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In this lesson, students create their own music classification system




4, 5, 6  

Title – Categorizing Music using Information Processing
By – Melanie Shaw
Primary Subject – Music
Secondary Subjects – Language Arts
Grade Level – 4-6

LESSON DURATION: 100 minutes (2 class periods)


  • Students will identify characteristics of musical examples
  • Students will develop categories for music based on those characteristics
  • Students will classify examples into categories, according to their characteristics
  • Students will name the selected categories and present to the class

MATERIALS NEEDED: Compact disks with different types of musical excerpts, paper, and pens


Anticipatory set: play a piece by Bach, The Beatles, and Duke Ellington. Tell the class that music is categorized by characteristics such as instruments used, meter, historical period, style, and rhythm. Announce to the class that they will be creating their own classification system for various musical examples based on what they hear.


1. Students work in groups to identify the characteristics of different music examples. They listen to music examples and make a list of things they hear. The teacher should provide them with paper and a pen. Students are free to create their own characteristics based on what they hear. They must begin to identify the characteristics of each music sample that differentiates it from another sample.

2. Students then develop categories for the music based on the chosen characteristics. The students must classify the music into categories and make a chart with the categories listed. Students have to develop categories based on what characteristics they chose.

3. Students then begin to group the musical examples by those characteristics chosen. Students make a chart and group the music according to the characteristics they identify. Students must find a strategy for grouping the songs into their chosen categories.

4. Students will name the categories. Students will find appropriate names for the music categories based on conventional or non-conventional classification of music. Using the characteristics, students will have to agree on names for each category.

5. Students will then prepare a small presentation for the class based on their new music category system. Students will play selected examples of music for each category and instruct the class on their classification system. The students must have a coherent and justified reason for grouping the music into their chosen categories and must be able to demonstrate how they analyzed the music samples in each category.

Closure: The teacher should close the lesson by providing the categories of the introductory music samples (Bach/Baroque, The Beatles/Rock, and Duke Ellington/Jazz). The teacher should share the broad characteristics that allow music to be called classical, rock, or jazz and compare how some of the students’ created categories apply to the traditional music classification system.

Going further: The lesson could be extended using a particular type of music (say rock) and then identifying micro-categories within that one genre (soft rock, heavy metal, etc), applying the same learning steps.

STUDENT ASSESSMENT: The students should be evaluated for content mastery through their class presentations. In addition, The teacher can have them listen to a music excerpt on the next written music test and identify characteristics of that music and categorize it into one of their chosen categories.

CONTENT AREA INTEGRATION: This project integrates language arts components into the music curriculum.

ADAPTATIONS: For students requiring more assistance, The teacher could give students an outline of things to listen for — Rhythm, pitch, tone, instruments, etc. as a scaffold for further discussion. The teacher could also work with each group to guide their learning and assist them with the mechanics of the project.

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