Music teachers have an amazing tolerance for noise. All primary school teachers deal with the calling out, the obliviously loud voices, and all that, but the music classroom multiplies that. After all, we don’t usually sit at desks—maybe not in chairs at all—which gets the students riled up a bit. Many teachers, and therefore students, see it as a “break” from their more serious, focused learning. And to top it all off, we put instruments in their hands!
But we all have days where we just need a little quiet. Whether it’s to save your ears, your voice, or your sanity, here are a few tricks to lower the decibel level in your classroom.
1. “Show me with your fingers”
Children love to shout out their ideas. They want to be heard, and they want you to know that they know the answer—it’s just natural. But it makes for chaos in a classroom. I often try to frame things in my classroom in a way that students can show me with their hands or fingers what they otherwise would want to call out. Not only are the answers silent, but I can do a quick visual sweep of the room to see everyone’s responses at once.
“Show me which rhythm I just clapped with one, two, or three fingers.”
“Point up or down to show me which way this melody moves.”
“Give me a thumbs up if you agree, and a thumbs down if you disagree.”
“Show me with your hands if this sound is higher or lower than the first one.”
“Show me the (Curwen) hand sign of the next note.”
Be creative! There are endless ways to use this.
2. Move to the answer
Similar to showing with their fingers, this one is a silent answer, but it also gets the children moving. For this, I will put up signs in different areas of the room. For example, “agree” on one side of the room, and “disagree” on another. The students then respond to my question or statement by getting up and standing by their choice. When we listen to Carnival of the Animals, I’ll put up pictures of the animals and ask them to move to the one they think they just heard. You can use colored mats, numbers, rhythms, or photos.
Once students have made their choice, I will usually call on someone at each sign to elaborate and explain why he or she made that choice.
3. Think before you speak
This not only keeps the noise down, but it encourages every student to think, rather than sitting back and letting those three kids that always answer do the answering. I will prompt the students to think about a question or explanation, and say, “think it in your head, but don’t tell anyone yet.” I’ll give them some thinking time, and remind them that everyone will have an idea, so I can call on anyone to share. And then I do.
4.“If you play before I say, your instrument will go away.”
This is self-explanatory. I introduce this on the very first day of having an instrument, and I remind them every lesson that uses instruments. Most importantly, I enforce it. And I don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s important, though, to talk them through it the first time: Help them to understand why they shouldn’t play while you’re talking. Let them know that there are no warnings. Give them the instrument back when they know they are ready to manage themselves better.
These tweaks in my classroom procedures have allowed me more patience, a better overview of my students, and decidedly less ringing in my ears. Give them a try!