Music

Music is everywhere at SFS, at the center of school ceremony, animating school plays, drifting down the halls and sung spontaneously by the children as they work in the classrooms or play in the yard.

What would it be like to sing any music you hear? And in tune? To be able to figure out how to play anything you can sing? And then create an accompaniment, improvise variations and choreograph a dance to it? Welcome to the world of Orff Schulwerk!

Children at The San Francisco School know a hundred songs to comfort and energize themselves, dozens of dances, lots of pieces played in ensemble on the Orff instruments. Not only can they duplicate great music and dance, but they can also create their own. In the Orff approach, music is a verb, constantly in action, fluid, flexible.

As music teachers, we are responsible for teaching the particular craft of how to artfully combine sounds and movement. Children leave our school with a solid foundation from which to pursue any musical study, from Samba to Stravinsky to Sonny Rollins. We aim to create a musical culture in which every child—and many adults as well— participates joyfully and confidently.

Come hear for yourself!

  • Learn more about our Music curriculum: or View all grades »

    Preschool & Kindergarten

    • Wouldn’t it be a good idea to wrap school around the way children actually are? We think so! And so our music program begins where children begin—chant, song, movement, play and fantasy.

      When you come into the music room, you never know what is going to happen. You love to move and so we’ll move. But not just running around. If we’re going to run, we’ll do it to the music on the piano and know when to freeze. We’ll try it backwards, sideways, in place, in slow motion. What’s it like to run when you’re scared? Happy? Angry?

      We know you love to chant to rhythm, so we’ll make music from your names and little rhymes set to a beat. We can do it loud and soft, fast and slow, high and low so it sounds even more interesting. Maybe we play the words on a drum or a bell or make a little melody on the xylophone.

      We know you love games and we know a lot of them! Games when you sing and clap with a partner or dance inside of a circle or sing a song. We’ll balance beanbags on our head, dance with scarves in the air, skate on paper plates, turn instruments into things in our imagination (it’s not a drum! It’s a steering wheel. A frisbee. A pizza.). And we can use everything in stories we’ll act out.

      Sound like fun? It is! See you in music class!

    1st Grade Music

    • Can you imagine being part of a musical group? In First Grade we will explore many percussion instruments and play music on xylophones. We will compose our own melodies based on poems and rhymes, and our expressive bodies will dance them.

      How does the music of the ocean sound like to you? Can we create scary Halloween music? Can we play as soft as the rain on the green grass and as loud as a thunderstorm? We can create musical landscapes with our instrument collection.

      Can I write music down and read it, too? We can show rhythms and melodies in many different ways, from drawing on paper to playing games with cards.

      Have you ever been in a play? From reading a story to creating a script we will work together to make a show. Costumes, props, sets, dances and music will all be done by the first grade class.

      Get ready to sing every day! In pre-school you had singing time once every week, but in first grade you will go to the music room every day after lunch to sing for 20 minutes with all the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. One hundred voices, sounding as one. Open your ears….singing time is fun!

    2nd Grade Music

    • Building more complicated things with the same blocks. We’ll be using the same instruments as in first grade, and working with the same ideas of music and movement, but the music we’ll be making will be a little fancier.

      What note is “home” in this song?  It turns out that some notes in a song are especially important. What does it feel like to come home in the music or to go away from home? We’ll be playing pieces in many different modes of our five note scale.

      What’s a duet? What’s a trio? What’s a quartet? We will build interesting music by putting two, three and four (or more) different patterns together and playing them at the same time.

      How can I play faster notes on the xylophone? We’ll learn ways to play faster patterns on the instruments, sharing strings of notes between two hands.

      Can I make up a dance to show the shape of a piece of music?  Music has form, which means each piece has its own pattern of parts, like different colored beads on a string.   We can show musical form with a dance, with a picture, or with letters, and we can make up our own music in a form like AB or ABA or ABACA (rondo form).

    3rd Grade Music

    • What is the first wind instrument we can study as a group? In Third grade we teach the recorder. Not only is it a beautiful instrument that is fairly simple to play, but it also will give you the basic skills you need to study other wind instruments in the future. And it sounds great with the Orff instruments! Now anything you play on the xylophone you can try to learn on the recorder.

      Some of the pieces in music class are connected with the Third Grade Classroom, so get ready to explore Mexican, Native American and Andean songs among many other musical styles.

      Have you ever been in front of a painting and been inspired to dance? Imagine yourself spiraling across the room while looking at a Calder painting. Most of our creative movement ideas in 3rd grade will be inspired by the visual arts.

      How can we improve our singing skills, sing in harmony and learn to perform beautiful music?  In third grade you join the Elementary School Chorus and learn more about the wonders of your singing voice.

    4th Grade Music

    • By 4th grade, you are pretty good musicians! You know how to play lots of percussion instruments, find melodies on the xylophone, play together as a group, play and read notes on the recorder, sing in parts in chorus, act in plays and improvise and compose. Now what’s next?

      There are more complicated rhythms, trickier melodies, more notes to learn on recorder and the practice required to do it all even better. We’ll start with a piece that you’ll first sing, then learn on the xylophone and then play on recorder, then create a dance and then create accompaniment with other instruments. If you play piano or flute or violin, you can play it on those too.

      Most exciting, after three years of playing the pentatonic scale with the “fish” and “bananas” taken off (F’s and B’s), you’re going to learn some new scales with the full seven notes (the white keys on the piano). Remember 2nd grade when you changed the home note from “do” to “re?” And then changed it again to “la?” We called those the pentatonic modes. We do the same again, but these modes have fancy names—the Ionian mode, the Dorian mode, the Lydian mode and more. They all allow you to express different moods (a “mode” helps express a “mood”) and understand even more about how we can put music together?

      Of course, we will still dance, explore creative movement, recite poetry and act in plays—“music” is hardly ever just music alone.

    5th Grade Music

    • Musical challenges: 5th grade musicians have lots of energy and skill, and we like to challenge you in music class. Technique is the term for the physical skill of playing music, and 5th grade should challenge and develop your technique on the recorder, the xylophone and on drums and percussion. We will also keep challenging your reading skills, showing you how more complex rhythms and melodies look on the page.

      Harmony: It’s all about the bass… In 5th grade we’ll play music where the bass moves in a pattern and the melody moves to match it. You may have heard the word “chord” especially if you play guitar or piano, and we’ll be learning how music from all over the world is built on patterns of chords.

      Introducing the recorder family… We’ll get to know some of the other members of the recorder family, both larger (alto, tenor, bass) and smaller (sopranino and garklein) than the soprano, and play music for a mixed group called a consort. 

      Wall, ball and arrow: ingredients for dances that grab you…We’ll see how playing with shape, pathway, energy, speed and distance can transform movement into dance that’s interesting to watch. 

      Musical leaders:  By 5th grade, you know most of the songs in Singing Time and you can help us lead them. You are the oldest students in the Elementary Chorus and we will often invite you take charge of your section.

      Join the band or orchestra: If you take lessons on flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet or guitar, 5th grade is a good year to join the band. If you play violin, viola or cello you would

    6th Grade Music

    • “If you can talk you can sing. If you can walk you can dance.” This expression from Zimbabwe gets at how we approach music in 6th grade. Whether you have lots of musical experience or just a little, you’ll be able to jump in and make music from the first class. The pieces we explore this year come from all over the world, and we’ll be playing them on xylophones, drums, percussion instruments and recorders. We’ll be moving a lot, playing games, performing body percussion rhythms, and learning dances. For part of the year, we’ll have our own 6th grade chorus, learning songs in many languages with parts for all ranges of voices, soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

      Music in 6th grade intersects with some of the themes of 6th grade Humanities class, and you may find yourself dancing a Chinese lion dance in music class while you are studying Chinese culture and history in the 6th grade room. We’ll enjoy music and dance that are inspired by the typical work, food and common materials of the culture from which they come.

      If you play an instrument like a clarinet, saxophone, flute, violin, guitar or piano, there will be ways of adding your instrument to the pieces we work on in class. We also have a band and an orchestra that meet before school on Thursdays, another place to join with other students in making music at school.

      The 6th grade performs at several school celebrations, including Latino Heritage (Fall), Lunar New Year (Winter), and the school-wide Samba Contest (Spring), as well as in the Middle School Spring Concert (typically a Wednesday evening in early May).

    7th Grade Music

    • “Through music we may wander where we will in time and find friends in every century.”- Helen Thomson

      In 7th grade we study, play, analyze and get inspiration from music created by composers from many times and places. While in 6th grade we focus on traditional music and dance and the cultures that created them, in 7th we play music that was made up by a person, someone who had a name, a life, and sometimes even a secret scandal or two.

      Two ensemble classes plus a listening class. In 7th grade there are three music classes per week. Two of them are for actively playing great music as an ensemble, primarily on the Orff instruments and recorders. In the third class we’ll be engaging our ears and minds in learning some of the history of the music we play and the stories of the composers who created it. We’ll be writing, reading, listening, following musical scores, and also sometimes dancing and acting out small dramatic scenes, all as ways into understanding and enjoying the music more.


      History comes alive. At the beginning of the year, we will enter the Middle Ages in music class, playing some of the earliest music that was written down in Europe, and getting to play, examine and draw some of the very early instruments that were documented in Medieval manuscripts. We’ll study the dance of the Renaissance and dance the way people did hundreds of years ago in the court and in the street. Later in the year we’ll get into the often scandalous, odd and sometimes tragic lives of composers, watching the movie “Amadeus” and writing a biographical report on a famous composer.

      The elements of music. While we will be playing music by great composers like Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, we will also be composing our own music inspired by the musical forms and techniques that they employed. We’ll create music inspired by visual art, compose soundtracks to silent films and animations, and make up our own a capella arrangements of popular songs.

    8th Grade Music

    • Why is jazz the last theme of your San Francisco School music study? Certainly not because it’s “better” than Mozart or gamelan or nursery rhymes. Every year of your study has given you something memorable and valuable. But jazz has an extra something that you’re now well prepared to understand and appreciate. Consider:

      • It is a great summary of all your music skills, with complex chords and chord progressions, diatonic, modal and pentatonic scales, rhythms of all sorts, chances to play it all on Orff instruments, piano, guitar, saxophone, voice, ukulele, recorder and more.

      • It is a great summary of the styles of music we have studied - built on the harmonies of Bach and Chopin and Debussy, melodies from African-American folk blues and the popular music of Tin-Pan Alley, rhythms from Cuba and Brazil and West Africa.

      • It is a great summary of American history, filled with tears and laughter, outrage and inspiration. Impossible to talk about Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday or Duke Ellington or any of the creators of this extraordinary art form without discussing the changing face of racism and poverty and women’s rights, without telling the stories of remarkable triumphs against all odds, without acknowledging the mix of cultural influence from Jewish, Hispanic, Irish and other cultures thrown together in the musical melting pot.

      That history we’ll go into once a week in our listening class. The other two days a week, we’ll be playing jazz blues, swing band tunes, songs from the Great American Songbook, jazz rock and Latin jazz. You’ll learn all the parts of the music and switch instruments on each piece. You’ll also get to play anything you’re working on outside of school— saxophone, piano, ukulele, guitar, whatever. You’ll learn how to improvise a solo in different styles and understand how to develop each piece.