NAfME and NFHS Return to Music Guidance Phase III August 2021

Return to Music Guidance

As the 2021–2022 school year begins, NAfME and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) have collaborated on new resources to help music educators, stakeholders, and decision-makers ensure that music education is available to all students and provided safely.

The Return to Music project is intended to assist music educators rebuild, rejuvenate, and reimagine more inclusive music programs during the 2021-2022 school year. Phase III focuses on “Beginning the School Year,” with resources for advocacy, recruitment, talking to administrators, different types of returns, and more. (View Phase I and Phase II for previously-released resources.)

Scroll down to view the Phase III resources released August 11, 2021. NAfME and NFHS thank the music educators who have contributed their time and expertise to this project:

  • Darin Au, Council for Guitar Education member, Honolulu, HI
  • Justin Bills, Choir Director, Utah 
  • Annamarie Bollino, Chair-Elect, NAfME Council of Music Program Leaders
  • Jennifer Brooks, Band Director, Oregon
  • Coreen Duffy, Council for Choral Education member, Missoula, MT
  • Anna Halliday, Council for General Music Education member, Montevallo, AL
  • Richard Holmes, Council for Band Education member, Dallas, NC
  • Jennifer Kauffman, Council for General Music Education member, Annapolis, MD
  • Dean Luethi, Chair, Council for Choral Education, Pullman, WA
  • Rob Lyda, Chair, Council for General Music Education, Auburn, AL
  • Craig Manteuffel, Performing Arts, KSHSAA
  • Bob Morrison, Director, Arts Ed New Jersey
  • Brett Nolker, Society for Music Teacher Education, Greensboro, NC
  • Marcia Neel, Music Education Consultant
  • Amy Perras, Instructional Supervisor for Music, Art and Library Media, Connecticut
  • Ryan Shaw, Society for Music Teacher Education, East Lansing, Michigan
  • Susan Smith, Chair, Collegiate Advisory Council, Troy, AL
  • Michael Stone, Chair, Council of Music Program Leaders, Bakersfield, CA

Advocating for Your Program During This Phase of the Pandemic

As music educators come back to their classrooms in Fall 2021, they will need to be prepared to advocate for keeping music learning environments safe for students, faculty, and staff in light of local conditions, public health updates, and research. Music educators are on the front lines of providing instruction to their students and may be better informed than their principals and superintendents about returning to music with reduced risk. As COVID-19 evolves, music teachers may have to advocate for flexibility in response to the ever-evolving pandemic. Ultimately, the music educator can help administrators with awareness of research and best practices in the area of safe music instruction, all informed by local, state, and federal public health guidance.

Recommendations for a Return to Activity

Students in the Classroom

During the 2020–2021 school year, general music teachers used a variety of instructional approaches and taught in a wide range of school situations. Looking toward the 2021–2022 school year, it seems that most general music educators will be teaching primarily face-to-face with few to no restrictions. It will be important for music teachers, in conjunction with school and district level administrators, to monitor current local COVID-19 transmission rates to make the best instructional decisions for their students. 

Recommendations (Risk Mitigations) for the Fall

The current Aerosol Guidelines can be found here and will be updated as national conditions change or more research becomes available. These guidelines are to be used in conjunction with your state, county, or local health department guidance. Since there are many variations between states and oftentimes within a state; it is important to know and understand what requirements are in your local jurisdiction. 

Many questions remain about age levels and vaccination rates. The latest information from the NIH estimates that about 35% of students ages 12–17 will be fully vaccinated by the start of the 2021 school year; and zero students 11 and younger will be vaccinated.  Overall vaccination rates in the United States remain around 50% (as of early August 2021), which means there is ample space for the spread of COVID-19. The Delta variant continuing to develop and spread, and caution will need to be taken with our unvaccinated populations. Mitigations such as masking, bell covers, social distancing, short rehearsal times, and increased ventilation may need to be used. 

Recommendations for General Music Situations

Elementary general music programs span grades PreK–6. The majority of children engaged in these programs are under age 12. Therefore, most students in general music programs are currently unable to receive available COVID-19 vaccines. When planning for instruction or performances, it is important to follow the current International Performing Arts Aerosol Research Guidelines. There are several recommendations that are particularly important to general music situations:


Masking with appropriate material remains the best way of reducing potential infected aerosol particles from circulating in an indoor space. Masks are recommended to be worn while singing and speaking. 

Physical Distance

Distancing should be maintained at three feet and should match the rest of the school’s distancing policy, adjusting farther or closer depending on local conditions. 


If meeting face-to-face, establish clear protocols for students to follow. Singing/chanting should begin as soon as possible to reestablish community music-making.

When singing/vocalizing indoors, use of masks, and physical distancing may be needed based on school policy. 

If possible, go outside to sing; outdoors is best and requires little to no mitigation. 

Consider “flipping” singing instruction. There are a variety of apps and programs that allow students to record themselves singing. 

Physical Distancing

Be creative with ways to alter games and movement activities. 

Think through performances and how to social-distance performers from audiences if events are held indoors. Performers and attendees under age 12 may be vulnerable.

Proper safety measures as recommended by your region’s health department should be applied if performances are allowed. 


Work with your school’s custodians to plan for sanitizing of instruments and materials on a regular basis. Be sure to use chemicals that are both safe for the instruments and approved to be used in the school building.

Develop a plan for children to sanitize their own hands before and after playing instruments and using shared resources. 

If proper health hygiene protocols are followed. students should be able to use nonwind instruments in the classroom and performances without restrictions.

For recorder playing, there should be no sharing of recorders, students should be physically distanced when playing, and a cover is recommended for the bell. For further instruction, refer to the aerosol study recommendations for wind-instrument playing.

Refer to NFHS and NAfME developed Phase II suggestions for general musicNAfME’s Guidance for General Music Teaching during COVID-19, and NAfME and Early Childhood Music and Movement Association’s Teaching Early Childhood in the Time of COVID-19 for additional suggestions.

Suggestions for General Music Teachers: Restarting or Continuing Face-to-Face Instruction

A recent survey of general music teachers revealed that teaching situations varied greatly during the 2020–2021 school year. It is difficult to generalize to every individual teaching situation; however, based on teacher’s responses, the following suggestions can be considered. 

Click here for the entire list 

Consider local and state health conditions. Each community’s rates of viral transmission and levels of vaccination should be used to help guide how to enact guidelines. Decisions about general music programs should be collaborative discussions that include general music teachers, school- and district-level administrators, and local and state health officials. 

Key Groups and Stakeholders

Do what you can when contacting students, parents, and other stakeholders for the beginning of school for the 2021–2022 school year. It’s important to consider: audiences, teachers, and parents when decisions are being made. Click here for a deep dive on each category of people and things to consider

What can work:

Personal connection (meeting, classroom visit–be sure to visit home rooms at the beginning of the school year, conversation)


Seeing something (social media post, poster, flyer)

Receiving something (email, postcard, eNewsletter)

Phone contact

Word of mouth

Helpful Video Resources from Music For All

Mind the Gap: Episode 7 – Music Instruction in the High School


Mind the Gap: Episode 8 – Music Instruction in the Middle School


Mind the Gap: Episode 13 – Teaching Beginning Ensembles in a Virtual Environment – Band, Choir, and Orchestra


Different Types of Returns

It is important to account for all 3 different types of return to the classroom in 2021-2022. Each type of return comes with uniquely different situations that are important to be ready for ahead of time. Please click on each header to go in-depth and learn more.

Full Instruction Last Year

Institutions that offered primarily face-to-face instruction for the duration of the 2020–2021 academic year instituted a variety of protocols to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Learn more

Partial Instruction Last Year

Some schools managed the pandemic through hybrid and/or blended learning models. These models allowed for smaller cohort sizes, minimizing the risk of viral transmission.  A hybrid classroom is defined as a classroom that includes in-person learners with distance learners who often attend via video conference software. A blended classroom combines in-person instruction with online opportunities for students to study and practice at their own pace. A blended class could meet much less frequently than a traditional in-person class could. Learn more

First Time Return in Fall of 2021 

For some, this may be the first time returning to the office, classroom, and institution since March 2020. Getting a solid footing may take a bit of time. Here are some suggestions for success.

Acknowledge what has happened for many, and remember that the ensemble or music classroom can be a safe haven. This is a place where students belong, a place where they can express themselves, and a place where they find their people. Now is the time to celebrate this, to acknowledge what we have been missing, and to let your students know that it’s time to build this temple again.


Recruitment and Retention

We have already touched on Recruitment and Retention a LOT in Phase I of the Return to Music Project. Here are some additional strategies, ideas, and resources. 

Welcome to Band and Orchestra! These YouTube videos are examples of recruiting videos.

When making a video, teachers should be sure to include the following:

Parents talking about the positives of band or orchestra; Alumni; Current students from a variety of backgrounds; Male and Female students; Footage of performances and rehearsals; Administrators talking about the positives of band and orchestra.

Recruiting the “Lost Class”

When thinking about re-recruiting students into the music program, consider working closely with teachers in feeder schools. Looking at rosters from before the pandemic and reaching out personally to students who are no longer playing as a result of COVID-19 can be the start of a positive relationship and spark the interest again. Learn more about this!

Recruiting this Fall

Ideas to recruit for this Fall. These ideas can be adapted for any level (elementary/middle/high school)

Be sure to target your message to the specific audience you are trying to reach.

For Students–Make the message/recruitment brief, fun, exciting, engaging, hands-on, interactive.

For Parents–Make the message/recruitment brief, clear, powerful/emotionally compelling, eye-catching. Use multiple messages/formats.

Other Stakeholders–Make the message/recruitment clear, factual, and  data-driven.

General Strategies

As a teacher, know that your program may not be playing at the same level as it was prepandemic for a variety of reasons. Accepting all students into the program, regardless of where they are musically, will help to rebuild the positive relationships among members of the ensemble.

What on-ramps to your class can you provide?

No previous music experience necessary

Free use of instruments

No cost for participation: uniforms, music, etc.

Be sure to focus on what you can do and not on what you cannot do.

“Come One, Come All” Strategy 

Program Building and Staffing 

It is always important to build relationships not only with students, but with colleagues at all levels. Working together as a department to discuss and plan for recruitment, advocacy, and program retention will result in aligned goals and initiatives.  

How to Talk with School Administrators

As music education advocates, music teachers must work cooperatively with administrators who are constantly bombarded with problems and questions. It is important to offer plans and back them up with current information and up-to-date data so that it will be easier for school and district leaders, as well as school board members, to also become advocates for our programs and provide needed support.

The process should be a collaboration between teachers, administrators, and health department. Click here for some considerations, leveled messaging and sample emails

Bring Administrators Plans, Not Problems

Copyright Considerations

Copyright compliance is always a topic of great discussion among music educators. Over the past year the NFHS and NAfME have worked together to create many resources for the various copyright situations. Below you will find links that will help assist you in gathering information for copyright. Although the laws have not changed, many copyright holders gave special permissions during the pandemic. Most of those permissions have expired, but work will continue to try to help make copyright easier to understand for use in education.

What to do if there is a return to hybrid or fully remote instruction

Common performance types for the upcoming school year

A course has been developed to educate music educators on copyright and copyright compliance (FREE)

Travel Guidance

With travel becoming more available and allowed in the coming school year, teachers are encouraged to be aware of and follow local and state recommendations in their home state as well as the locations they are traveling. SYTA, the Student Youth Travel Association has made recommendations as it relates to travel with young people during the pandemic.

Educator Resources: Traveling

Travel Toolkit

Here are some helpful links…..

Key Takeaways from FAQs on ESSER and GEER Funds

Case Study: Use Intellectual Discomfort to Expand Music Offerings

Case Study: From a $67 Budget to Success — A Four-Year Journey

Case Study: A Performing Arts Academy Offers Individual Learning and Career Exploration

Case Study: A 10-Year Growth Plan for Enrollment, Facilities, Instruments and Staffing 

Case Studies: Rural Realities

Case Study: A 3-Week Fine Arts Exploratory Course More than Doubled Band Enrollment

Case Study: How Popular Music Education Transformed a Texas Program and School

I Created an Organization System for Music Directors 

Bring Administrators Plans, Not Problems

Tips for First-Year Music Teachers from the 2021 “40 Under 40” Educators


The third-party resource links are being provided for informational purposes only; they do not constitute or imply the endorsement or recommendation by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) or The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) of the third-parties or the contents of such third-party websites. Because NFHS and NAfME do not have any control over such third-party websites, NFHS and NAfME are not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and do not make any representations regarding the content made available on such third-party websites. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the NFHS or NAfME, its officers, or its employees.