Planning for Musical Learning


Dr Elizabeth Stafford explores themes from Unit 2 of the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators.

Every good teacher knows the vital importance of planning. The planning process allows us to really think about what we want our pupils to achieve, and factor in any benchmarks – such as exams – along the way, so that the pupil’s learning journey runs as smoothly as possible. It also ensures that we arrive for our lessons with all the resources that we are likely to need, and knowing exactly what we hope to cover in the lesson, meaning that everything is in place to create an enjoyable and productive learning experience for our pupils.

The Four Components of Lesson planning are:

  1. Objectives and Outcomes
  2. Activities
  3. Resources
  4. Evaluation (to inform future planning)

Objectives & Outcomes

Objective = What I want you to learn Outcome = How you show me you’ve learnt it

Objectives and outcomes are the building blocks of all good lesson plans. Sometimes teachers get carried away thinking of the exciting activities that they could do with their pupils, and try to structure the learning journey around these activities. However a stronger learning journey is created if objectives and outcomes are planned first, and then the activities are devised to dovetail with these.

If Objectives and Outcomes are planned carefully, then as soon as the pupil demonstrates the outcomes, we can be confident that the learning objective has been achieved.


Sometimes teachers make the mistake of thinking that their activity is their objective. For example their objective might be listed as ‘Learn the new Grade 2 piece.’ However, the objective should be thought of as an overarching learning aim which is linked to, but not dictated by, the individual lesson activities. So in this case perhaps the objective is in fact ‘Developing understanding of major and minor’ for which one activity would be to learn the new Grade 2 piece, which is in a minor key, but which would also cover learning the new minor scales for the grade, the recognition of major and minor for the aural test, and so on. Framing our objective in this way means that we are developing our pupils holistically as musicians, rather than ‘teaching to the test.’

It is also the case that sometimes teachers think that their activity is the outcome of the lesson. This is more of a grey area, as sometimes, but not always, it can be! For example, ‘able to identify ¾ time visually from flashcards’ is clearly a discreet activity, the successful completion of which achieves the outcome. ‘Able to play a waltz melody with the correct feel’ however, is the culmination of many activities – sight-reading or copying back the piece to learn it, practising the piece, doing required technical work to master the piece, learning to phrase correctly for ¾ – the combined result of which achieves the learning outcome.


Once you have designed your activities for the lesson, you will need to source the resources that you need to deliver them. In some cases this will be easy e.g. if you are working to an exam syllabus you may just need the exam repertoire book, the student’s instrument, your own instrument, and maybe a piano or audio player (if using backing tracks). However, in other cases you may need to design and print flashcards or worksheets, provide writing materials, or source a particular type of music to listen to.

In all cases, resources should be stimulating, well-presented, high-quality, and interactive, so that they motivate the student to engage with the lesson activities.


Unfortunately for us teachers, it’s not sufficient just to plan a brilliant lesson, we also have to teach it! And during the process of teaching the lesson, we may find that things don’t quite go as we expected! This is where the process of evaluation comes in.

It is important that we plan for evaluation to take place, rather than leaving it to chance. If we do not, then although we may have the best of intentions to reflect on our lessons, we may get distracted by other pressing tasks, and before we know it the next lesson has rolled round, and we haven’t adapted our planning to take account of what happened last time.

At a basic level, we want to establish whether the learning objective has been met. If, as in our example, you are using one learning objective for multiple sessions, the answer to that might be, ‘because we’re still working on it’ which is fine! However, if it is the last lesson in the scheme, or if you had a different learning objective for each lesson, and it hasn’t been achieved, then we need to think a little more carefully about why that has happened.

Perhaps the activities weren’t allied closely enough to the objectives and outcomes so the learning has gone off on a tangent? Maybe the activities were too difficult? Maybe the pupil forgot their instrument, or had to leave halfway through the lesson to attend some other activity? There really could be any reason at all, but the important thing is to find it, and see if there is anything we can do about it next time.

We also want to establish whether there were other noteworthy things happening in the lesson, for example certain activities that went down really well, or really badly, or individual students who were having difficulties, or excelling.

Once we have this information, we then want to use it to decide whether our planning for the next lesson needs to change, and also (if we are intending to use these plans or activities for other pupils, or in future years) what alterations need to be made to the existing plan before you teach it again.

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