Teaching tonality in music to your students can be a challenge, but it’s important for them to understand this element of music if they want to be able to create and understand beautiful music. These five activities for tonality in music will help your students better understand what is tonality in music, while also having a blast in the process!

Looking for some ways to bring new life to your music program? Why not grab yourself a copy of this helpful resource 5 Ways to Makeover Your Music Curriculum download. Click here to find out more.



To help your students benefit from these 5 different tonality in music lesson activities, find out more about this Element of Music in the blog post. Link here


Identify the Overall Tonality of the Music

This is a simple listening exercise that can be done as a lesson warm up, or even as an exit ticket. For this lesson, make sure that students understand the terms for music that sounds pleasant or unpleasant.

Consonant – music that has on overall pleasant tonality

Dissonant – music that has an overall unpleasant tonality

Once your students know the difference between the overall tonality of the music, have them do “thumbs up, thumbs down”. To play this game, play a piece of music and students give it a thumbs up if the music sounds consonant, and a thumbs down if it sounds dissonant.

If they are correct, they continue to the next round. Of they get it wrong, they are out. Continue playing until you have a tonality in music champion!

A fun variation on this simple tonality in music lesson is to have your students close their eyes to play! This way they can’t cheat and see what other students are answering.


Tonality and Mood

The tonality of a piece of music is what contributes to its mood, overall feeling, or atmosphere. The tonality of the music can make it sound happy, sad, anxious, peaceful, etc. To help your students understand what the mood of the music is, try completing this music lesson activity.

Firstly, choose a wide variety of music to play for your students. This activity works really well with movie theme music, you could even narrow it down to a particular movie composer.

Play the music for the students and discuss what “feeling” the music creates and why they feel that way. You might need to help your students understand why the music makes them feel a certain way. For example, if the music is very fast and with a dissonant tonality, it will make the listener feel uneasy and anxious. But music that is at a moderate tempo, with bright sounding strings and beautiful melody might make the listener feel happy.

After playing a few pieces of music for your students, ask them to vote on one to listen to again. Discuss this piece a little further, then play the music while your students create a drawing or artwork that shows the “mood” of the music.


Experimenting with Major and Minor Chord Progressions

A great way to help your students understand the tonality of the music is to have them play music in different key signatures. The key signatures you choose to play in will be determined by the ability of your students and the instruments you have available in the classroom.

For this lesson, choose a couple of chord progressions for your students to use.  Try this set of chord progressions from Shed the Music.

chord progressions

Next, give your students the different key signatures that you want them to use and play the chord progressions in. For example, if you are using guitars, ukuleles, keyboards and tuned percussion instruments, then using the Keys of C Major, A Minor, G Major and E Minor are all easy enough for beginning musicians to play.

As a class choose a key, and a chord progression and try playing it together. You might choose to play each chord for 8 beats, or even 4, just to get your students playing as a class ensemble.

Once you have played a few different chord progressions, and in a couple of different key signatures, discuss what they liked or disliked about some of the chord patterns.

To extend on this lesson, have students break into smaller ensemble groups, have them choose a chord progression, or even two, and they then arrange a performance of the chord progression into a composition.


Compose in the Relative Tonality

For this lesson idea, give your students a simple piece of music to play. For example, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Discuss the tonality of the music, and work out key the music is composed in.

Next, discuss what makes the piece major or minor in tonality. Then, make sure they understand what is the related major or minor key for the music. Once they have worked out the original key, have students try and work out how to play the music in the related key – for example if it is written in C Major, transpose the music into A Minor. Or you could even mix it up and change it from C major to C Minor – now that would be a challenge!

To extend your students with this activity, try giving them more difficult pieces of music to change the overall tonality and they could even try using a music notation software to notate the music in the different key.


Compare and Contrast the Tonality of the Music

For this listening lesson activity, choose two pieces of music that are written in different keys but sound very similar to one another (Bach’s “Jesu Joy” and Schubert’s “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” are often used for this) and play them for your students back-to-back.

After playing the 2 pieces of music, have your students answer the following questions for each piece of music. You might need to play only a section of each piece, and play them multiple times for them to answer the questions fully.

Once your students have finished the answering the questions, discuss their answers. Then, using a Venn Diagram, compare the tonality of the 2 pieces of music.

After completing the comparison of the 2 pieces, extend your students writing skills by writing a comparison paragraph on the differences and similarities of how tonality is used in the music.

If you would like to do this tonality in music lesson, then why not grab yourself a set of the Tonality in Music Listening Worksheets, click here to check them out in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Want some more ideas on how to make your music classes more interesting and fun for students? Try these ideas in the 5 Ways to Makeover Your Music Curriculum download. Click here to find out more.


Tonality is an important element of music for any student to understand, but it can be tough for them to wrap their heads around it at first. These five activities will help make tonality in music more relatable for your students while also providing some much-needed fun and engagement in the music classroom!


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