The Arts Learning Standards for Music

  • Elementary
Al Fischer

I lived and taught in Missouri for years.  I achieved my 99-Year Teacher’s Certificate (yes, it’s a thing).  I was fully familiar with the arts learning standards in Missouri.

Then I moved to Washington.  

I familiarized myself with the standards of a new state, recreated my schedule for when I wanted to teach which expectations- then Washington State adopted a new set of arts learning standards.  You will forgive me for having been a touch annoyed. Upon a good look at the new standards, though, I bought in fairly quickly.

In his preface to the 2017 Washington State Arts Learning Standards for Music, Superintendent Chris Reykdal wrote, “These standards include the National Core Arts Standards, along with additional content developed by K–12 educators in the arts.”  It’s this additional content that secured my buy-in. I asked a colleague about her sense of the difference between her Common Core standards and my arts standards. After looking at my standards, she summed up the difference succinctly: the Common Core standards require effort to unpack and discern exactly what’s required, the Washington arts standards are already unpacked.

Teacher Teaching Student Drums

For example, take standard MU:Pr4.3.K.  This standard requires that students, “with guidance, demonstrate awareness of expressive qualities (such as voice quality, dynamics, and tempo) that support the creators’ expressive intent.”  Now this is for Kindergarten, mind you. I can picture a Juilliard graduate-level course in composition that would teach nothing but this standard. The grad course would also include these two big picture items connected to the state standard:

"Enduring Understanding: Performers make interpretive decisions based on their understanding of context and expressive intent.

Essential Question: How do performers interpret musical works?"

What makes the difference in our state’s approach is the inclusion of several suggestions and examples for each standard.  Connected to this standard:

"Suggestions for students—

Explore tempo of the music used for performance.

Explore percussion instruments used for performance.

Explore dynamics of the music used for performance.

For example:

Sing and play fast and slow beat and rhythms with multiple small percussion instruments.

Play and perform music using pitched and non-pitched instruments.

Demonstrate loud-quiet (dynamics) through movement, such as making big motions when the music is loud and small motions when it is quiet, or by using inside and outside voices."

This gives me more of an idea exactly what Kindergarten-sized work the state has in mind.  Also, these examples stimulate ideas for singing, playing and dancing. Different music teachers have different strengths.  Some love choir, some love to move. There are many philosophies for teaching music, but all need to get at these same standards.  Each of the standards for every grade level gets this same careful treatment.

Choir Class

Here is another standard for your consideration, along with its associated material.  This is from the section Composition and Theory-High School Advanced.  A straight line of progression can be drawn back to the Kindergarten standard.  It is associated with the same Enduring Understanding and Essential Question:


Develop interpretations of works based on an understanding of the use of elements of music (including form), compositional techniques, style, function, and context, explaining and justifying how the interpretive choices reflect the creators’ intent.

Enduring Understanding: Performers make interpretive decisions based on their understanding of context and expressive intent.

Essential Question: How do performers interpret musical works?

Suggestions for students—

Evaluate performances of music of diverse genres, artists, cultures, and/or times in relation to musical elements utilized through DAW (digital audio workstation) production and/or performance.

For example:

Analyze how the idea, feeling, and/or story of the performance are communicated technically (such as through the use of musical elements, forms, styles, or DAW technique."

Students Playing Violin in Music Class

It occurs to me that one reason the Common Core standards may not require the same up-front unpacking is the ubiquitous presence of curricula designed to address them.  With lesson sequencing and assessment already handled, further ideas are not as necessary. There are music curricula available, but different teaching styles and emphases stand in the way of a universal lesson sequencing that would work for every music teacher.  Speaking for myself, I resist taking on the sequencing of others, preferring to have a more free approach to how I get at each standard. For me, that’s fun. For others, that’s stressful.

As it happens, I am about to get back into the swing of lesson planning.  For a month or so, all lessons have been built around standards like:


1-With guidance, perform music with expression.

2-Perform appropriately for the audience."

We just completed our all-school winter concert on the big stage of the beautiful Capitol Theatre in Yakima, WA.  Having completed our work on stage, it’s time to get back to our work in the classroom.

  • Arts
  • Student Engagement
  • Teacher Leadership
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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Al Fischer Board

Al Fischer is originally from Michigan and achieved his B.M. in Vocal Music Education from Wayne State University.Then he spent 0% of his time teaching, devoting a couple of decades to musical theater work.Then he spent 50% of his time teaching in St. Louis Missouri, filling out the rest of his time playing piano in a synagogue, directing choir in churches, and serving as artistic director for the Gateway Men's Chorus, St. Louis' gay men's group.Now he spends 100% of his time teaching in the Yakima School District and is proud to be a brand new National Board Certified Teacher.