Balancing Music and All the Other Things

Children are incredibly active. Honestly, too much.

When competing with sports, academics, church, clubs, play dates, and all the other things, how does music fit into a well-balanced life for today’s youth?

Here are eight ways to help you keep music on the schedule.

1. Don’t Compete.

We need to understand that we cannot compete with all of the other things. We must accept them, work with them, and above all, embrace them.

These activities are what makes our students who they are going to be. They may not choose or even like all of the activities they are placed in, but it is part of their life, and it will shape them.

Likewise, our lessons play an important in developing the person that youngster will become. Use that time wisely and positively to help shape that love of music.

2. Use their activities to enhance your teaching.

Your student dances or plays basketball? Talk about the importance of moving their fingers correctly for muscle memory.

Your student is a mathlete? Subdivision, fractions, tempo: built-in math/music-learning!

Science Olympiad? Talk about the process of dissecting the music. Those kids love processes!

Reading bowl? So much of our music has a built-in plot line. You can talk about how a crescendo is similar to foreshadowing in a story.

Whether or not your students love metaphors and similes, most will appreciate the connection between the two seemingly unrelated activities.

3.) Don’t make them choose.

You will lose. There is room in their lives for both.

Your student can be both an athlete and a musician. At least at the beginning levels. Regardless, they can love both.

Sometimes, their coaches really do mean that they cannot play in the championship game if they miss practice.

Their instructors may really mean that they cannot dance in the annual performance of The Nutcracker if they miss the first rehearsal.

Making them feel guilty for missing a recital or other performance is only going to tarnish their love for music.

Tell them you understand that life is full of tough choices and you are just sad they miss the opportunity, but there will be others.

4. Help them manage their time.

I’ve noticed in my years of teaching that the students in all advanced classes with sports or ballet every day after school managed their time better than other students.

Necessity is the key to learning to manage time.

Younger students will need your guidance. Try not to over-program their practice time.

Give them quality exercises that address their immediate needs rather than multiple assignments that barely scratch the surface.

Keep the exercises short: just a few measures for younger students and thirty seconds or less for older students.

5. Suggest a time to practice.

This is not a new concept at all, but it is worth re-stating.

After they brush their teeth, before they eat their snack, immediately following math homework, all are very specific and memorable times to practice.

Remind them that it takes forty days to create a new habit.

Providing some sort of visual chart or sticker can help with the process, but keep it simple.

6. Develop relationships with both students and parents.

By really knowing your parents, you can understand more fully where music lies in the list of priorities.

One parent may have it at the top of the list, while the other could not care less about music.

As you talk to each, you can subtly draw connections between their top priority and your top priority.

7. Support the other endeavors.

Make the time to go to the game. Show up to the dance recital.

You have no idea how these small actions impact your students. You may also be surprised at how seeing your student in different light impacts you.

You’ll be able to see shadows of musical ability in your students’ performances.

8. Remember why you teach.

We teach because we believe it makes us a well-rounded person. It smoothes the rough edges and enhances creativity.

Someone taught you to love music. Someone helped you choose music over all else. Be that for your student.

Then, all the other things are just the other things.

Happy teaching!


About the Author: April O’Keefe is co-founder and current Associate Director of SoliMusica Academy.  She graduated from Georgia State University in 2002 with a Bachelor in Music Performance with a focus on cello performance.  She taught at East Cobb Middle School from 2004 until 2014.

While teaching at East Cobb Middle School, the orchestra program grew from 120 students to over 275 students.  Under her direction, the orchestras consistently received superior ratings at local and regional Large Group Performance Evaluations.  Many of her students participated in select ensembles such as the Cobb County Middle School Honor Orchestra, Georgia All-State Orchestra and the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra.  Mrs. O’Keefe has been actively involved in the Georgia Music Educators Association serving as District Twelve Honor Orchestra Chair and District Twelve All-State Audition Chair.  She also actively serves and clinician and adjudicator throughout the metro-Atlanta area.

Since 2008, April O’Keefe has served as music education assistant for Kennesaw United Methodist Church.  While in this position, she has worked with and organized children’s choir, children’s handbells, and various summer camps.  She also created a barbershop ensemble, taught an adult violin class, and served as interim Music Minister directing adult choirs and adult handbell groups.

Mrs. O’Keefe lives in Kennesaw with her husband, Paul, five-year-old Carson, and two-year-old twins, Logan and Molly.  Paul is a violinist, Carson is just beginning his musical journey on violin, and the twins are enjoying watching – for now.

3 Creative Ways to Increase Classroom Engagement

student in piano classroom

There she goes again (eye-roll).

Taking her eyes off of the music and allowing them to wander all around the room!

Sigh…

She’s such a good student when she focusses.

It’s a common scenario. Little minds wander. It’s hard to sit still. It’s difficult to focus.

But there are ways to increase engagement.

Here are three suggestions on how you can increase engagement in your classroom.

I’ve used these in larger settings, such as youth chorus, and group music classes. But they’re easily adapted to the private lesson room.

1.) Movement and Play

This one’s important. Young kids need to move! Some more than others. Believe it or not, this is a scientific fact.

In her brilliant article, Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement, Lara N. Dotson-Renta says,

Children acquire knowledge by acting and then reflecting on their experiences, but such opportunities are increasingly rare in school.

She goes on to say that kids learn through movement and play. Imagination is key!

Yet such learning is increasingly rare in early-childhood classrooms in the U.S, where many young children spend their days sitting at tables and completing worksheets. Kindergarten and preschool in the U.S. have become more and more academic, rigorously structuring kids’ time, emphasizing assessment, drawing a firm line between “work” and “play”—and restricting kids’ physical movement.

But how do we teachers encourage movement and play? Especially with our limited teaching time??

It’s a simple as reinforcing things via short games and activities.

For example, my class loves Rhythm Popcorn.

I simply line two rows of chairs facing one another, clap a simple rhythm, and then point to a student to repeat the rhythm. The student then points to one another student and he or she claps the rhythm. So on and so forth.

It’s a simple game, but it certainly increases classroom engagement. The students have fun and learn all about steady and precise rhythm.

2.) Transition

It’s easy to overlook this one.

Imagine you’re six-years-old again and asked to sit quietly on the piano bench for 20-30-minutes.

What would you feel? What would you think?

In their article What is a Normal Attention Span, Day2DayParenting says,

Young children do have relatively short attention spans and generally do best when alternating activities which require sitting still and focusing with those that allow for physical movement.

The younger the student, all the more necessary to transition, and transition often.

The article goes on to outline young children’s attention spans –

Children ages 5-6 years old typically can attend to one activity that is of interest to them for around 10-15 minutes at a time and should generally be able to filter out small distractions occurring simultaneously in the environment. They may only be able to attend to an assigned classroom activity for only 5-10 minutes particularly if they find it uninteresting or difficult for them and do not have adult guidance to stay on task.

Keep things moving along. Don’t rest too long on a particular song or activity. I’ve found 3-5 minutes to be the ideal time for each activity. Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

Sometimes longer or shorter depending on the day and child.

3.) Visuals

Inspiration.com cites the following as benefits for visuals in the learning environment –

Visual learning helps students clarify their thoughts – Students see how ideas are connected and realize how information can be grouped and organized. With visual learning, new concepts are more thoroughly and easily understood when they are linked to prior knowledge.

Visual learning helps students integrate new knowledge – According to research, students better remember information when it is represented and learned both visually and verbally.

Visual learning helps students think critically – Linked verbal and visual information helps students make connections, understand relationships and recall related details.

Who wants to stare at the same thing for 30 minutes? Especially boring white and black notes on a page?!

Consider changing it up.

Why not print music on green or red paper around Christmas? Or orange paper leading up to Halloween?

This is a fun (and super easy) way to increase classroom engagement.

I’ve found small, handheld whiteboards to be wonderful teaching tools. Drawing examples of notes, rests, etc., on these boards and asking students to name them adds an extra layer of engagement and anticipation in the lesson room.


We need to remember those childhood feelings and embrace them. This is how we keep the sense of wonder and imagination in the classroom.

We want our students to long for the next piano lesson, asking questions such as, what’s Mr. Chris going to do this week? And, I wonder what game we’re going to play this time?!

Let’s encourage creativity in the classroom. After all, encouraging creativity, play, and imagination encourages learning.

Now teach, and teach well, you amazing teacher, you!