The 3-Step Process for Integrated Music Teaching

The 3-Step Process for Integrated Music Teaching

Continuing on from our recent posts introducing Integrated Music Teaching, and out-lining how you can teach an Integrated Music Lesson, we wanted to discuss the 3-step process in more detail. 

Table of Contents:
1. What Is The 3-Step Process for Integrated Music Teaching?
2. A Quick Note About Metaphors
    2.1 Also Just To Say…
3. STEP 1 – Analyse the repertoire for musical elements
4. STEP 2 – Find the connections
    4.1 What We Mean By ‘Connecting Elements’
5. STEP 3 – Plan The Integration Activities
    5.1 Integration Activities
    5.2 How To Source Different Integration Activities
6. Conclusion 

What Is The 3-Step Process for Integrated Music Teaching?

Let’s unpack the 3-step process for using the Integrated Music Teaching learning model in your studio. Remember that IMT is based on expanding and deepening students’ connection to repertoire, which is the vast majority of where most teachers spend their teaching time. So this 3-step process is all based around the repertoire the student is already (or about to start) learning.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Analyse the repertoire
  2. Find the connections
  3. Plan the integration activities

Step 1 should be familiar to all teachers. Analysing the repertoire for musical elements is something all teachers should be doing before presenting new pieces for students in order to know the best way to approach teaching the piece. Steps 2 and 3 may be a little unfamiliar, but I’ll walk through all the steps below. 

A Quick Note About Metaphors

Before we begin walking through the steps, I just have a couple of quick notes.

Firstly, any good music teacher will use metaphor and stories to connect the desired playing style/sound to the title or to gestures required to make the right sounds. I’m sure some of the following examples will be familiar to you: 

  • Think of the motion like you’re using a big paintbrush over the keys 
  • The feeling should be like a big heavy lion paw
  • Think of when you were last at the beach and you could see the big wave in the distance coming closer
  • Have you seen an army marching? That is what this section sounds like to me. What do you think? Can you play it like you’re a marching soldier? 

It’s fantastic to make these kinds of connections to help students learn, however the Integrated Music Teaching process takes this much further by strengthening these connections through creativity activities. 

For example, in the case of the last metaphor above about marching, a teacher may strengthen this analogy by saying:

“Why don’t we try this together. I’m going to play a strong marching accompaniment and I want you to use the notes of this scale to make up a simple melody and we’re going to play like we’re marching.”

And then later, “OK, now let’s change the style. How would we play if we wanted this march to actually be a lullaby now? Let’s give it a try.”

Also, Just To Say…

The IMT model is best suited to tonal music. Thankfully, I expect that 98% or more of most teachers’ beginner and intermediate repertoire is tonal, so this is unlikely to be a factor as it’s much harder to find things like patterns and relationships in atonal/serial music. 

This 3-step process also works for teaching non-repertoire skills like technique. You won’t need to do the analysis for this, just skip to Step 3 and find some fun integration activities to strengthen the scale practice and knowledge. See our blog for lots of ideas like this one or Scaling the Chords by Bradley Sowash. 

OK, let’s dive in! 

STEP 1 – Analyse The Repertoire For Musical Elements

Before teaching any piece from an IMT perspective, I always analyse it and mark-up my score, noting things like: 

  • Title and initial tempo markings
  • Keys and modulations – modal pieces are really fun to explore creatively
  • Harmony – I’ll generally sketch out the chords as a lead sheet on the music
  • Rhythmic and melodic patterns and sequences
  • Anything unusual in meter or melody
  • Any notable LH patterns – eg. tangos, boogies, R-5-8 patterns, Alberti bass etc. See my article on LH patterns for more details on these.

Always fun – get the stationary out. Coloured highlighter tape, etc.!

Because this isn’t student-specific, once you’ve marked up your score, you don’t need to do this again and can keep a bank of these ready as you prepare to teach this each time. 

We’re going to build a collection of these inside TMP for members.

However, the next step – finding the connections – will likely be student-specific depending on their level of experience, age, personality, life experience and what pieces they’ve played before.

Let’s explore that now. 

STEP 2 – Find The Connections

Our goal in IMT is to make music learning meaningful.

To help students find meaning in the lesson activities and repertoire, we need to find connections between elements in the music and musical and non-musical aspects of the students lives (eg. other pieces learnt, other experiences the student has had, other activities the student is interested in). 

So, in this step, you need to look through your list of musical elements and work out where you can make connections. These connections could be – 

  • Within the piece – eg. A section to final A section or one pattern to another
  • Between this piece and previous pieces learnt
  • To the student’s life outside music

What We Mean By ‘Connecting Elements’

When we talk about connecting elements, here are a few examples:

  1. When a beginner is learning their first pieces of music with just their RH, connect the melody notes with the idea of “key” and harmony. 
  2. Chord progression Eg Bb5-6 Solfeggietto – and a pop song. 
  3. This melodic pattern or LH pattern being similar to the last piece the student learned
  4. This 7th chord is exactly like the one you’re playing in Jazz Band for school
  5. “Look at the RH descending line here – what scale is that?” 
  6. “This piece has the key signature of B flat – what key is that? But why does it start and finish on D?” (modal piece) 
  7. “I think we used this LH pattern in our last piece – do you remember? What were the main differences?”

Making the connection may be all you need to do for some elements. Just knowing that “this pattern is the same as the last piece” or “this chord progression was just like the 12 bar blues you learnt last term” can be enough to strengthen foundations. 

However, if the opportunity arises, it’s great to use a creative activity to deepen understanding and connection even more and that’s what we’ll plan in Step 3. 

STEP 3 – Plan The Integration Activities 

The final question to answer is “What creative activities can I use to explore and strengthen these connections?”.

I say “creative” here as the best way to integrate the learning is to have the students create things – eg. improvising, chord work, creative writing, blues, remixing, arranging, reharmonising, transposing, etc. Fun activities create memories and emotions, which build the meaning necessary for learning. 

That way, not only are they deepening their understanding of the music by making connections, they’re also having fun and creating new things. 

For those of you teaching in Australia, the PFL S4 books from AMEB, which I created contain lots of creative ideas for exploration of connections in the music. Just look at the notes below each piece.

Integration Activities

Here are some examples of integration activities you might like to try: 

  • To strengthen the understanding of the blues scale: in a piece that’s written in 12 bar blues form and has a repeating LH pattern, teach the student to improvise using the notes of the blues scale over the given LH.
  • To build practice in playing a new scale or prepare for a repertoire piece in a new key: have the student using the notes of the new scale to improvise while you (or they) play a simple 1-4-5-1 chord pattern.
  • To enhance aural awareness of rhythm: have students sing/vocalise patterns before they play. “If they can say it, they can play it”.
  • To enhance practice/understanding of Alberti Bass: take the Alberti Bass pattern from students’ current repertoire and apply it to a simple lead sheet of Mary Had a Little Lamb or a simple Christmas Carol. 
  • To explore major/minor: change the 3rd note of the melody of a piece. Break out the chord progression. 
  • To demonstrate the power of LH piano parts on style: take a piece that has a “tango” pattern in the LH and change it to a rock/Alberti/walking bass pattern. 
  • For students learning the first RH reading notes on piano: when they learn a simple method book tune, instead of moving onto the next piece, teach them about key and tonic and dominant notes and get them to play these in their left hand. More accomplished students may even be able to play chords.

How To Source Different Integration Activities 

These are just some of the hundreds of activities you could use to make more connections and build more meaning for students in their music. 

Of course teachers who have been taking a more creative approach to their lessons over the last few years will find Step 3 comes more easily than for teachers who are new to creative teaching.

Our TMP membership is a wealth of information about creative activities that teachers can use as integration activities. Here are just some of the courses and workshops that will help you implement this approach in your teaching:

  • 4 Chord Composing
  • Musical Mashups
  • Taking the Lead (Lead sheet playing)
  • 12 Bar Blues
  • Songwriting
  • PianoFlix and many more.


If you’re new to using creative activities in your lessons, then I urge you to explore our past blogs, podcasts and webinars for more information about simple ways to get started. 

It doesn’t mean you have to change all your teaching, it doesn’t mean you need to improvise like jazz players, and any teacher, no matter how firmly embedded in classical teaching, can add creative elements to their lessons. 


I also wanted to let you know that we’re currently building some resources to help you implement this in your teaching:

  • The Integrated Music Teaching Interactive Lesson Planner to get you thinking more about the musical elements and connections and to help you make connections with an interactive online tool.
  • An Example Integration Table to help offer suggestions about how some of the most common theoretical knowledge can be strengthened through creative activities and where to find out more.

These will be available in the coming months as we prepare for the launch of our Cert IMT, which we’ll be discussing more on the podcast and in a future blog post. 

As always, we always welcome and encourage your feedback. Please leave a comment below with any questions.

Tim Topham

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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  1. Thank you Tim for writing up Part 3 of the Integrated Music Teaching – a perfect refresher before beginning a new year in music teaching. You have a way of breaking things down into understandable, practical, and beneficial ideas and methods – just what an excellent teacher is supposed to do during lessons. But, you also expand my own view and help me reach beyond past methods to try something new. You are helping us stay relevant and involved as piano teachers to our students. All the best to you and your whole Topmusic team in 2023!

    • Wow – thanks Sherri. What a lovely comment to read to start the year. I’ve been giving workshops on the IMT approach and the feedback has been great so far. Glad you’ve found it helpful too! Have a wonderful start to the new year.

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