Centers in Music Class? YES!

Centers in Music Class? YES!

Games, Apps, Books, and More for Young Learners

By NAfME member Dawn Sloan


Did you ever walk by a preschool or kindergarten classroom and wonder, “What in the world are they doing in there?” After asking myself this question for about the millionth time, I decided to take a closer look.

Do you know what I discovered was going on in their loud, fun, seemingly chaotic classrooms? Learning. Meaningful, engaging, differentiated learning and discovery for every child. I thought to myself, “This is awesome! How can I make this work in Music?”

I started by talking with my preschool and kindergarten coworkers about how they use centers and work stations in their rooms. I went online and read a few teacher blogs about centers. Then I asked myself some questions and made some lists.

  • What did I want to accomplish?
  • What standards and skills did I want the kids to work on?
  • How was I going to set up the room?
  • How often should I use centers?

Once I had a plan, I gave it a try. I’m not going to lie: My first center experience wasn’t perfect, and seven years later I am still making changes and additions, but centers are now a regular part of my music classes. Through centers, kids are experiencing, discovering, listening, creating and learning music while having a blast!


July 15 - Dawn Sloan photo 1
Photo by Dawn Sloan

Why Centers?

  • Centers promote student responsibility, ownership, self-management and Problem-solving.
  • Centers can be differentiated for individual student needs/learning styles.
  • Centers allow for 1 on 1 instruction and individual performance assessments.
  • Centers provide opportunities for cross-curricular connections.
  • Centers promote social, emotional, physical, and cognitive growth.
  • Centers allow teachers to facilitate, while students explore, experience, discover, and create.
  • Centers are hands-on, engaging and FUN!



  • Define spaces using, signs, rugs, cones, etc.
  • Designate an order or rotation by numbers, letters, arrows, etc.
  • Select an amount of time for each rotation (I like 5 min).
  • Introduce a Time-to-switch signal: lights out, bell, gong, rain stick, etc.
  • Carefully select groups (I like groups of 3 chosen by me).
  • Be sure to keep things interesting, but not too much new material at once. (I introduce 1 new station each time).
  • Use a center for individual assessment when needed, but don’t forget to have fun while reading, singing, or performing.
  • Include stations that support the skills students have been developing in class.


Center Ideas

Listening/Headphones – try 1 piece in 2 or 3 different versions to compare/contrast.

Check out Kim Maloney on Teachers Pay Teachers for listening forms.

Laptops – is our favorite for a variety of games and activities.

iPads – Favorite apps: Whack a Note, Note Works, and Simon Music.

SMARTBoard – My kids are addicted to Staff Wars (free download at

Instruments – Providing color-coded melody cards for Name-that-Tune works great with Boomwhackers or keyboards.

Paper – Coloring, puzzles, Sudoku, composing, or written assessments with some colorful clipboards and scented markers for extra fun.

Books – My kids absolutely LOVE the Electronic Time for Learning Music books by Publications International LTD. Look for them on Amazon or at discount bookstores.

Games – I have sooooo many games. Here are some of our favorites with brief descriptions and where to find them online.

  • Busted – Stolen from a coworker, but similar games are online. Pull a stick, read the rhythm, collect sticks, pull a ‘Busted’ stick and put all collected sticks back!


July 15 - Dawn Sloan photo 2
Photo by Dawn Sloan


  • Twister – Created my own, but different versions are on Pinterest. Tape or Velcro staff on floor, cards with directions such as “Right hand on G.”
  • Feed the Monster – Sing a solfege pattern from card, put card in monster mouth if correct. This is a great assessment!
  • Crazy Eighths – Students read/perform rhythms in fun crazy ways.
  • Basketball – Created my own with a Nerf hoop and some cards. Multiple versions: read rhythm, sing melody, ID instrument.

When I first tried centers seven years ago, there were hardly any resources out there. Now a simple Google search will give you millions of options. (Follow my Music Center Ideas Board on Pinterest for more ideas). It will take some time, organizing, planning, and creating in order to tailor your station activities to your specific needs. But if you give centers a try, I think you and your students will love them!


About the author

July 15 - Dawn Sloan bio photo

NAfME member Dawn Sloan teaches Kindergarten through Fifth Grade General Music at Paulding Elementary in Paulding, Ohio. She has been teaching for 17 years, and is always implementing new strategies, activities, and technology into her classroom. Dawn has presented at OMEA conferences and will lead the session ‘Centers in Music Class? Yes!’ at the NAfME conference this fall. She lives in Van Wert, Ohio with her band directing husband, Bob, and piano playing 8-year-old, Harrison.


Dawn Sloan presented on her topic “Centers in Music Class? YES!” at the 2016 NAfME National Conference in Dallas, TX. Register today for the 2019 NAfME National Conference! 

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