It has always fascinated me to think of all the connections music has with reading.  In fact, last year, I remember looking over my district’s literacy curriculum, thinking how nearly everything stated on those pages about reading and literacy could be paralleled to music study.

In my book, Inspired by Listening, I explore all the ways we can integrate music listening experiences into our teaching: sharing music with our students and then using those experiences to build community and inspire great writing.

So let’s consider music listening with reading. A while back, I wrote an article entitled “Listen Like you Read” and in it I explored the parallels of reading and active listening to music. For example, when someone reads, there are things they do before, during and after the experience. In fact when we teach reading, our lessons are structured around this format.

The same applies to listening to music. Before you listen, you must know some background about the genre, composer or piece. While you listen, you are concentrating on the experience by becoming familiar with the music as you listen to it many times. After you listen, you interpret what you have just experienced by making judgments about the music.

Knowing the background of the music we listen to can be beneficial. We can learn about the composer, the time in which he/she lived or the style of the piece. Learning about and playing some of the instruments that are used can also provide students with some good vocabulary to use later as well as using vocabulary words learned in music class.

As soon as we begin to read a story we are experiencing it. The same goes for listening. The more we listen to a piece of music, the more we remember main themes, hear the detailed layers of the instruments, anticipate familiar or favorite parts and even pick up on new surprises. Listening to good music has the same effect as reading a good story: we want to listen over and over to continue enjoying the experience.

After we have experienced a piece, we are open to interpretation. We think about and discuss what the piece means to us, making judgments about it, the instruments and even the composer. It is in this stage that integration takes place. Your objective for your students will determine what activity your students may do after they listen. You may want them to write, draw, create something, or practice their speaking skills. The sky is the limit.

So, how can this help our teaching of reading?  By making parallels between the two skills (listening and reading) students are able to understand a concept more deeply.  When I listen to music each day with my students, we take the time to really delve into a piece.  We discuss it, we listen and we discuss again.  What’s more, is that I verbalize the parallels between listening to music and reading a book or story.  I know that by making these connections, some kids seem to “get it” more.

Understanding how they (the students) listen to music is a step in the direction of understanding how they read.  And when those processes are brought to their attention, the students can practice them and get better at them.  For example, a student who listens to any popular music on the radio (especially one that seems to be repeated many times throughout the day) will  immediately think about the performer(s) as the first notes sound, enjoy the music as it plays and may even think about the song after it is done.  Even a quick, “I love that song,” counts as a reflection of one’s experience.

Music can be a motivating factor in how you get students to understand the process of reading.

For more information about how to bring musical listening experiences into your classroom, see Inspired by Listening.


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