Classroom Management for Music Teachers

Classroom management in the music room is based on building relationships, giving positive feedback, and seeing a student as a whole person. Read to the end for book recommendations.

How do you begin?

The most important thing is to establish good relationships with your students as well as establish consistent rules and procedures from the first day they see you. Decide what these will be ahead of time. Can’t narrow it down to 3-5 rules as recommended? See my blog post on music classroom rules.


You do not want this.

Prevent problems before they start.

Positive reinforcement means rewarding the behavior you want to see repeated. Rewards in my classroom come in the form of praise, helping the teacher, getting a turn, playing with “toys” (instruments, props, stuffed animals, etc.), and anything else I can think of that a student might like. You have to be creative in your positive reinforcement so you can reach every child. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it is really true. Prevention is 90% of my classroom management.

What happens if the rules are broken?

Honestly, not much. I’m not saying I don’t enforce the rules…stay with me as I explain. The number one best most important method of getting kids to follow the rules is getting them to like you. Not in the friendly, chummy, bribey way where they expect candy for remembering to raise their hand. But if a child genuinely likes you and respects you, he or she will want to please you. Ninety percent of the time, a raised eyebrow, eye contact, or close proximity to the child will bring him or her around. This is why developing relationships with students is so important: that relationship can save you a lot of work in behavior management later on.

Okay, but I still have problem behaviors…

For the behaviors that continue, I seek an alternative. Each behavior has a reason. Maybe the kid behind him is poking him. Maybe she didn’t get enough sleep last night. Maybe his thoughts are elsewhere because he is experiencing stress or trauma at home. I’ll think of something creative, such as letting the child sit somewhere else. I’ve offered to send students to the nurse to take a nap. I’ve let kids hide a pencil in the music room when they consistently forget to bring their own. If I know the child well and she isn’t distracting others, I may just let it go, knowing she just needs a supportive environment and she’ll come around another day. Another big one is giving the child a responsibility. I’ve never met a child that didn’t want to feel special in some way (no matter how much they pretend to resent it :).

Parent Contact (Or, “How to Put on a Happy Face and Spin Even the Most Negative Incident into a Positive Communication”)

My building administration supports parent contact through notes or phone calls. If I do send a note, I word it in a very positive way. For example, “Hi! Jill is working on sitting still during music class. Can you please help her with this? I love hearing her sing and look forward to seeing her again on Tuesday!” Phone calls are better because the parent can hear the tone of your voice. Conversations must be positive and collaborative, and you must always approach the parent as if he or she is already on your side and the two of you are working together as a team. Notes and phone calls are logistically difficult for music teachers because we have hundreds of students. But, we see the same students for five or more years, so there is time to develop those positive relationships with parents. A good piece of advice I received is, “Your first contact with a parent should be positive.” So, in the fall, when you begin to sense who those difficult students are, find something good to call the parent about. Make the call before the child has a chance to warrant a “bad” call. When you do end up having to call the parent about a more difficult situation, he or she will be more receptive to you because you already established a positive tone to your relationship.

When a Student Needs to Leave the Room

If a behavior is extremely distracting, dangerous, or disrespectful, the child may need to leave the room. In these 3% or less instances, I may send a child to the office. I may allow him or her to take a break if there is a special ed room, resource room, or paraprofessional available for that child. If the child does not have an IEP, a break can come in the form of getting a drink, going to the bathroom, or just sitting in the hallway. When asking the child to leave, I word it so the child understands I am on his or her side. For example, “Robert, I can see that you’re having a hard time right now. Would it be helpful for you to go take a walk to clear your mind? You can come back in when you are ready.” In these cases, I ALWAYS seek out the child later that day to discuss what happened. It is essential that the child gets to share his or her side of the story after calming down and to see that you care about them. This has the added benefit of allowing the child to “save face” by not having this conversation in front of their peers.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Developing your Tool Box (or “Bag of Tricks”)

The most important tool in your discipline tool box is relationships. Developing positive relationships with students and parents early on is essential and will prevent many problems in the future. The second most important tool is positive reinforcement. Acknowledge anything good that you see, and you’ll begin to see more of it. The third most important tool is an open mind. Instead of seeing a disruptive child as naughty, choose to see him or her as someone who needs your help and compassion. Once you get to know your students, and they know that you care for them, classroom management will become much easier and smoother. But, even the most experienced teachers who look like they have their classes all together will still acknowledge that classroom management is 80% of what they do. 🙂

Any favorite books or systems for classroom management? Leave a comment below with your favorites! Here are some of mine:
Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk
Whole Brain Teaching by Chris Biffle
Winning Over Your Toughest Music Class by Ben Stiefel
Dealing With Difficult Parents and with Parents in Difficult Situations by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore