2 middle school girls sitting on a stage and singing into a microphone
2 middle school boys playing the marimba

Creative Self-Expression

Music education is essential to the physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development of every Westside student, and develops confidence, cooperation, and coordination in our students. They learn about beat, rhythm, pitch, melody, harmony, dynamics, and form. They do before they label. By the time they learn the name of a musical concept, they will have already experienced it.


Students in preschool through Kindergarten study music through the context of creative self-expression. Inspired by the Kodaly and Orff methods of teaching music, students learn folk songs, nursery rhymes, and singing games as they develop the musical skills of finding voice and pitch and keeping a steady beat. Students engage in creative movement as they listen to music across genres and cultures, and are encouraged to improvise and compose music at a developmentally appropriate level. Students have opportunities to perform in low-pressure environments for their families and peers.

As students progress through the Lower School, they continue to develop the foundational skills established in preschool, pre-Kindergarten, and Kindergarten. Students continue to learn a varied repertoire of folk songs, nursery rhymes, and choral music, and also gain technical skills playing a variety of instruments. Students begin playing pitched percussion instruments like the marimba and glockenspiel, as well as percussion instruments such as the conga and triangle.

In later grades, students have the opportunity to study the ukulele, guitar, drums, and keyboard. By 4th grade, students can take part in the strings program, choosing to play cello, viola, or violin. Students in the Lower School also study the music of resistance in a developmentally appropriate way. Students study the music of Woody Guthrie, the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement, and modern-day songs striving to make the world a better place. Students in music class learn about their own identities and how they fit within the context of a larger culture.

Students in the Lower School share their study of music in a variety of performances, including a Winter and Spring performance, Grandparent’s Day, and school assemblies.


In 5th grade music, students study the blues and other music of resistance. Students explore central questions, such as “how does the world shape music,” “how can music change the world,” "what is the blues?", "where does the blues come from?" and "why did the blues happen?" In addition to the historical and social aspects of the blues and other music of resistance, students learn to play the blues as well. We listen to the great blues artists, study the 12-bar blues form, and learn to play the blues on different instruments. We study Freedom Songs, anti-war songs, and union and labor movement songs. In the process of learning about the blues and other music of resistance, students discuss the elements of music, such as melody, harmony, rhythm, form, and timbre. With guidance, students learn how to improvise over the blues as well as write their own blues songs. The unit culminates with a performance at an end-of-trimester middle school assembly.

In 6th grade music, students will be part of a small Westside School String Orchestra. Students can choose to play a bowed string instrument: the violin, viola, or cello. These instruments are rented from a local violin shop, and students take their instruments home to be able to practice the concepts learned in class. The class is geared towards beginners and includes beginning technique and music theory. We learn proper instrument care, bowing technique, basics of first position, how to play with expression, and beginning music and rhythmic notation. Students are expected to participate in a final performance at the end of the school year. All instrument rentals will be covered by the school.

Also in 6th grade, inspired by the Modern Band curriculum of Little Kids Rock, students in this class will learn the fundamentals of voice, guitar, bass, keyboard, and/or drums in the context of modern popular music. Students study arranging, composition, improvisation, and basic theory. Students learn to evaluate professional performances as well as give constructive criticism to their peers. Open to beginners and advanced musicians alike, this exploratory allows students to pursue the instrument (or instruments) of their choice. Students arrange and perform songs as a final project.

Optional 7th and 8th grade music electives feature the following options throughout the year:

2 middle school girls sitting on the floor and playing the ukulele
A group of middle school students on the stage playing instruments during an assembly