Establishing Classroom Rules for a Successful Music Class

by Analisa Byrd

Classroom management is crucial in creating a productive and encouraging learning environment. This blog post will explore practical strategies, tips, and techniques to help teachers successfully manage their classrooms beyond building relationships, calling parents, and relying on administrative support. This bottom-up design, starting with lesson instruction and building in classroom management, will keep the lesson flowing and save time and energy while teaching content and desired behaviors. Serious behavior concerns will be easier to address when the more minor, more annoyances and class disruptions are fewer and well-managed.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment in the Elementary Music Classroom

A positive learning environment begins by establishing the culture and climate within your walls. We see a variety of teaching styles and expectations within our day, but the children can and will adapt to your expectations independently of their classroom teachers.

Classroom climate is the psychological things such as the teacher's behaviors or actions for or with their students. Examples are providing a diverse, fair, equitable, and trustworthy student environment. Creating and following the most current and proven effective teaching practices and safety precautions and following through with expectations will improve your classroom climate. We are constantly told that building relationships is the key to classroom management, but it is challenging to create a relationship with over 500 students; therefore, we must build those relationships within a lesson by focusing on student’s strengths, supporting students in and out of our classrooms (sharing them with the PE teacher during track, or other clubs) and by forming relationships with their parents. Your time is best spent building relationships with parents via Remind, Seesaw, and Class Dojo, apps where you can share what the students are doing collectively versus individual attention. In my classroom, I frequently adapt the phrase “we don’t do that in here” because I often have to remind students that I am not their classroom teacher, their PE teacher, or their fill-in-the-blank teacher so that they remember what I expect in my classroom. Lastly, spending time within a lesson to focus on students' social-emotional growth is always an investment in time well spent. It promotes buy-in, celebrates their successes, and reminds them that your space is safe.

Classroom culture is the values and norms of how the students and the teacher will work together and their shared values, beliefs, and assumptions. Students want to know how you will make them feel connected to the class and content. To do this, focus on students’ strengths, praise their efforts, and connect with them outside the music room via choir or instrumental clubs.  Provide students with high expectations, increase support in areas they struggle with, both musically and otherwise, show respect to them by providing engaging lessons in a clean and organized environment, and make sure students feel physically and psychologically safe. Have students help you create classroom rules or at least agree on the ones you provide for them, especially rules about communication. Create a space where they can turn problems into teachable moments, placing a positive spin on problem-solving. Maintain a space with a nice flow to and from instruments, movement, and other activities to limit disruptions during transitions, and make sure your classroom décor is meaningful and is used in instruction, not just decoration. If you need to, have individual conversations with students about their behavior or needs, or even chat with the class unrelated to music to build a rapport with them. Lastly, you can provide a classroom job or jobs for students to feel ownership of their environment and learning space.

The Power of Routine: Structuring Your Music Class for Success

Clear and Consistent Procedures: Communicate the procedures and expectations for different activities in your music classroom. Consistency is critical in helping students understand and follow the routines effectively.

How students should enter and exit the classroom:

  • When establishing your classroom set-up, think about how the students will flow from the hallway into your classroom and their assigned spots. Will they sit in rows or semi-circles? Will you use chairs, stools, and sit spots, or students simply remember their spots?
    • In my classroom, I have the students sit on the carpet floors in five to six rows of five or six depending on their class size on body size (grade level)
    • In the front of the rows, I use poly spot arrows to point to the location that are colored, and I use their colors in my routines.
    • Their places are assigned, and they usually remain in these spots for about nine weeks, then we switch spots.
  • Once you know how your children will sit, you can then determine the routine for entering the classroom. Will you greet them at the door somehow? Will you do an entrance song or chant? Will you have a conversation with their classroom teachers?
    • I greet my classes at the door and establish this routine on the first week of school.
    • I let the classroom teachers know that the children are to enter my classroom with me greeting them at the door and conversing with them about absences, illnesses, or anything else I need to know to set my class time up for success. I want to know if Johnny is having a bad day or if Suzy didn’t get enough sleep last night because her mom had a new baby.
  • When class is over, are you ending abruptly or leaving time for a closing activity or lesson summary? Will you have a closing song or chant to get them into a line? What will you do for classes that struggle with making a line? Will you use their classroom teacher’s line order or establish your own method?
    • In my classroom, I try to leave time for closing and not end class abruptly, especially when considering my students who struggle with transitions.
    • I try not to end in the middle of a game but rather give students a heads-up that a game will end because we are running out of time. I have a chant for ending a game “If I do not go today, it’s okay!”
    • Once students are in line, I use this time for some rapport building, having conversations with students unrelated to music, or if we are behind, I use this time for singing a new song or reviewing a concept.
    • When a teacher is late, I try not to make a big deal about it. We all do our best to accomplish everything during our planning time, so I always show grace. Unless it’s getting out of hand or the same offender, then I have a conversation with them about it, but I always keep it light-hearted.

How to handle instruments and materials:

  • Consider your classroom layout, furniture set-up, and access to instruments when creating your routines for passing out materials. Does your environment allow students to access their materials independently, or will they need help? Do you want students to get their instruments, or will you pass them out? What are your instruments and other materials going to be stored in? Will the containers have lids and labels? Can this be a student’s job? What will the students do once they have their materials? What will the students waiting for their materials do?  
    • In my classroom, students are called by rows and get instruments themselves. This process begins in kindergarten with teacher help and extends to upper grades with student independence. Sometimes, I pass instruments out by rows if I have a class that struggles with independence. Whatever process I choose, I stick with it for at least a semester before I change.
    • I have positioned my shelves where students can access them easily, and I place instruments on the shelves considering their relative height and grade level use. For example, rhythm sticks are lower on the shelves because kindergarten uses them more often than fifth grade. Every instrument is stored in a clear plastic box with a lid and is labeled with a picture and text. The same picture and text are also taped to the shelf where the container goes; if we need to remove the containers off the shelf for any reason, students can easily return them to their correct locations.
    • I have students place their instruments on the floor and wait for everyone to have an instrument in kindergarten and first grade. By second grade, I can start them playing an ostinato or keeping a steady beat with their instrument until everyone has one. Some classes cannot handle that, and they keep their instruments quiet while I continue to teach. It just depends on the grade level, experience, and class ability.
    • I follow this process for all materials, pencils, whiteboards, markers, papers, etc.

How to transition between activities:

  • Consider your classroom layout when transitioning to different activities and parts of the room. Will you use a chime, chants, singing, or silence? Will you do something different each time and use that to keep children engaged during transitions?
    • Whatever type of transition you choose, keep it consistent when moving throughout the classroom. For example, when I move from the carpet to the barred instruments, I always pair students together, and this takes a little bit of time. Still, I find it useful because I use their partner as a mini teacher, so I consider my pairings carefully.
    • When I move from playing barred instruments to the carpet, sometimes we sing, sometimes we chant, or sometimes we move silently. It depends, and the students know I will give the expectation before we transition.


Potty, water, nurse, tissues, all the things:

  • How will students ask to use the restroom, get a drink of water, go to the nurse, get a tissue, or any movement around the room that isn’t related to the whole group?
    • In my classroom, students are not allowed to use the restroom or get water during my class. This is a campus expectation for the safety of our students, as my restroom/water fountain is not located in my classroom, and the closest restroom/water fountain is down the hallway. In our current climate, student safety takes priority, and teachers are expected to take a restroom/water break before specials. Now, in the event of an emergency, we do have a buddy system we implement, but we do not routinely leave the classroom. 
    • If a student needs to get a tissue, they go get one; the procedure is “blow, throw, go” They blow their nose, throw their tissue away, go get hand sanitizer and return to their spot.
    • If a student needs to go to the nurse, we have a campus procedure where we send them with a buddy and a nurse slip that states what the student needs.

Age-Appropriate Routines: Consider your student's age and developmental level when designing your routines. Younger students may need more guidance and explicit instructions, while older students may be able to handle more independent responsibilities.

Adapt your routines to suit the needs of your specific age group.

  • In my classroom, kindergarten and first grade follow the same routines for getting instruments because I use very explicit language and model everything from walking to the storage location, retrieving the instrument from the container, how to hold the instrument as we walk to our spot, how to place it safely on the floor or ready position, how to play the instruments, etc. I am very specific, and we practice, practice, practice.
    • Second through fifth grade have different expectations, but the same routines are in place. For example, I will give explicit instructions and model fewer times with the upper grades. I am quicker to have students put an instrument away if they do not follow expectations than with a lower grade level. If I have a fairly independent class, I can continue to teach while students get their materials.

Time Management: Plan your lessons and activities with a clear sense of time allocation. Determine how much time to allocate for warm-ups, instruction, practice, and transitions. Teaching students to manage their time effectively within the routines will help maximize instructional time and maintain a smooth flow of activities.

Lesson plan structure matters in a class that is only 25-50 minutes long. You must plan everything to the minute to ensure you are the most effective teacher you can be.

Room entry – 2 minutes

  • Take roll
  • Hello song
  • Stretching or Movement

Begin Lesson – 5 minutes

  • State objective – have students echo the objective for more buy-in
  • Warm up – vocal exploration, rhythm reading, solfege or rhythm games, concentration games, etc.

Lesson Target – 20-25 minutes

  • Focus song/activity
  • High-concentration activity and questioning

Game/Centers/Review – 20-25 minutes

  • Lower concentration activities
  • Singing games or rhythm games for practice or review
  • Centers for independent practice

Exit Room – 5 minutes

  • Line up song
  • Tidy up
  • Review behavior
  • Learn a new song
  • Chat with students

Flexibility and Adaptability: While routines provide structure, it's essential to be flexible and adapt as needed. Allow room for unexpected circumstances or adjustments to the schedule. Adaptability ensures that your routines can accommodate changes and maintain a positive learning environment.

Keep up with your campus’ schedule and plan around assemblies, field trips, testing, or anything else that throw off the schedule for the planning cycle.

  • At my campus, I see classes once a week, so if I miss a Tuesday 4th-grade lesson, I have to consider all the 4th-grade lessons for that week so class can stay caught up.

Keep a copy of your schedule, sub plans, and basic routines available if you need to be out. Do you want a sub to play instruments with your students? Do you want a sub to show movies? Think about a routine for the substitute teachers to follow; teach that to your students so that when you are away, students can help keep your room clean and safe.

If you haven’t seen this Facebook post of a teacher who left her room with a sub in charge and her instruments were badly broken, it is a sad reminder that substitutes do not always follow our plans. This is why teaching students the expectations you want them to follow while you are away is crucial. If you will be out for an extended time and can plan, teach your students your expectations for a long-term sub.

Involve students in the process of establishing routines. Seek their input and allow them to contribute ideas for structuring routines. When students feel a sense of ownership and involvement in the routines, they are likelier to adhere to them and take responsibility for their actions.

When possible and grade level appropriate, allow students to be involved in creating some routines.

  • For example, you can use students to pass out instruments instead of retrieving them if that works better for specific classes or student needs.

Teach and practice the routines explicitly at the beginning of the school year and periodically reinforce them throughout the year.

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Consistent reinforcement helps students internalize their routines and become more independent.

  • Use explicit instructions when establishing routines and expectations.
  • Model everything, use student models, and use student leaders to help teach/demonstrate a routine.
  • Practice as often as a class or student needs to be successful and independent at executing the routine.
  • Review and practice routines after breaks and holidays. The review is good for the students and will increase their success.




Regularly reflect on the effectiveness of your routines. Assess whether they are meeting the needs of your students and if any adjustments or modifications are necessary. Classroom dynamics and student needs may change, so reviewing and adjusting your routines is essential.


  • If a routine is not working, do not be afraid to change the routine and re-teach the routine to your students. You can explain why it wasn’t working and why you are changing the routine to increase their buy-in.
  • If you have a routine that works for every class except one or two, do not hesitate to adjust the routine for a specific class. Using different routines with different classes is okay as long as you are consistent with their class.
  • You may need to adjust your routine for classes at the beginning and end of the day to allow for taking attendance or dismissing students.



Considering these factors, you can establish routines that promote a structured, efficient, and positive learning environment in your elementary music classroom.

As always,

Sing, say, dance, play, but above all else, care!