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Two Teaching Modalities: Learning Sequence Activities and Classroom Activities

Two Teaching Modalities: Learning Sequence Activities and Classroom Activities

By Andy Mullen 

MLT, Theory

When you feel like you are ready to begin to teach your students musical patterns a la MLT, it is important to make a distinction pattern teaching and the rest of your curriculum.

Gordon calls the pattern teaching portion of the class Learning Sequence Activities.

All of the other parts of our curriculum are referred to as Classroom Activities. This broad descriptor includes songs, dances, playing instruments, repertoire, and the like.

It’s important to make the distinction between Learning Sequence Activities and Classroom Activities. Each one should benefit from the other. What we teach in Learning Sequence Activities (LSAs) should inform the rest of our curriculum.

Learning Sequence Activities

  • Pattern Teaching
  • The musicianship portion of your class
  • Combines skills with context and content in a logical sequence
  • The "Part" in Whole-Part-Whole

Classroom Activities

  • What would normally happen in a music class: songs, games, dances, activities, playing instruments, etc.
  • An opportunity to experience the skills and content in real-life musical situations
  • The "Wholes" in Whole-Part-Whole

That is not to say that there cannot be informal patterning happening in your classroom activities. That is just to say that Learning Sequence Activities should ideally be an isolated portion (roughly 5 minutes) of your class each day.

Remember Whole-Part-Whole?

A reminder that a good curriculum contains lots of Whole-Part-Whole instruction. 

Classroom Activities comprise the Whole portions of your curriculum. This is “the music” of music class. Songs, dances, movement, games are all examples of classroom activities.

In the first Whole, students are provided tonal and/or rhythm context through said songs and activities. In the Part, students are taught specific parts of the whole (skills and content) through Learning Sequence Activities. Then, in the second Whole, students get a chance to re-engage with the whole (the song, tonality, meter, etc.) in any number of ways. But because they had experience with the Whole and the Parts (through Learning Sequence Activities), the Whole takes on new meaning.

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Everything you need for an

audiation-based music curriculum. 

Learning Sequence Activities

Remember the MLT 3: Skill, Context, and Content?

Learning Sequence Activities (LSAs) are a very focused time to work on a musical skill in relation to a context (tonality or meter) and content (function and pattern). 

For example, students are taught how to echo (skill) patterns (content) that are in major (context) and tonic and dominant (functions). 

On another day, students might be learning how to read (skill) patterns (content) in duple (context) with divisions (functions).

Here are some examples of Learning Sequence Activities in action:

Classroom Activities

Classroom Activities are self explanatory, and need little explanation in and of themselves. However, what is of the utmost importance is the way that they interact with Learning Sequence Activities. 

This quote from Dr. Gordon does a wonderful job of summarizing the mutually beneficial relationship of LSAs and Classroom Activities in the music classroom:

“Learning Sequence Activities have no value unless what has been taught to used to perform literature better in [Classroom Activities] and Performance Activities. On the other hand, if there are no Learning Sequence Activities taking place...Classroom Activities ... have very limited value. The two are needed. One without the other isn’t [sufficient]. To have [students] perform literature and not understand it, that is to say, not audiate it, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. There is no foundation for future learning.”

- Dr. Edwin E. Gordon, Lectures accompanying the 1993 edition of Learning Sequences in Music  -

Connecting LSAs to Classroom Activities

Remember: Learning Sequence Activities only account for approximately 5 minutes of your class period. The rest of the time, you will be engaging as you normally would in songs, dances, instruments, and the like.

But the main benefit of LSAs, as the above quote suggests, is that students will attend to the remaining portion of their musical activities with clarity and understanding, provided you bridge the gap between the two.

Video Examples

Here is an example of how I make meaningful connections between LSAs and my Classroom Activities.

Lesson 1 - Whole (Classroom Activity)

In this lesson, I introduce my students to Bucket Drums, and we have some fun making music in duple meter! (Interestingly, this lesson could be considered the second whole for previous learning, as well as the first whole for other learning!)

Lesson 2 - Part (Learning Sequence Activity)

In this Learning Sequence Activity, students are introduced to a specific function (divisions) within a context (duple meter). The video spans the LSAs over a few class periods. 

Lesson 3 - Whole (Classroom Activity)

In this lesson, students revisit the now familiar activity of bucket drumming in duple meter, but this time, I add the new content (duple divisions) into the activity. The classroom activity is being informed by the Learning Sequence Activity, and the Learning Sequence Activity is given meaning because the content is being experienced in a real life musical situation.  

How to Teach the Language of Music

Get access to this free eBook to discover the beauty of sequential teaching in a Music Learning Theory-inspired classroom. 

More Examples

For more examples of ways to connect LSAs to Classroom Activities, check out the Gordon Institute of Music Learning’s YouTube channel!

In particular, the videos by GIML faculty member Dr. Cindy Taggart and Dr. Heather Shouldice are exemplary ways of connecting LSAs to Classroom Activities. 

Dr. Cindy Taggart in Action
Dr. Heather Shouldice in Action


Bailey, J. & Reese, J. (2018). GIML Certification Course in Elementary General Level 2. Baldwin Wallace University. Berea, OH.

Gordon, E. E. (2012). Learning Sequences in Music: A Contemporary Music Learning Theory. Chicago: GIA.

Reynolds, A. & Burton, S.L. (2016). GIML Certification Course in Elementary General Level 1. Temple University. Philadelphia, PA.

Shouldice, H. & Taggart, C. (2019). GIML Certification Course in Elementary General Level 2. Michigan State University. Lansing, MI.

MLT Any Music Teacher Can Du...De

Confused about Music Learning Theory? This book explains MLT in a practical, brass-tasks, boots on the ground manner. No PhD required!  

About the author, Andy Mullen

Andy Mullen is a teacher, folk musician, multi-instrumentalist, recovering singer-songwriter, and lifelong learner. He has taught all levels of students in a number of subjects, and is currently a middle school general music and choir teacher in Burlington, Massachusetts. Mr Mullen holds Masters degrees in Music Education and School Administration, and serves on the faculty for the Gordon Institute of Music Learning (GIML) in Elementary General Music and Choir. He is the author of "MLT Any Music Teacher Can Du...De," "The Literate Musician" and "Fifty Tunes for Teaching," and the composer of the children's album, "Chucka Chucka Wawa."

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