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Music History Lessons

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Imagine a classroom that is actually excited about Music History lessons!

Music History was a class I struggled in - only because it was one of the most boring classes I took in college. I'm a student (and teacher) who needs interaction, engagement, and experiences. It's important to me as a teacher to not lecture to my classes, but to involve them, create discussions, and have them experience something different to allow for information retention. So, I made this unit WAY more interesting than what I experienced as a student.


  • Fake candles (DOLLAR TREE!)

  • A hooded cape

  • Banners (or old flags from color guard)

  • Hula Hoops (DOLLAR TREE)

  • Fake Armor (DOLLAR TREE during Halloween)

  • Brick Wall tapestry (DOLLAR TREE during Halloween)

  • Black Plastic Table Clothes (DOLLAR TREE)

About the Unit:

  • Plan for 2 days of teaching if your class is 45 minutes.

  • Entire unit can last from 2-3 weeks of classes if you see them everyday.

  • I do room transformations with this unit, but it is optional.

  • The Worksheets work with the corresponding Google Slide as a fill-in-the-blank.

  • Look for my Blog Post about the scavenger hunt I did for my Music History Unit (it's Star Wars Themed!)

Medieval Lesson

  • The previous day (after school), I decorate my classroom with fake candles EVERYWHERE and I put up brick tapestry and black table clothes (to hide usual classroom decor). Students come in and immediately are intrigued.

  • I dress up in my Hooded Cape and have Gregorian chant playing in the background.

  • I roll up the Middle Ages worksheet (like a scroll) and each student gets one as they walk into the classroom.

  • The worksheet corresponds with the slideshow I present to the class. I have a lot of videos, show examples of life back then and giving listening exercises. It a fun presentation with a lot of relevant videos to help students make connections. (Who doesn't love Gregorian chant dubstep?)

Renaissance Lesson

  • I keep my classroom decorated with fake candles and wall tapestries, but I add banners at the entry door (with old color guard practice flags strung across the door way).

  • I dress up with a renaissance jester mask and I swing hula hoops around outside of my door while kids come in. I have festival music playing in the background that pertains to the era.

  • When the kids walk in, my chairs are setup to where there are four different groups with Banners hanging by each group (I hung them off of music stands). Each banner has a certain logo (treble clef, notes, accidentals, bass clef, etc) and that is the kingdom the group is associated with.

  • I keep the festival music going and when class starts, I announce the kingdoms and ask for volunteers from each group. I have them hula hoop against each other and the winner is dubbed a knight. I have the contestants where cheap plastic armor while they do this and I come up with ridiculous names like, "Sir Dougie", "Sir Coolio", etc. They get a kick out of this.

  • After the competition, I talk about jousting and renaissance festivals, etc.

  • At the end of the lesson, I teach a very simple renaissance dance - you can find something on YouTube.

Baroque Lesson

  • For this music history lesson, I include a lot of videos to give examples of opera and different types of composition techniques (like Ostinato).

  • For the ostinato, I included the Harry Potter Puppet Pal video (SO FUN) of characters saying their names in ostinato format. After the kids watch this, we discuss what made it an ostinato and then I give them a quick opportunity to get into groups of 3 or 4 and come up with an ostinato song using their names. They LOVE this! I give them about 3 minutes to come up with something. Then we go around the room and perform.

  • After the lesson (if time permits), I have them draw a mask for their Masquerade. You can put these out in the hall or have them cut them out, stick on a Popsicle stick and use them as masks in the class.

Classical Lesson

  • This lesson is pretty straight forward, except for when we discuss Theme and Variation. You can either sing a song your way, and then sing it normal. You can show a HORRIBLE American Idol audition (variation of a theme example). I personally have the whole class sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and then I sing "my version" (which is diva AWFUL) - but the point is that it's a variation and it still "Mary Had a Little Lamb". (yes, my kids think I'm insane)

  • The rest of the slideshow/worksheet is straight forward and simple to follow.

Romantic Lesson

  • Every time I start this lesson, the boys freak out that I'm going to be talking about romance ::insert eye roll::, so I start off talking about the difference between the Romantic Era and the others and discuss why it is called the "Romantic" Era.

  • When I get to Program Music, I tell a story (usually something theatrical and scary - but not gruesome - and end the story with a cliff hanger). After I tell the story, the students discuss what the music would sound like. I look for specific explanations - not "scary music". Prompting answers; "What instruments would play here?" "What would the dynamics be or the tempo?"

  • At the end of the slideshow, I have several videos that show how important music is to movies and creating an emotional response, just like what the Romantic Era successfully did : ) (Videos include, Star Wars without audio and Pirates of the Caribbean with different music)

Modern Lesson

Screenshot of the Modern Era Slideshow

  • Modern Era is a fun one with a lot of information! Could be a 3 day lesson (as oppose to 2 days like the other lessons)

  • When I get to Aleatoric Music, I have my students get into groups of 3 or 4 and create their own. I only give them 3-4 minutes to discuss and "rehearse" their song. And, of course, they have to have a creative title : )

  • Tons of composers at the end of this slideshow with a lot of fun videos!

Want all the materials and none of the prep time to make these presentations and handouts? Click the button below to access everything.

At the end of this unit, I have them take a test as a Scavenger Hunt around the school.

Just me, showing up for class, ready for the scavenger hunt! : )

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