Oddly enough, it’s been almost an entire month of writing about music and literacy and I haven’t even mentioned lyrics in music! Well, now is the time.

Of course lyrics are a natural connection music has to literacy. They are authentic texts!  Composers and song writers go through their own creative writing process to come up with lyrics-poems that have meter, rhyme and tell a story or send a message.

Let’s explore lyrics now to see how this natural connection can be used in the classroom to help motivate and engage students in literacy practices.

Poetry is the first thing that comes to mind. Lyrics are poems and poems are lyrics.  When I taught 8th grade music, I created an entire unit around this reciprocal relationship between poetry and lyrics.  We started by looking at the lyrics to Led Zepplin’s The Ocean.  (I did not tell them they were lyrics to a song, just handed them the paper.)  We read it, discussed it a bit, talked about meter, rhythm and rhyme, and then I pressed play to the song.  (And as I rocked out a little, they gave me some looks, but I’m ok with that. 😉 )  We did this with a couple other songs too: Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and The Beatles’ Yesterday.

Singing in the sunshine, laughing in the rain.
Hitting on the moonshine, rocking in the brain.
Got no time to pack my bag, my foots outside the door.
Got a date, can’t be late for the high hopes hailla ball.

Singing to an ocean, I can hear the ocean’s roar.
Play for free, play for me and play a whole lot more.
Singing about the good things and the sun that lights the day.
I used to sing on the mountains, has the ocean lost its way.

Oh Yeah…

I don’t know

na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na
na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na
na na na na na na na na

Sitting round singing songs ’til the night turns into day.
Used to sing on the mountains but the mountains washed away.
Now I’m singing all my songs to the girl who won my heart.
She is only three years old and it’s a real fine way to start.

Oh yeah.

It sure is fine.

Blow my mind.

When the tears are going down.

Yeah, Yeah.

Oh so good.

The inverse to this would be to read poems to the accompaniment of music.  You can do this with so many poems.  Shel Silverstein is a favorite and honestly any kid poetry would work well due to the heavy emphasis on meter.

Of course, not all poetry is stricken with rhyme and rhythm such as that.  And so it is important to point out the flowing, musical quality that poetry has even if it is not with a strong meter.   For example, recite a haiku to sounds of nature coupled with instrumental music (see the playlist for ideas) or visit a site that showcases poetry slams.  Here’s a video of a man reciting Langston Hughes’s April Rain Song to jazz improv at a children’s toy store.

April Rain Song by Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

And here’s a video of me reciting my poem, Ode to a Drum to wonderful improv accompaniment at a Beat Night in Portsmouth, NH.  (Forgive the videography.  The audio is ok.)

Lyrics are a way to tell a story. Singing a song is another form of storytelling. Not only is this how epic poems and stories have been passed down for thousands of years, but it continues to be a way for people to express life in seriousness and humor, reality and fantasy – much like the genres found in literature.

The music teacher at my school has many picture books that contain the lyrics to songs.  She uses them often as a reading teacher would use for a read aloud.  Introduces the book to her students, takes a picture walk, sometimes reads through the lyrics and then sings the song with them while turning the pages to display the wonderful illustrations.  Often the book will come with a recording of the song to play while you look, read and sing on.

Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco is written and sung by Laurie Berkner, a popular musician among toddlers and preschoolers.  It tells of the adventure of two polar bears and is a full color picture book illustrated by Henry Cole.

Waking up is Hard to Do is a song written by Neil Sedaka to the tune of his 1962 hit Breaking Up is Hard to Do.  (Illustrated by Daniel Mayeres)  It is a fun song to sing and read!

There are numerous other picture books that illustrate wonderful songs, including patriotic songs, that are worth sharing with your students as pieces of literature.

Lyrics provide another layer of music that can be shared with your students and connected to literacy through poetry and storytelling.  What other ways do you connect the two in your teaching?


Celebrate Music and Literacy by taking advantage of Elizabeth’s book Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book for integrating musical listening experiences into the classroom.  The book is on sale this month only (March 2011) at 20% off!

Led Zep lyrics from http://www.sing365.com

Langston Hughes poem from http://www.poemhunter.com

image: Melody and Lyrics from http://artoffthegrid.blogspot.com/