Why teach Music (Part 1): The imperative of Music Education in Montessori Classrooms

By Michael Johnson 


In November 2021, Michael Johnson came to our school to share his Music experience and teach our 3-6 teachers on how to introduce more music into our classrooms. 

After his session, he nicely send us an article on music that we are happy to share with you! 


For more detail on Michael Johnson himself, please see below!


A great deal of people have the mathematical formula i + c = n emblazoned in their brain, where i = a musical instrument, c = children, and n = noise. As Mario Montessori wrote in his 1956 article about his mother’s music program, many adults believe children “should be seen and not heard” (Montessori 1956). Perhaps this explains why so many teachers avoid making music in their classrooms. For the children to work on music, they must make sound, and where else but in a Montessori classroom should the environment be sound-free, so the children can concentrate as they occupy themselves with their various activities?

Many teachers even balk at playing music in the background during in the work period, for fear the children won't be able to concentrate. Their fears are not unfounded. A study conducted by Mark Lemouse for HealthGuidance.org, found that people of all ages were more productive in an atmosphere of silence than in an atmosphere in which music was playing (Lemouse 2015). Perhaps because of this, music gets a bad rap in traditional classrooms; it requires making sound, and sound distracts.


But, to put it lightly, silence seldom prevails in Montessori classrooms. According to Phyllis Pottish-Lewis, “A perfectly functioning classroom should be noisy” (Pottish-Lewis 2014). In the Primary, the atmosphere buzzes with children moving, speaking, and going about their individual work. In the Elementary, the children’s conversations, their debates, and their collaborations often generate background noise.


Plus, studies about the perils of having music playing in the background while children work contradict each other. One study conducted in 2010 corroborated Lemouse’s findings. Researchers gave three groups of college students a reading comprehension test while music played in the background: one group listened to Hip Hop, another group listened to Classical, and the third group listened to no music. The study concluded that “the participants who scored the highest in the reading comprehension task were the control group who performed the reading task in silence” (Choi 2010).

Another study published online in Educational Studies, however, found that when calming music played in the background during children’s work it “led to better performance…when compared with a no-music condition” (Hallam, Price, Katsarou 2010).

With everyone contradicting each other about whether music affects or ruins children’s concentration, should you or shouldn’t you have music in your classroom?

The short answer; you must.


When you share music with your children, you create community, you develop in them all of the same skills as other academic pursuits like Math and Language, you provide opportunity for refining Grace & Courtesy, you help your children with emotional control and body regulation, and, most importantly, you have fun.


Music is Community

Merriam Webster defines community as “a group of [people] leading a common life according to a rule.” This is precisely what the children do when performing an authentic folk song or singing game together. For the length of a performance the children non-verbally agree to live by not just one, but a plethora of unspoken “rules” that govern their behavior to the benefit of everyone. Some of the “rules”, such as “Use your best singing voice”, or “Keep your hands to yourself” come from the teacher as necessary to maintain discipline. But many of the “rules”, such as what movements to perform at what time, or when to lead and when to follow, arise naturally from the form and structure of the music and from the performance etiquette passed down from the generations of people who have performed the folk song or singing game before.


In a community of individuals, knowing and abiding by the “rules” is essential to the group’s survival. People refine their behaviors in order that everyone in the group has a pleasant experience. Because the above rules are inherent in music-making, and because music comes naturally to human beings, it follows that every musical experience gives children natural opportunities to practice community-building behaviors, such as interdependence, friendship, peaceful coexistence, and communication.


People in a community depend on one another. If a child refuses to join hands with another, or if he pulls on the other’s arms, or sings in a loud, disruptive voice, all of the children lose out on the benefits of the experience. Consequently, the child’s relationship to his companions changes over the course of a musical performance or singing game because “he needs his companions more; he approaches them confidently, he accepts and abides by their wishes” (Forrai 1998). When children make music, they depend on and learn to accept each other. This acceptance creates goodwill among the children as they enjoy the musical experience.

These feelings of goodwill and enjoyment lay the groundwork for lasting friendships. When a child finds in one of her companions a good dance partner, for example, she feels happy having found someone she can trust, someone who matches her movements and enthusiasm. In that way, “friendships are formed” (Forrai 1998). When the child is called upon during a song or singing game to be that good partner, she approaches her companions with amicability and confidence. Not only does each child find friendship among his peers, but the whole group develops a positive relationship with their teacher as they share the excitement of the game (Forrai 1998).



As the children form friendships during a singing game, the relationship between the individual children and the group takes on a special meaning. When child participates effectively, her newfound skills give her a sense of belonging. At the same time, the other children develop greater respect for that child if she “can sing in tune and is a good organizer” (Forrai 1998).

Those who rebel against the will of the collective, on the other hand, by walking the wrong way or singing in a funny voice are easily corrected and redirected by the group in accordance with the demands of the song. During music games it’s easy to get positive feedback when the child participates as a valued member. Others smile at him, sing with him, harmonize with him and imitate his movements. The child’s impact and role in the group is clear. In sum, “the child who has enjoyed taking part in an activity easily finds his place in the group and is happy to play with the other children” (Forrai 1998).



It turns out that the key to building community and the key to making music are one and the same: communication. Children learn valuable communication skills when they take part in musical activities.

As the teacher explains the rules of a song or game, the children practice listening and following directions. Often they have to do so at the spur of the moment, such as when a “caller” calls out motions to perform during a square dance. Children watch people and imitate their gestures during imitation games. Whenever children are called upon to switch partners, they alternate between taking charge and leading or stepping back and letting themselves be led.                             

Through music games that involve role play, the child’s “emotional world becomes richer, more varied, deeper” (Forrai, 1998) and he learns to express his feelings. Give him enough experiences to express different emotions, and before you know it the child will lay the corner stone for community-building: empathy.


Coming soon:
Michael Johnson explains that music is as well Academic but also Grace & Courtesy. 
Why and How? 
The rest of Michael Jonhson's article will be shared in the next newsletter!
Be patient :-)




Who is Michael Johnson


My name is Michael Johnson. I'm a musician and a Montessori educator with twelve years of international experience in AMI elementary classrooms and over fourteen years of experience in Music Education
I've performed and recorded as a singer/songwriter for audiences around the world. I hold a B.A. in Music and a M.A. in Music Education. I've made music with elementary aged children from around the world.
In addition to my Montessori Elementary diploma, which I received from the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee in 2009, I also have certification in the Kodály method of teaching music to children.
In 2013, I performed with a small choir of children for 3,500 Montessori practitioners at the Montessori International Congress in Portland, OR.


More info on Michael's webpage here