Game Changer: Automatic Music Transitions

As teachers, we change things in our classroom every single year. Tweaking procedures to make them work more efficiently helps us to be better educators and helps our students succeed. I always spend the end of the school year reflecting on what worked and what didn't while it's still fresh in my mind so that I can prioritize what I want to work on over the summer. My teacher brain has a hard time taking a break!

This post is about one classroom procedure I've literally never had to change. Crazy, right?! Through 5 years of teaching, it remains one of the most effective and unique classroom management tools I've ever used. Best part of all? It requires a program that is already installed on your computer! (PC users only, I'm not sure about Macs, sorry!)

Automatic music transitions are just that: automatic songs that pop up on your computer at specified times to alert you and your students that a transition is taking place. That's right... automatically. You do nothing but spend time setting it all up at the beginning of the year! Math time is over and now we are moving on to reading? BAM! A song pops up, your students start putting away their math work and pulling out their reader's notebooks, without you having to say a word. It's a beautiful sight, let me tell ya. Plus, when you have classroom visitors, it's pretty amusing to watch their eyes widen when they realize students start transitioning on cue without you ever having to say a word. It's pretty impressive!

Full disclosure here, though. It can be a bit of a process to set up at first. But I promise it pays huge dividends in the end! Every year, I start with a planning sheet. This allows me to plan out what transitions I want, the days/times, and which song for how long. See below for an example of what this planning process looks like. I generally leave 1:00-2:00 minutes for transitions, depending on the task. It takes less time for them to put away their books and line up for recess than it does to put away math supplies and get ready for reading. Totally up to you to judge how long they will be, and it's easy to tweak timing later. Click here to download the planning sheet to print out and organize your transitions!

Once you have the songs figured out and your planning sheet complete, the next step will flow much easier! If you already have the songs you want trimmed down to the correct length, great! If not, the beginning of this video is a tutorial on how to trim your songs in iTunes. I would pull up each song first and write down the exact start and stop time you would like based on personal preference. If you are using a program other than iTunes, you will want to Google and figure out how to trim and save the songs correctly. I do not use full songs for any of my transitions, only the beginning of the day unpacking song.

I highly recommend testing one of the transitions first (set it for a time 10-15 minutes away) and waiting to see if it works before doing all of them. This will save tons of heartache later if something didn't work correctly. Also take note, this process MUST be done on the computer that you will use daily in your classroom. You cannot set it up at home and then transfer it over to your school computer. If you have a school laptop, that will work great, but not for desktop computers.

Check out the video below for step by step directions, pausing as needed to complete each step on your end.

I hope the tutorial video was helpful in setting up your music transitions for your classroom. Now all that's left? Teaching the procedures! Music transitions can QUICKLY become chaotic if you do not set some ground rules and stick to them.

On the first day of school, I sit down with my students and tell them that there will be music that plays automatically to signal we need to transition to another activity. The first few times, the song starting automatically will likely startle them, depending on how loud you set your speakers. I play through the songs so they can hear them, tell what each transition song will signal, and discuss the expectations. I've listed these below.

Music Transition Expectations

  • Begin transitioning as soon as you hear the music - This ensures students have enough time to complete the tasks before the music shuts off.

  • What they should do when they hear the transition - Will they put away their materials? Get their lunch cards and line up? Meet you at the carpet. It may be overwhelming at first, and you may have to verbally explain directions for the first few weeks, but it will quickly become second nature to them.

  • Voices off and bodies calm as soon as the music is off - This ensures students are ready to go in a timely manner for the next subject or activity.

  • You may sing, but not louder than the music - I still wanted this to be fun and motivating for the kids, so I allow soft singing or dancing as long as they are moving along with the transition. This one is totally up to you!

I know when I have been lax about my expectations, music transitions end up becoming a classroom management problem rather than a tool. I highly suggest setting high expectations so that this method works to improve transitions, rather than complicate them. At the beginning of the year, if students are still goofing off when the music stops, I gently remind them of the expectations - then sit them down and start the song all over again. This is key! Once they realize you mean business, they will start turning their voices off to focus the second the music stops, I promise. Consistency is key.

I sincerely hope these music transitions become such a key part of your classroom management like they have for the last five years in my classroom. I truly enjoy not having to raise my voice to signal that it's time to line up for recess, lunch, or to begin packing up at the end of the day. The students quickly pick up which song signals which transition and when the song is ending and start automatically pacing their transitions to meet the different times. It's amazing!

Still have questions or need help getting started?! Let me know in the comments below. I'd be happy to help!

Want to share this with other fabulous educators? Feel free to use the image below to share to social media and help another teacher combat their chaotic transition time!

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