music theory lesson plans

Music Lesson Plans
High School and Middle School

On this page you will have the opportunity to download a FREE PDF outlining (in much greater detail than we can do here) a series of music lesson plans devised for Middle and High School music classes designed to take a student from a situation in which they have no functional knowledge of music theory to place where they have a "joined up" knowledge of note naming, intervals, scale construction and how scales and chords allow us to understand keys

music theory lesson plans

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All of the teacher's music theory worksheets in the download
 music theory worksheets answer sheets

Answer Sheets for All Of The Early stages Worksheets

Above you can see some of the answer sheets that come as part of the download dealing with all of the topics from note naming through whole and half step intervals, Major Scales, Major and minor triads and how those chords combine to give us keys. They are ideal for homeschool and distance learning situations

The First High School Music lesson Plan

High School music lesson plans

The "The "Rules" of Note Naming Explained

By the end of this lesson ALL students will be able to tell you the name (or choice of names) for any key on a piano. They will understand the concepts that govern sharp and flat notes and they will be ready for the next stage which is the study of whole step and half step intervals

music theory lesson plan on naming notes for high school teachers

Below you can see the student handout that you can download to go along with this introductory music theory lesson. The PDF also (along with our other handouts-rather than worksheets) makes a great "quick reference" wall chart for your music teaching room

Why study note naming first?

This introductory music lesson plan is concerned with having High School music students develop the ability to Name Musical Notes Correctly
"If our students can not assign note names correctly then they will be unable to develop a functional knowledge of music theory"

If our students cannot correctly name notes then they can't understand intervals?

If our students do not understand intervals (of a whole and a half step anyway) then they can't understand scales

Without an understanding of scales then learners can not develop a "joined up" knowledge of chords and how they are constructed.

Without being familiar with chord construction then they can not be expected to have a workable understanding of how the chords that can be constructed using only the notes of a single "parent scale" can combine to give a "pleasing" effect.

Getting "The Basics" Right

As music educators we would do well to make sure that all of our students understand the absolute basics because any lack of understanding here will "haunt" their learning as they move on to more involved musical material.

Particularly in the early stages of a programme we need a series of effective music lesson plans designed to help us to indentify (and eliminate) problems that our students might have with music theory

Music Lesson Plans

The following material looks at how a series of music lesson plans might be used in a way that will ensure that students attain a level of understanding of the various elements of music theory allowing them to progress easily to the next stage of study?

"The subject is more important than the syllabus

It is important to remember that "The subject is more important than the syllabus" and we should design our teaching programme around that simple fact? If our students understand the elements of music and how they work together to create "magic" (and radio jingles) then it should be a relatively easy process to make that fit into key stages for our internal documentation etc? This site is about the music and not the key stages (or whatever) that it is currently (and artificially?) broken up into.

The material presented beow and which is complemented by the music lesson plans PDF that you can download by clicking the link above has been broken up into "topics" rather than lessons simply because of the varaibles involved in the lesson planning and teaching process. These variables include such factors as class size and the length of each session as well as areas such as the age, ability range and prior learning/experience of the student group?

High School Music Theory Lesson Plans Topic 1:

High School music lesson plans
(above) Note Identification Chart and related worksheet

Correctly Naming Musical Notes

The free worksheet that you can download from the link above concerns itself with helping students become able to identify any of the white (natural) notes on a piano keyboard. Of course we also have a whole range of similarly themed sheets in our "one click download" that cover the choice of note names involved in keys other than C Major where notes found on the black keys are involved

The worksheets and Handouts in action

Above (behind the worksheet) you can see of the simplest handouts imaginable which simply identifies a single octave of notes to be found on a piano keyboard but the truth is that if our students can't correctly name notes then they stand no chance of learning how music theory works? Even though they may have no piano skills (and maybe no need of them?) the fact remains that the piano keyboard still provides us with the best and most easily understood graphic representation of "how music works"

The handout above is simply a full page diagram of the keyboard with the names of the notes on it through one octave.In addition to supplying a paper copy to their students many teachers choose to laminate this handout and display it on the wall of their music room for "quick reference"

The Music Worksheet pictured alongside it is one of a series of five designed to help our students to develop the ability to assign the correct name to any note
Music Teachers can use the material above to help our students to understand the principles that underpin the correct naming of musical notes.

Musical Note Naming Lesson Plan
and an invaluable free "explainer" to download

This music lesson plan revolves around three important principles or concepts that it is vital to get our students to understand if they are to develop a functioning and useful knowledge of music theory. These three outcomes can also be used when it comes to filling in "lesson objectives" or whatever they call them where you live in order to satisfy those (administrators and inspectors) who help us to adopt "best practice" (or depending on your viewpoint who dont trust us to do our jobs properly)? Anyway (rant over!).........

The three "Big Ideas" that classroom music teachers will find useful to bear in mind when using the material with their students are......

"Big Idea No 1"

music theory lesson plans

White Notes can be assigned only a single note name using the alphabetic sequence from A to G

"Working from the known to the unknown" was all the rage when I was going through teacher training and its still a great way to "demistify" subjects like music theory. Your music students will be secure in their knowledge of the alphabet from A through to G and they can use this to understand the absolute basics of music theory

"Big Idea No 2"

music theory lesson plans

Black notes can be given one of two names determined by the white notes that are to be found at either side of them. They will soon get used to the idea that if you can use the names of the white notes to provide you with a choice of names for the black ones.

"Big Idea No 3"

music lesson plans

You will always find a note of C immediately to the left of any grouping of two black keys on a keyboard.

By the end of this first lesson it is a good idea to have your students work on being able to remember the "Three Big Ideas" without recourse to any bits of paper (which is a shame for me as I am trying to sell you a package that allows you to print 300 bits of paper!)

There is a free lesson plan that you can download by clicking the "download lesson plans" image on this page that goes into this introductory material in much greater detail than there is the opportunity to do here

Divide the lesson into two parts

I find that an effective way to have students progress with this material is to divide the session into two sections. During the first part of the lesson worksheets are distributed and students are required to fill them in with access to the "note naming handout" shown above.

I then collect the worksheets in and take a quick look at them. The reality is that just about everyone will get them all right (not a waste of time though as its a great way to build confidence)

Knowledge of Music Theory is no good if it stays on a piece of paper!

After taking a quick look at the completed worksheets(and because I love a bit of theatre!) I get the group's attention and then tear up the worksheets that they have just completed in front of them (sometimes this can create genuine outrage - its fun).When the grumbling has died down it provides an opportunity to discuss the notion that "The knowledge is no good if it stays on a piece of paper?".

We are not trying to create a situation where people can find things out if they need to in order to fill a worksheet in (we already have google for that?).

During this lesson we are trying to ensure that by the end of it our students are capable of assigning a name (or potential choice of names) to any note on a piano keyboard

music theory lesson plans for high school teachers

Click the box above to download a free handout (or music classroon wallchart) designed to help you to get the message over to your students

Using the "explainers" alongside our worksheets to "really" get the message across to our students

Below you can see a graphic that shows how our worksheets can be used along with the "explainers" to take students from a "standing start" with regards to music theory to a situation where they can confidently assign the correct name (or choice of available letter names) to any note. This is the ideal start to any study of music theory

note naming music theory lesson plan for high school

Download and print over 300 Music Worksheets
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When students are capable and familiar with the principles behind the naming of musical notes (firstly with access to the note identification chart and then without being able to refer to it) then they are ready to move onto the next topic...........

Music Theory Lesson Plans Topic 2:

High School music theory lesson plans

Whole and Half Step Intervals

Below you can see one of our worksheets dealing with "Whole Step" and "Half Step" Intervals
You will notice that students are required to build upon and apply the knowledge that they gained when working with the "note identification" materials covered previously. Now, in addition to being asked to identify the name of a note they are further tasked with supplying the name (or potential names) of other notes either a whole or a half step above or below the one originally identified.
This obliges the student not just to research (or remember) the names of the various notes but to apply that knowledge in order to advance their own understanding.
high school level music lesson plans
music intervals whole and half step worksheet

Making Music Theory "stick"

The "explainers" are a great way to introduce and reinforce knowledge and theoretical principles. They work well on their own but work better when combined with worksheets as part of a structured program of study

basic music intervals of a whole and a half step explained

Other intervals can and should be introduced later

Below you can see some of our other worksheets based on intervals other than whole and half steps that can be introduced to our learners at a later stage but as the next topic is major scale construction they need only be familiar with movements of a whole and a half step involved in the creation of major scales music theory lesson plans for high school students

Some of our Workseets based around Musical Intervals

Once our students have a method by which they can identify musical notes we can introduce them to the concept of moving between those notes? We do not need to overload them at this stage by studying the whole range of intervals? In order to understand major (and Minor) Scales all they need to grasp are intervals of a whole and a half step? Our first intervals worksheet concerns itself with these two intervals and after students have successfully worked through it they should be ready to take on the theory behind the construction of the (C) Major Scale

Music Theory Lesson Plans for High School Topic 3:

High School music theory lesson plans

Using Whole and Half Step intervals to construct the C Major Scale

The Note Identification Chart with a Major Scale Construction (letter names only) Worksheet

Now that students are comfortable with the concept of whole step and half step intervals we can introduce them to the idea that these intervals can be combined in a pre-determined order to create scales? The obvious place to start is with the C major scale? The resources come with a range of major and minor scale handouts which feature varying levels of "support" in the form of keyboard diagrams and boxes in which students are invited to supply the "letter names" of the notes instead of or in addition to the musical notation. For a more detailed look at the help that we provide to music teachers in this are a go to our musical scale construction page

High School music theory lesson plans on major scale construction

Above you can see the free "explainer" document alongside some of our worksheets designed to help students to become capable of defining the letter names of all of the notes that combine to make up any major scale.

A Music Theory "Game Changer"

Below is a more detailed image of the PDF that will hopefully give you an idea of how it is designed to work in a classroom (or distance learning) situation. The "Explainer" allows students to progress to the point where they can identify the notes in any specified Major Scale and from there to develop an understanding of how all Major Scales (no matter how many sharps or flats are floating around in them) follow the same sequence of whole-step and half-step intervals. I have found this knowledge to be something of a "game changer" for many of my classroom or instrumental students.

When they realise that something that they often regarded as being illogical and way too complicated for them to get to grips with is actually "just a bunch of simple maths and the first seven letters of the alphabet" it can lower their resistance to all things theoretical and provide a great "way in" to the more involved and conceptual side of music

High School music theory lesson plans and advice on major scale construction

Music Theory Lesson Plans Topic 4:

High School music theory lesson plans on major scale construction

Using the formulae learned for the C Major scale to construct other Major Scales

Once students become familiar with the formulae used to construct the C Major Scale they can be encouraged to use the same sequenceof intervals in order to construct other major scales. Students (with reference to the sheet which names the notes on a piano keyboard) are required to write the names of the notes of a particular scale in the lower half of each circle. Between each circle the letter "W" (denoting an interval of a whole step) or the letter "H" (indicating a half step) are provided to help students to become familiar with the sequence of intervals involved.
music lesson planning

A "letter names only" Major Scales Worksheet in use

After they have become familiar with the identification of the (letter names of the) notes that make up a scale musical notation can be introduced if it is appropriate to your student group/area of study?
high school music theory lesson plans to download
Major Scale Construction Worksheets

There are a series of major scale worksheets that ask the students to set out to provide musical notation and to produce the notes involved in the construction of particular major scales. If you look closely at the illustration above you will see that these worksheets feature boxes above the musical staff? the intention is that your students write the letter names of the notes in the boxes before notating the scale (on the staff with each note being placed directly beneath the relevant "box" for ease of marking etc?).

Music Theory lesson Plans Topic 5:

High School music theory lesson plans on major chord construction

Using Major Scales to Costruct Major Chords

Having mastered the theory underpinning the construction of major scales it is a relatively simple step to help our students to identify the construction of a Major triad using the Root (first) third and fifth notes of the C major Scale to produce the C Major Chord? From this point is should be relatively simple to make our students see that if they can find the notes of the relevant Major scale then they can construct any Major chord?

Music Theory Lesson Plans Topic 6:

High School music theory lesson plans on minor scale construction

Constructing Minor Scales

Just as was the case when familiarising students with the major scale this material concerns itself with the sequence of tones and semitones that go to make up the minor scale

Music lesson Plans Topic 7: Minor Chords

High School music theory lesson plans on minor chord construction Having constructed the minor scale it should again be a relatively short step to help students to understand how to identify the three notes from within the scale (root,third and 5th) that go to make up the minor triad. There are a set of worksheets which are aimed at inviting learners to identify the three notes of a given chord on a keyboard and to state which type (major or minor) of chord is being displayed.

Music Theory lesson Plans Topic 8:

Chords Within The C Major Scale

music theory lesson plan chords made from notes in C major scale A look at the chords (major-minor and diminished) that can be constructed from the notes of a C Major Scale

Music lesson Plans Topic 9:

Chords In Other keys

Music Theory lesson plan chords made from notes in all Major Scales Extending the principles encountered above so that they include the chords that can be built from any single Major scale The tonic, dominant or subdominant chords (or Chords I II III IV etc). Whichever way you want your students to understand the material the maths and theory of it all remains the same?

Music lesson plans Topic 10

Understanding key Signatures

Music Theory lesson plan chords made from notes in all Major Scales

Having developed the ability to construct any major or minor scale and to construct the chords that are contained within any key students are more than ready for a series of worksheets themed around Key Signatures designed to help our students to understand the differences (and similarities?) between keys.

Music Theory Lesson Plans

With all of the rules and regulations overlaid on our subject (ks1,ks2,ks3,ks4 etc) it can be useful to remember that the music was there before someone dreamed up the whole key stage thing and will be there long after they've replaced it with the next "big thing"
The subject is more important than the syllabus and we should design our teaching programme around that simple fact?

If our students understand the elements of music and how they work together to create "magic" (and radio jingles) then it should be a relatively easy process to make that fit into key stages for our internal documentation etc? This site is about the music and not the key stages (or whatever) that it is currently (and artificially?) broken up into.

Its not just about music theory though.....

Before we dive into the music theory stuff now is a good time to look at the reality of the situation facing classroom music teachers. The modern music classroom is a very diverse environment compared with the way things used to be and it can be a better than good idea to be prepared to meet your students "on their own turf" which is more often than not located in "Popular Music" forms rather than the more traditional genres typical of the (fairly recent) past

The links below look at materials that we have as part of our download looking at Popular Music Song Forms and the common problem of convincing guitar players to engage with music theory

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