets
  • Puppet stage (it was always a favorite center)
  • Movement (scarves, ribbon wands, partner parachutes)
    • Yoga-put yoga poses on cards. Take turns drawing a card and holding the pose for a count of 10. Similar idea using dice with cards glued to the 6 sides and rolling to determine the pose.
    • Create movement direction cards-up/down, figure 8s, circles, etc and put together in an order. Do each card 8 times using scarves or ribbon wands
  • Reading corner or singing book corner
  • Instruments-ukulele, keyboards, recorders, pitched percussion, unpitched percussion
    • Have rhythm cards to play with quieter unpitched percussion
    • Known songs notation to play on pitched instruments
  • Coloring activity
  • Games & activities-music-related Kaboom, Go Fish, building bricks, game boards, matching games, etc.
  • Singing & Vocal Exploration
    • Sing the Picture-use vocal exploration cards single or several in a row. Use a watercolor paintbrush to sing the pictures.
    • “I Have, You Have” Game-each student gets a Beanie Baby or similar item where there are singular items (for groups of 5-bean bags in green, red, yellow, blue, orange) First person sings (so-mi) Who has red? (whoever has it) I have red? (and put it into the center of the circle) Then they sing the next one, etc. until all bean bags are in the center.
    • Nursery rhyme cards to speak, whisper, sing into PVC phones.

Sound-Producing Considerations

Warning: Do NOT have too many activities that create SOUND!

Sound from technology can be eliminated with headphones. Sound from kids talking during coloring, games, or even using puppets isn’t a problem. If I had kids playing instruments, it would only be ONE center at most and even then I tried to have that center located in the hall or if using barred instruments, using felt mallets to keep the sound as quiet as possible.

Or, put the loudest center in the hall (if that’s an option for you) and keep the quietest centers closer to each other.


The Story Orchestra Books

Carnival of the Animals in the Story Orchestra series of books.

These push-and-play books are great for a music center. If you have two to a book and groups of 4, you would only need 2 books. Books include famous ballets (including The Nutcracker) as well as Carnival of the Animals and more.

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TinkerTar 1-String Guitar

TinkerTar guitars for learning centers with closeup of sound hole and neck, fretboard

For around $25 each, (or less if you get them on sale), a center with 4 TinkerTars would be $100 and a permanent station for K-5.

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Centers on TPT

This Songtale-themed music center has FOUR centers AND a PowerPoint/Google Slide to explain the activities!

Songtale With Sixteenth Notes

Songtale Sixteenth Note Music Centers information.

Songtale With Quarters & Eighths

Songtale Quarter and Eighth Note Music Centers information.
Songtale Quarter and Eighth Note Music Centers information.
Songtale Quarter and Eighth Note Music Centers information.

Learning Outcomes

Some activities have very specific directions while others can be exploratory with broader directions. There are times that if you get TOO specific, it doesn’t work because you can’t monitor tiny details with a room full of kids at centers.

🔵 An example of exploratory is using puppets. It is natural for kids to use vocal exploration when using puppets. They just naturally use an affected voice to fit their animal. I didn’t specify too much for this center.

🔵 An example of specific directions could be using building blocks with rhythms on them. I might not specify the number of beats but I would tell them that whatever you build, clap and speak what you have created. Otherwise they build and build and ignore the rhythms altogether! 🤣

The Logistics

Placement of Centers

I used the outer edges of my room. I never found a need to label anything. If you used puppets, the crate of puppets marked the spot. Easy!

Center Equipment to help with logistics could include: crates, hula hoops, chairs, a rolling cart, under a table (cozy reading nook), or even a hallway.

My room was at the end of a hallway so a bit secluded and I was able to use the hallway outside my door for one center. Of course, that meant that I had to stand in a strategic spot to view the room AND the hallway at the same time. I LOVED this arrangement! I could put a noisier or more movement-oriented center out there.

Opening Instructions, Cleaning Up, Moving

My opening instructions included asking kids to look at each center. I’d tell them that before we moved to the NEXT center, each center needed to be straightened up to look just like it looked right then.

When it was time to move, I’d sing, “Now it’s time to clean our space, clean our space, clean our space. Now it’s time to clean our space then stand up straight and tall.” (to Mary Had a Little Lamb) 🤦🏽‍♀️ Seriously, it works like a charm!

Then I’d start remarking on which groups were finished and standing straight and tall.

Next, I’d ask them to POINT to where they thought they were going next.

Finally, I’d ask them to WALK to their next center.

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45 minute class
Beginning Instruction5
End of class5
Time remaining35
6 centers5.5 minutes per center
5 centers7 minutes
4 centers8.5 minutes
3 centers11.5 minutes

If I had 6 centers, I’d use TWO class periods and do 3 a day. There’s NO WAY I’d be able to do all 6 because it would just be TOO rushed. (see Grouping for an easy way to keep track of groups over a 2-day period)

If I didn’t want to use two class periods, it would be better to have just 3 or 4 centers.


I chose the groups and chose kids who could work together successfully. Four to a group was ideal for me with no more than 6 groups. For larger classes some groups would have to go up to 5 students.

If your centers are all in one class period, there’s no need to keep track of who is in a particular group.

If you will spread centers out over two class periods, here’s an easy way to keep track.

DO NOT depend on the kids to remember!!!

Idea #1: Once you’ve sent the groups to their first center, hand a 3 x 5 note card (or similar) and pencil to one student in each group and tell them to write down the names of their group members. When you get the cards back, jot down their starting center. If you have the centers numbered, you’ll know if a group started at #3 then they finished the class at #5 and would begin at #6 the next class period.

Idea #2: Group the kids alphabetically using your class list. You may need to adjust a couple of kids to keep things sane. Then just draw little brackets around who you’ve put together and you can mark their centers.

Activity Theme

If you use a theme, it really drives home a learning objective.

However, it also requires a lot more planning.

I had a SCALE theme one time that worked great but coming up with 6 centers was so time-consuming.

Most of the time I had several
music objectives going on at once.

Pre-Teach vs. Familiar Activities

Pre-teach new activities or use familiar activities.

🔵 Have a whole-class lesson where students form small groups and everyone plays the SAME game. Maybe it’s a game/activity with more working parts or needs some demonstration. Then when they encounter it during centers, they know what to do.

🔵 An example of using familiar activities might be making a reading nook from books you’ve already read to the class.

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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