With September looming, the new school year is nearly upon us and planning for the coming year is no doubt underway.

For any primary teachers planning their music for this year, we've prepared a list of musical concepts from the Irish primary music curriculum along with some simple explanations and ridiculous GIFs to help make it easy for you to remember them for this coming year.

We've also included our advice for planning the learning objectives of your music classes and some links to useful resources.

A Sense of Pulse

The pulse refers to the beat of the music. Some music has a very strong pulse, like the saxophonist below (left, right, left, right) or the music of a waltz (ONE, two three, ONE, two three), and other types of music doesn't have a strong pulse, like this Irish air.

The children should be able to:

  • Show a steady pulse or beat.
  • Understand the difference between music with a steady pulse or beat and music without a strong pulse.
  • Discover and recognise strong and weak beat.

A Sense of Duration

Music has lots of patterns of different lengths from songs that have long percussion breaks to pieces which have sections of complete silence.

The children should be able to

  • Imitate and perform patterns of long and short sounds and silences.

A Sense of Tempo

Tempo relates to the speed of a particular piece and the musical sections and patters within it. Something like 'Move on Up' by Curtis Mayfield has a fast tempo whereas a song like 'The Good Life' by Tony Bennett has a much slower relaxed tempo.

The children should be able to:

  • understand and differentiate between fast and slow rhythmic and melodic patterns, getting faster and slower.

A Sense of Pitch

The pitch refers to how high or low a particular sound is. An example of a high pitched singer is Kate Bush and an example of low pitched singing is Philip Glass' 'Koyaanisqatsi'

The children should be able to:

  • Understand and differentiate between high and low sounds.
  • Imitating melodies.
  • Perceive the contour of melodies.

A Sense of Dynamics

Dynamics are how loud or soft a piece of music is. If a pieces of music gradually gets louder, that's called a crescendo and a piece that gradually gets quieter is called a decrescendo.

The children should be able to:

  • Understand and differentiate between loud and soft sounds and also music which gets gradually louder and softer.
  • Choosing appropriate levels of loud and soft for performances.

A Sense of Structure

There are lots of common structures used in music from the simple 'verse, chorus, verse, chorus' structure of pop songs like The Beatles 'Penny Lane' or Irish music pieces like John Ryan's polka which follows an ABAB structure (1st section, followed by a contrasting section).

Often music can have a similar structure to literature. They can tell stories through lyrics, spoken word or simply by the different moods captured in the music. Peter and the Wolf is a great example of this.

The children should be able to:

  • Identify different or repeated sections.
  • Understand beginning middle and end.

A Sense of Timbre

Timbre means the different types of sounds created by instruments. A good place to explore the different sounds of instruments is in an orchestra. In an orchestra you can hear the contrast in the rich sound of the strings, with the mysterious and playful sounds of the woodwind and the regal and triumphant sound of the brass section.

The children should be able to:

  • Explore and classify different sounds and instruments.
  • Identify some families of instruments.

A Sense of Texture

The texture is how the all of the musical elements such as the tempo, the melody and the harmony are combined into a composition. Describing the texture means to describe the overall sound of the piece. An example of a piece with lots of different textural layers is Rhapsody in Blue.

The children should be able to:

  • Listen and respond to sounds from one source and from more than one source.

A Sense of Style

This is the ability to listen to different types of music and determine its style or genre. The Irish primary music curriculum promotes the listening to and performance of different musical styles such as: classical, jazz, popular and Irish traditional. A couple of artists who became synonymous with their style were: Aretha Franklin named 'The Queen of Soul', Elvis Presley named 'The King of Rock and Roll' and B.B. King who called one of his albums 'King of the Blues'.

The children should be able to:

  • Listen and respond to music in different styles.

The Three Strands

For children to get to learn these elements of music, the curriculum is broken in to 3 core strands:

- Listening and Responding

- Performing

- Composing

Each of these are interrelated and essential in giving a child a rounded experience of music. For more info on this, click here to view the teaching guidelines.

Listening and Responding

Listening to music helps a child to learn and recognise different styles of music. Listening to exisiting music can also help a child develop a love for a particular genre and build motivation to want to pursue music further. Listening is also an important first step before either performing (to get a tune in their head) or composing (to learn from existing music).

From this strand, a child will be enabled to:

  • listen to, identify and imitate familiar sounds in the immediate environment with increasing awareness
  • explore a range of vocal sounds that the singing and speaking voice can make
  • discover sounds using body percussion in pairs and small groups
  • explore ways of making sounds using manufactured and home-made instruments
  • identify obviously different instruments
  • listen to a range of short pieces of music or excerpts and discuss in terms of musical concepts, (loud, soft, fast, slow, etc.)
  • listen to a range of musical styles and traditions
  • differentiate between loud and soft music


Performing music allows children to express themselves through music. This could be done with a percussion instrument like a drum, to a tuned instrument like a piano or simply with an instrument everyone has - the voice.

Performing requires multi-tasking all of the component areas of music discussed above. Everything from the tempo to the timbre will have to be considered by a child when they perform.

Through the performing strand, a child will be enabled to:

  • recognise and sing with increased vocal control
  • perform with increased control of dynamics
  • recognise melody as going up or down
  • recognise and imitate short melodies in echoes, developing a sense of pitch
  • play a range of simple percussion instruments


There are different outlets for children to read and follow music. These could be through graphic score notation (like Dabbledoo Music's), traditional notation or a notation you come up with yourself for the classroom.

Through the curriculum, a child will be enabled to:

  • identify and perform familiar patterns from memory
  • recognise sequences of rhythms
  • recognise simple tunes from simplified notation


Following on from listening and then performing a particular piece of music, children are also encouraged to draw from both of those experiences and create their own music. This can be as simple as coming up with a clapping rhythmic pattern to writing a song.

From the curriculum, a child will be enabled to:

  • select sounds from a range of sources (vocal and instrumental) to create compositions, individually and in groups
  • invent and perform simple pieces
  • explore the use of graphic notation to organise sequences of sounds
  • select sounds and distribute them in a group performance setting

Approaches and Methodologies

There are many ways that the music curriculum can be delivered in school and through lots of different mediums. Here are a few ideas which can be explored in the classroom:

Group Performances

  • Instrumental and vocal performances using online visual scores with DabbledooMusic.
  • Combination of full class performances and smaller group work.

Group Compositions

  • The class will undertake regular composition exercises to reinforce musical concepts and explore creativity and collaboration.
  • Individual and small group work.

Class Discussions

  • Critical appraisal of music with opportunity to verbalise their understanding of musical concepts.
  • Discussions will help you the teacher assess student engagement and progress.

Teacher Led Activities

  • Teacher should lead all performance, listening and composition activities through a combination of presenting starter material and helping the class develop musical concepts throughout an activity.
  • All activities should encourage the students to explore through critical and creative means while the teacher provide focus and guidance throughout, based on musical concept development.


Here are a few resources you may need for teaching music in the classroom:

  • Performance, listening and composition activities (such as our interactive resources available at dabbledoomusic.com)
  • Interactive whiteboard - playing videos, using online resources
  • Speakers - to play music
  • Classroom instruments - Thomann is a good source if you need to purchase instruments for your school
  • Access to lyrics for song-singing


Here are three areas of assessment we recommend to the schools we work with:

  • Collaborative learning and assessment will be encouraged through group exercises and activities.
  • Teacher observation will assess the development through performance, composition and group discussions.
  • Questioning the class to assess musical concept development and identify weak or strong areas in each lesson.


Music can be integrated into lots of different subject areas. We recently did a lesson plan blog about polka music which explores ideas for crossing over different subject areas.

Here are a few ideas as to how you can combine music with other subjects:

  • PE - dance/action songs
  • Language - through sounds and symbols
  • History - musical history and folk music
  • Irish - Amhráin Gaeilge
  • Science - instrument making and performance

We hope you find this list of concept explanations and other resources of use. If you would like some more help planning and delivering the music curriculum to your class this year, why not sign-up to our full curriculum below:

Dabbledoo Music Primary Music Currciulum

If you have any questions, please email Chris at [email protected]