The Sound of Music: Using Music in the Regular Classroom
“A grounding in the arts will help our children to see; to bring a uniquely human perspective to science and technology. In short, it will help them as they grow smarter to also grow wiser.” - Robert E. Allen – Chairman and CEO, AT&T Corporation
Music is a language of its own. The language of music and the technicalities of music composition may seem daunting and scary to teachers without much of a music background. Understanding, reading, appreciating, and writing music are skills that take years of training and practice to hone. The Gateway to 21st Century Skills has a variety of unique ideas to help you integrate music into your teaching in the context of different subjects and themes. Music teachers can use the resources Joann is featuring in her column (linked below) to introduce music composition in a fun way, but regular classroom teachers might not find a place for this more advanced music topic in their classroom. My focus this week is on helping these teachers bring more music into their regular lessons and activities. Integrating some music this way can help students develop a passion for music that will inspire them to compose (or at least understand and appreciate) music in the future.
You may be wondering why including music in the classroom is so important. Many studies have shown a link between the study of music and improved ability in the core subject areas. Middle and high school students in instrumental music programs also tend to score much higher than their peers on standardized tests and often have higher GPA’s. The difference in SAT scores is striking, with music appreciation students scoring 63 points higher in verbal and 44 points higher in math than their peers without music education in one profile from the College Entrance Examination Board. These studies show that music is an area that educators shouldn’t let slip. Plenty of elementary schools have completely abandoned their music programs, so unless students enroll in instrumental music or choir during the later grades, they won’t get much exposure to music at school. Teachers who strive to include music as part of their day can give students a taste of the music that they are missing.
The following are a few simple, fun activities to add a little music into your students’ lives. Try one of these activities to get started, and be sure to follow our posts on Facebook and Twitter for more ideas.
If you are looking for a way to introduce musical instruments with a hands-on exploration, try Candemonium, an activity designed for K-5 students by the Exploratorium. Students are challenged to create and compare instruments called bonkos to understand the concept of how the size of an instrument affects the sound it makes. You will need students to bring in cans, and you will need to be able to enjoy the cacophony of students discovering sound! Another fun and noisy activity is Making Your Own Rain Stick out of cardboard tubes and nails.
Middle school students can go into more depth with their exploration of musical instrument construction and how different sounds are made. Build a Band Challenge from PBS Design Squad tests students engineering and physical science knowledge as they design, test, and redesign model guitars to learn more about how string instruments work. Like Candemonium, Build a Band Challenge uses minimal materials and teacher preparation. These would all make nice end-of-the year or even summer school activities.
Music and Me: Visual Representations of Lyrics to Popular Music is a unit created for high school students by ReadWriteThink. This unit uses music to make the study of critical literacy more interesting. Students analyze and illustrate song lyrics instead of books or poems. In the unit, students choose photos and create a photomontage video to go along with a song of their choice. It’s amazing how much harder kids will work when they are working with something they enjoy, such as popular music. I knew a high school teacher who did a long unit on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” every year, and it was really neat to see the interest and dedication that some previously unmotivated students showed during that unit. They were able to relate what they had to learn with what they wanted to know anyway.
A music teacher or an English teacher who is comfortable with music can teach a lot about poetry, rhythm and meter when they challenge their students to Set a Poem to Music. This gets into music composition a little more, which should be very exciting for some of your students.
You might have to get creative to find a way to work music into your activities as often as possible. There are many more resources and ideas on the Gateway, so don’t forget to check them out before you start planning.