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Tips for Teaching Literacy in Music Class

In schools today there is a big push to incorporate reading and literacy in as many places as possible. As a music teacher, you may have been asked how you're teaching literacy in your classroom…your MUSIC classroom.

How are you supposed to do that?! This might surprise you probably already are!

Tips for teaching literacy in music class

In this blog post, we're going to explore four ways to incorporate literacy into your music classroom and yes, you are probably already doing at least one of them.


Accuracy in reading is when a student can read a given passage with little to no mistakes. They can read words and pronounce them correctly. So how can we contribute to a student’s accuracy in the music room?


Using syllables to teach rhythms greatly contributes to a student’s accuracy. There are many ways to use words and syllables in the music classroom. I will use words directly from a song we have been using or words from a book. Then I have students figure out how many syllables are in a given word. The number of syllables will tell us what note to use; such as “plum” would be a quarter note and “apple" would be a pair of eighth notes.

I use words with my kindergarten and 1st grade students to create rhythm sentences before they are even introduced to notation. This helps me teach note values and rhythms and it also helps me contribute to the student’s accuracy in reading.

Check out this activity to get your students started!


Fluency, whether in reading or in music, is all about repetition. The more times a student is exposed to something and given the opportunity to perform it correctly, the more fluent they will be at that given skill.

In the music room, whether that be in a general music room, choir room, orchestra room, or band room, repetition should be a common theme. There are several studies on how many repetitions it takes for a behavior to become a habit. They all have differing numbers but they are mostly above thirty repetitions, or over the course of almost a month of daily practice.

Giving students multiple and consistent opportunities to perform skills correctly in the music room will create fluency in their musical abilities and will create a habit of consistent practice of other skills such as reading.

Another way to work on fluency through music is by allowing the students to read the lyrics of the song they are singing. This has been scientifically proven to increase fluency.


In literacy, automaticity is the ability to see and say words automatically. In music, that is the ability to see and perform music automatically.

For musicians to be able to see and perform music correctly, they must understand note values, pitches, dynamics, tempos, etc. When we teach students the value of a note and then give them the opportunity to explore that concept and perform it correctly, we are increasing their automaticity of music.

Reading lyrics come into play again; this time through increasing sight vocabulary.

As students are exposed to more words and phrases, the more likely they will recognize them when they are reading on their own.

The more a student is able to see, recognize, and perform elements of music correctly, and the more words and phrases they are exposed to, the more their automaticity will increase in both music and reading. Increasing automaticity in one will help increase automaticity in the other.


What does comprehension look like in the music classroom? Well, it looks a little like dissecting a piece and putting it back together.

When you take a piece of music, break it down, and go over the vocabulary of musical terms within the piece and how they contribute to a song's overall feel and purpose, you are feeding the student’s comprehension and understanding of the given work. You can even take lyrics and break them down like a poem and discuss what the composer is trying to convey and connect that to how a poet or author conveys their meaning.

While you are talking about the lyrics to a piece of music, be sure to go over any words students may not know. You can even guide them through using context clues to figure out the meaning of the unknown word. This again will help grow the student's vocabulary that they will have to draw from when reading alone.

Make it a point to talk about imagery in music with and without words. Lead students in a quest to discover the many gems that lie within a piece of music and similarly, a piece of literature.


Teaching literacy and music go hand in hand!

Literacy naturally lives in the music classroom. As music teachers, it is our job to uncover these connections and present them to our students, and it is not difficult to do. Just guiding them along the journey of learning and loving music will present opportunities to increase not only their musicality, but their literacy as well.

Books by Vicky Weber

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1 Comment

Oct 11, 2023

Love this! Literacy and all it’s pieces can be a natural part of the music classroom!

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