Music is a great tool teachers can use to help kids learn. Popular songs and catchy melodies can be used to improve student memory as well as assist in learning everything from math to topics in language arts and social studies. The key to utilizing this valuable resource is in knowing how to choose the most appropriate music for a student group or classroom setting.
Not all music will be appropriate for the classroom, particularly most popular selections from rap, rock and, even some songs from R&B artists which are frequently played on the radio. Much of this music deals with “adult” content and kids are already overexposed to more than enough of this kind of music outside of the classroom.
Music chosen to help kids learn should be selected with specific goals in mind, and whenever possible, incorporated into the daily lesson plans. Any music with lyrics should relate to what is being discussed unless it is being used for a non-specific language arts lesson.
Some music can also be useful to have playing in the background while students are working. In this instance, the music should be played at a reasonable volume level where it is loud enough to be heard by all students, but no so loud that it would be distinguishable to someone standing outside the classroom door.
The best choice for background music for the classroom that will both promote a calm atmosphere and not distract students engaged in projects or experiences, will be Jazz ballads and Classical selections with slow to medium tempos (i.e. Ellington Suites, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Chopin Nocturne No.1, etc.) Ballad music with lyrics in other languages, such as Fado can also be used in some instances, but where there are lyrics there will be children with questions.
To use music, specifically songs with lyrics, to help students who are learning to read, choose songs with age appropriate lyrics and then print and distribute those lyrics to students to read along while listening. This will help students with word recognition as well as expanding their vocabulary. Songs in recorded in other languages will have the same effect for students learning those languages as well as improve their memory for the words and how they are used.
While many teachers have written their own rap lyrics to help students learn math concepts (teacher Jake Scott made national headlines doing this), some teachers may find music particularly useful in helping students understand the concept of narrative storytelling. Country music is particularly helpful in teaching this concept.
For schools and teachers with a character development component to their education plan, a playlist of non-religious “inspiration” songs with positive messages can useful for reinforcing concepts such as self-esteem and perseverance. A few examples of songs for this use are: Reach (Gloria Estefan), Singasong (Earth, Wind, and Fire), Unwritten (Natasha Bedingfield), You’ve Got a Friend (Carol King), The Greatest Love of All (George Benson or Whitney Houston), and The Impossible Dream (multiple recorded options).
Places to find suitable music and lyrics for Language Arts and Social Studies lesson plans include the Putumayo Kids music catalog, the Free to Be You and Me book and recording, and children’s programs typically aired on PBS, such as Sesame Street.
When using songs in the classroom to help students learn, recorded music CDs and pre-programmed playlists are always a better choice than turning on the radio, as they provide more control over what music is played and less distraction.