Bell Ringers: Do Now Tasks for Music Class

What is a bell ringer? The first tasks of the class period are often called "Bell Ringers," "Do it Now" tasks, or "Board Work," and serve the purpose of setting the tone for the rest of the class period.  When we come into this classroom, we work! 

Most music bell ringers should take about 5 minutes at the beginning of class.  While this type of opening task has been common in general classrooms for many years, I have found it useful to use an opening task in my music classrooms.

Music bell ringer tasks benefit both teachers and students. They can serve as an introduction, a warmup activity for the day's lesson, or a review of previously studied concepts. Most of us have very limited time with our students and do not want to waste a minute.  These tasks will benefit students by getting their minds right on music content from the moment they walk in the door.  When students are busy with the bell ringer task, teachers will have a minute to take attendance, deal with student behaviors, or switch out materials for the current class.

In my experience, most bell ringer activities are not graded because the purpose is introduction, warmup, or review. Remember that not every student has to write something down for every bell ringer!  

As you select the best type of activity for your class,  consider how you will gather student responses.  

  • Written responses collected in a music journal
  • Quick responses written on an individual whiteboard or even scrap paper.
  • Thinking responses, where students gather their thoughts on the question at hand and be prepared to share them as a part of a class discussion.
  • Representative responses, where one or two students come to the board to share their written answers to the prompt.  

Here is a look at some possible Do Now Activities for the general music classroom.

Listening Prompts

Mindfulness Moving or Breathing. This one is most helpful when students come to music class from recess! There are more and more general mindfulness activities available.  I prefer to use a musician's twist, focusing on calming movements, posture, and a diaphragmatic singer's breath. For more on how I do this, please refer to this post: 3 Simple Ways To Integrate Mindfulness And Social Emotional Learning In Music Class

Analyze Music.  Like SQUILT (Super Quiet Uninterrupted Listening Time), play some music and ask students to identify music elements that might be the theme of your lesson, such as instruments, tempo, dynamics, or genre.

Listen for Rhythms.  Display a rhythm pattern while playing a song.  Ask students to identify the lyrics that match the rhythm pattern.

Music Notation Reading or Writing

Rhythm Writing Practice. Ask them to copy a rhythm pattern or two, then create one or two of their own in the same meter. 

Melody Writing Practice. Ask them to copy a tonal pattern or two, then create one or two of their own in the same tonality. 

Creativity Task. Draw a picture using musical symbols. This could be made interesting by creating a class picture using drag & drop images in Google Slides, Smart Notebook, or Active Inspire.

Rhythm or Melodic Reading Practice.  There are so many great videos that have been shared by generous music teachers! A simple search on YouTube will produce many rhythm & melody reading choices.  Here are a few examples:

Instruments of the Orchestra

Naming Instruments of the Orchestra.  Display one or two instrument pics. Have the students draw them and write their names and family. Depending on their level, you could give them the name to copy so they spell it correctly.

Design a New Instrument. Ask students to invent and draw a new musical instrument.  Extend this assignment by asking them to identify how their instrument will make its sound.  

Poetry or Lyrics Writing

Missing Lyrics.  Display the lyrics to a recently learned song with some missing. Ask students to fill in the missing lyrics. 

Poetry Pre-Writing.  Ask students to write as many words as you can rhyming with _______;

Simple Poetry Writing. Write a 2-line rhyming couplet on a given topic. There are many ways to use this!  The simplest is to write the couplets, share if they want, and then move on.  This will help your students build this skill if they get the opportunity to try it more often.  If your students already have some experience with writing poetry, or if you have already created a class rhythm composition, ask students to attempt to fit their lyrics into the given rhythm or meter.  These couplets could then be combined into a class song.  

Vocabulary Development

Pair Vocabulary with Listening.  Display 2-4 vocabulary terms on the board and ask students to determine which are present in the listening selection. Student responses could be a part of a class discussion or written in listening journals.

Illustrated Vocabulary.  Display a music vocabulary word on the board.  Ask students to draw a picture to represent the definition. 

Teacher Organization

Student Writing Materials.  While every bell ringer will not include writing, if students are to write, we must consider the organization of materials to minimize the time it takes to get started.  Some choices might be:

  • Keep journals, scrap paper, or whiteboards/markers just inside your classroom door for students to pick up on the way in.
  • Students bring their own pencils and journals with them for each class

Prompt Organization

My goal (unreached, so far!) was to have a set of bell ringers for each grade level that I could use year after year.  Of course, in practice, many of the above suggestions can be used across grade levels.  So, maybe a more reasonable goal would be to have a set for each season that could be adapted for different grade levels.  For example, a seasonal listening example might be used for all students, however, rhythm patterns are pulled from each grade level curriculum.

I began my process of organizing by creating a template to use for writing prompts (read more about this HERE: Easy Ways to Help Your Music Students Write for Different Purposes), but ended up using them for do-it-nows, "I Can" statements, exit tickets, as well as journal prompts. I liked having a template to use for multiple purposes.  Choose to use a different color for each grade level or a different color for each type of task.  

Most of the time, I simply type my prompt on the template and display it on my interactive whiteboard.  However, with the necessity of virtual learning, I learned that single pages could be assigned to students via Google Classroom, giving me a simple way to collect student responses.  

Do It Now!

Bell Ringers or Do Now Activities are useful to music teachers and students alike! What is your experience with bell ringers?  Please let me know in the comments!

Musically Yours,


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