Skip to main content Skip to main content

The Arts In Every Classroom: A Video Library K-5

Teaching Music

Two music specialists from arts–based schools demonstrate different approaches to serving diverse student populations. At Harmony Leland Elementary School in Mableton, Georgia, all 500 students study the violin. Their classes with Barrett Jackson become lessons in character and discipline. At Smith Renaissance School of the Arts in Denver, Sylvia Bookhardt and a class of fifth–graders explore the Renaissance through choral singing.

View Transcript

All of the students at Harmony Leland Elementary School in Mableton, Georgia, study the violin. Here they work with music teacher Barrett Jackson.

Two music specialists from arts-based schools demonstrate different approaches to serving diverse student populations:

  • Harmony Leland Elementary School in Mableton, Georgia, has purchased violins for all of its 485 pre-kindergarten to fifth-grade students. The school provides violin lessons for every child as part of the curriculum. In the absence of applicable standards for a project of this size and scope, string specialist Barrett Jackson developed her own teaching goals for each class, including those for the kindergartners and fifth-graders featured in this program
  • At Smith Renaissance School of the Arts in Denver, Colorado, music teacher Sylvia Bookhardt uses the experience of learning and performing choral music to launch investigations into other topics, such as Renaissance life.

Featured People

Who’s Who
(In order of appearance)

  • Sandra McGary-Ervin, principal, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia (see interview below)
  • Barrett Jackson, string specialist, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia (see interview below)
  • Sylvia Bookhardt, music teacher, Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado (see interview below)
  • Rory Pullens, assistant principal, Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado

Featured Schools

Harmony Leland Elementary School

  • Location: Mableton, Georgia
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Sandra McGary-Ervin
  • Featured teachers: Barrett Jackson, string specialist; Crystal Peters, music specialist; Jermal Riggins, second-grade teacher; Mary Perkerson, visual art specialist; Denise Walker, first-grade teacher; Gillian Conner, fourth-grade teacher
  • Grades: PK–5
  • Number of students: 485
  • Number of faculty: 54
  • Demographic information: Fifty-seven percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Student population is 60 percent African-American, 26 percent Caucasian, 10 percent Hispanic, and 4 percent other. Student transiency rate is 17 percent.

Beginning in 1998, Harmony Leland engaged in intensive self-study and researched best practices. As a result of this exploration, the elementary school focused on implementing school improvement goals to turn around declining student achievement. A major transformation at Harmony Leland led to significant initiatives addressing academics, character education, and parent and community involvement. The fine arts, in particular, are used to reach students at Harmony Leland. The school became a Leonard Bernstein Center for Artful Learning and began a violin program that includes every child in the school.

Harmony Leland’s mission is to provide all students with rigorous and relevant academic and fine arts educational experiences, which promote excellence and a life-long love of learning. The school actively fosters appreciation and acceptance of diversity.

Harmony Leland’s school population has varied ethnicity and socioeconomic diversity. The school seeks ways to bridge school and community, based on the belief that facilitation among school, parents, and community is key to school success. Partnerships and collaborations among students, parents, community members, businesses, and teachers help further the school’s goals.

Harmony Leland provides a variety of opportunities during and after school for students to develop knowledge, skills, and experiences. Examples include Drop Everything and Read; Breakthrough to Literacy; and honors programs such as honors chorus, honors art, and honors violin.

Information provided by Harmony Leland Elementary School. Current as of February 2002.


Smith Renaissance School of the Arts

  • Location: Denver, Colorado
  • Web site:
  • Principal: Joyce Simmons
  • Featured teachers: Sylvia Bookhardt, music teacher; Kelly Harbolt, drama teacher; Suzanne Hewitt, visual art teacher
  • Grades: K–5
  • Number of students: 530
  • Number of faculty: 37
  • Demographic information: Student population is 70 percent African-American, 25 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Caucasian, and 2 percent other. Ninety percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Annual mobility rate is 118 percent.

Smith Renaissance School of the Arts is a magnet school focusing in the arts. The arts education program design was implemented at the start of the 1997–98 school year. Smith employs arts staff members who work with classroom teachers in a team approach. Lessons are consistent with state mandates and are tied to national standards.

Smith’s mission is to develop each student’s abilities, nurturing both higher academic achievement and personal development, through exposure to the arts. The school’s goals are to improve academic performance, increase parent-community involvement, and infuse the arts into all aspects of the curriculum to improve achievement. The curriculum is designed around the performing and visual arts. Students explore programs in each of the arts through third grade. Fourth- and fifth-grade students can develop their areas of choice while continuing their education in other areas.

Because Smith is a magnet school, students who have been accepted come from within and outside of the normal school boundaries.

Smith is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The school has partnerships with many organizations that provide support, such as the Denver School of the Arts, the Colorado Children’s Chorale, Ready to Succeed, the Shaka Foundation, and the Colorado Youth Symphony.

Information provided by Smith Renaissance School of the Arts. Current as of February 2002.

Featured Approaches

Teaching Goals

  • With a kindergarten class, Barrett Jackson asks the children to listen and follow directions as they demonstrate basic care and knowledge of their instruments. Children build self-esteem by successfully completing familiar tasks, such as increasing or decreasing the tension on their violin bows or playing simple note sequences. They also learn the introductory skills they will need for participating in standardized tests.
  • With a fifth-grade class, she works on a basic knowledge of music, including note reading, the musical alphabet, and the lines and spaces on a music chart. As a tie-in to the school’s literacy priority, the fifth-graders construct a list of words that can be formed from the seven letters of the musical alphabet (a, b, c, d, e, f, g). They insert the words, expressed by musical notes instead of letters, in original stories. The stories are given to second-graders, who learn the notes as they translate them back into words.


Renaissance Life

  • Preparing to perform at an upcoming Shakespeare festival, Sylvia Bookhardt’s fourth- and fifth-grade students reflect on the role of music in Renaissance society and rehearse the song Scarborough Fair.
  • Bookhardt’s students engage in writing about Renaissance life and learn to perform a complex song in the style of the period.
  • Bookhardt identifies standards met by the Renaissance unit and makes these clear to her students.

Who Should Watch This Program

“Teaching Music” is a good resource for classroom teachers and for music specialist teachers. Classroom teachers can gain a deep understanding of how and why children study music. Specialist teachers can see other specialists at work, using contrasting approaches to teaching music.

Other audiences for this program might include:

  • curriculum or arts planners, to help them expand their ideas about how music contributes to learning and to demonstrate how arts specialists apply and communicate standards; and
  • visiting artists or artists-in-residence, to give them ideas and background about classroom practices and teaching techniques in music education.

Before Watching

This program explores two contrasting approaches to teaching music. Both schools consider their programs successful in meeting their objectives:

  • At Harmony Leland Elementary School, Barrett Jackson’s program stresses results such as respect for the instrument, self-esteem, hand-eye coordination, and personal responsibility rather than performance-based goals.
  • At Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Sylvia Bookhardt applies both performance and knowledge standards to her students’ work. Students carefully rehearse advanced performance skills such as presentation and style.

As you watch, consider which of the featured teaching approaches would more effectively help you meet learning objectives in your classroom:

  • How would you incorporate each approach into collaborations with classroom teachers or integrated curriculum units?

At Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, classroom teachers and arts specialists collaborate to develop schoolwide themes. Consider how such a themed curriculum unit would work at your school:

  • How would you begin the planning process?
  • How could you use music to advance effective instructional strategies such as inquiry-based teaching and learning?




Barrett Jackson

String specialist, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia

Barrett Jackson student taught in a middle school orchestra setting, then taught violin, viola, guitar, and piano in a small private school for two years. She began teaching violin at Harmony Leland Elementary School in 1999. She has degrees in music education and music therapy.

Q. What guidance would you suggest for other teachers confronted with a profusion of standards for a particular specialty?

A. As a first-year teacher in a public school driven by standards, I felt overwhelmed by the number of standards. What I have realized is that I was simply not familiar with them and was meeting more of the standards than I originally realized. Through continual review of the standards and my lessons, I was able to incorporate more standards into each lesson and identify ones I didn’t realize I had been meeting.

Q. Would you describe how you teach music vocabulary words to your students?

A. Music vocabulary in the violin class is taught through immersion. Students are taught the correct names of parts of the instrument and other music vocabulary through constant use and exposure. They are given many opportunities to use the words during each lesson.

Q. How do you assess students who are at different proficiency levels?

A. The violin program is not performance-based. Students are assessed on conduct and participation. Their level of proficiency does not factor into their grades. Concepts and topics are rotated on a quarterly basis, so both a student new to the program and one who has three years of experience can achieve the same success.

Q. How are students selected for honors violin class?

A. Students are selected for the honors violin class by audition each spring. Every student is allowed to audition and given a score based on eight aspects of violin performance. The top 20 to 25 students then are invited to join the group. Returning members also must audition each year.

Q. What makes the honors class different from regular violin class? What kinds of performances do the honors students give?

A. The honors class is performance-based, unlike a regular violin class, and the standards are rigorous. Honors violin students have participated in school theatrical productions and performed for other schools, community-based events, and private functions, including the African-American Women on Tour, Boys and Girls Club regional meeting, and the Atlanta chapter of the Grammys Holiday event. The students recently recorded and released their first compact disc.

Q. How does the music program contribute to the mission of the school?

A. The violin program is a brain-based program that contributes to meeting the school’s goal of building literacy. Literacy is incorporated in the violin class by the use of word walls, power writing, thinking maps, and “note” books.



Sandra McGary-Ervin

Principal, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia

Sandra McGary-Ervin came to Cobb County, Georgia, in 1985 to teach special education at North Cobb High School. Later, she was a learner support strategist (curriculum specialist) at that same school. She then served as assistant principal at Griffin Middle School and as supervisor of the cultural diversity department for the school district. At the time this program was taped, she was in her fourth year as principal of Harmony Leland Elementary School.

Q. Why was violin selected for all students at the school to study? Were other instruments considered?

A. The violin is a very appropriate instrument for study in elementary school due to the number of sizes in which it is produced. It offers students the opportunity to use opposing movements while playing. In addition, the violin is an instrument that requires a considerable amount of discipline. It is an instrument that defines excellence. Therefore, the violin blended well with Harmony Leland’s idea of high standards and excellence, which we have made a high priority. To my knowledge, no other instruments were considered.

Q. Was there already a string specialist at Harmony Leland prior to the violin program? Do the parents have to pay anything for their children to participate in the general violin program?

A. There was no string specialist at Harmony Leland prior to the beginning of the program. There is no cost involved for parents, except for any major repair needed as a result of damage caused at home under the parent’s supervision.

Q. What happens to students who transfer into Harmony Leland in the middle of the year? Similarly, what if a student does not want to study the violin?

A. Students who transfer into the school in the middle of the year are assigned a violin and placed with a class. Due to the nature of the course objective, newcomers can easily catch up with the rest of the group, because the violin program is not performance-based. We have never had a student refuse to attend violin classes.

Q. What honors arts classes are offered at Harmony Leland Elementary?

A. We offer eight honors classes: honors art for grades K–2, honors art for grades 3–5, honors Orff [music] for grade 3, honors violin for grades 1–2, honors violin for grades 3–5, honors handbells for grades 3–5, honors chorus for grades 3–5, and honors percussion for grades 4–5. We recently added dance to the after-school program.

Q. How do honors programs differ from “regular” classes in those subjects? How often do honors classes meet?

A. The honors classes are primarily performance-based. During the week, a student will attend each regular arts class once. For the honors classes, most classes meet every day for an extended time, allowing the students to excel in the arts, and to prepare and perform as professional musicians and artists.

Honors violin for grades 3–5, Orff for grade 3, honors percussion for grades 4–5 and honors art for grades 3–5 meet daily from 7:30 to 8 a.m. before academic instruction. Chorus, art for grades K–2, and handbells meet once a week for an hour called “Art Hour,” which is a schoolwide hour devoted to creating art.

Q. Is there a group performance for honors students?

A. We have brought students together to perform as an honors family, bringing all programs together for a performance. All students have the opportunity to view the artwork from honors art and to listen to all honors music programs. It is very exciting to view and listen to our honors students as a family of 130. All programs perform for family and friends at our Holiday Extravaganza and other performance venues throughout the year.

Q. How are students selected for honors programs?

A. Students are selected through an audition process. Criteria for classes differ. Posture, presentation, technique, pitch, and tone are examples of what a student must demonstrate.

Q. Are there additional financial and other commitments associated with being in an honors class?

A. When a student is accepted into the honors class, the parent and student sign a contract that commits the student to the program for the entire year. The parent or student is responsible for paying a $20 fee per honors class. Since there is no music or art budget, this fee covers field trips, uniform rental, uniform cleaning, music, and any necessary supplies for that class. Instruments used in class have been purchased or made by Harmony Leland Elementary School.



Sylvia Bookhardt

Music teacher, Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado

Sylvia Bookhardt began her music training as a piano student in first grade. Those studies continued through high school. She traveled with choral groups throughout the United States. Her years of graduate education included a study of the “diverse learner.” Now certified as a school administrator, she maintains musical involvement as a focus of her life. In the 2001–02 school year, Sylvia became assistant principal at Rishel Middle School in Denver, Colorado, where she is beginning an arts program.

Q. Why did you become a music teacher? What has been the most satisfying part of your experience?

A. I became a music teacher as a result of childhood exposure and experience. Music has always been my first love. It was also my first way of learning. In retrospect, I struggled as a new student. Everything was quite foreign to me in first grade. I persevered as a reader by teaching myself. I developed rhythm schemes, patterns, and devices that involved chants and other musical elements. This is how I practiced reading. It became apparent that I was the best teacher for my own learning.

I realized then that there was an educational connection with music: Use of my ears was essential! Because my vision was weak, my ears offered support. For me, music and literacy always have been combined. I became a teacher with a specific focus in those two areas, and my training was an alignment of those areas.

Q. Please describe your role as an arts coordinator at Smith Renaissance. How did this fit in with the rest of your responsibilities?

A. I ran schoolwide programs that matched the pacing of our curriculum. During my time as arts coordinator, I was determined to build tradition into school celebrations. In other words, I was able to synthesize learning by blending traditional themes into an overall program. A major challenge was involving parents, but that dwindled as mothers and fathers became more interested in becoming part of this success.

I viewed my major job responsibility as connecting academic pieces to all performances. Students took part in literacy exercises and projects that required parents to take them to the library, museum, and community resources. I became aware that we had to maintain a calendar for the entire school. The dates on the calendar were important, as total school inclusion was essential. These responsibilities fit with my teaching because they all pointed in the direction of learning enrichment.

Q. Can you give some examples of how the music program has enhanced academic achievement for students?

A. Building on the music program, opportunities in writing spurred additional research. Students used resources in the school library. Listening exercises added to group participation in project-based activities.

Students were invited to present in several district and citywide programs. They often wrote about their field trips and identified concepts in reading. A study of music history added to their involvement in the district Shakespeare Festival. Students shared new vocabulary terms in oral and written presentations. They showed a willingness to take on new responsibilities and risks. Interest escalated as students began to apply to the Denver School of the Arts.

Students leaving Smith Renaissance today have gone on to community choirs, dance studios, and other arenas for the arts. It has been noted that academic goals in math and reading are reflected in test scores.

Additional Resources

Related Video Library Programs
Watch these programs for more information on ideas explored in “Teaching Music”:


Web Resources

Related Organizations and Resources:

Recommended by Barrett Jackson:

Arts Education Standards

National Standards for Arts Education that apply to class work shown in featured schools:

Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia


    • Content Standard 2 — Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Perform on pitch, in rhythm, with appropriate dynamics and timbre, and maintain a steady tempo
    • Content Standard 5 — Reading and notating music

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Read whole, half, dotted half, quarter, and eighth notes and rests in 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 meter signatures

Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado


    • Content Standard 1 — Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

      • Sing from memory a varied repertoire of songs representing genres and styles from diverse cultures
      • Sing in groups, blending vocal timbres, matching dynamic levels, and responding to the cues of a conductor
    • Content Standard 9 — Understanding music in relation to history and culture

Achievement Standards for Grades K–4

    • Identify by genre or style aural examples of music from various historical periods and cultures

Source: National Standards for Arts Education, published by Music Educators National Conference (MENC). Copyright © 1994 by MENC. Used by permission. The complete National Arts Standards and additional materials relating to the standards are available from MENC, The National Association for Music Education, 1806 Robert Fulton Drive, Reston, VA 20191, telephone: 800-336-3768.