Let’s Hear it for Music!

Teachers continue to be interest in music integration as published studies show the positive effect of music on the mind and articles demonstrate the many benefits to student learning. Studying music is said to be able to raise students’ test scores, improve their grades and make them better people.

Though many teachers see the advantages of integrating music into their classroom curriculums, often they feel intimidated by the complexity of the subject or dismiss the idea believing themselves “non-musical.” Some teachers who do use music may add it to their classrooms in the form of a short, seasonal song or as background music to a fun activity.  Other teachers are starting to see the benefits of using music to Soundtrack their Classrooms, creating meaningful noise that helps students focus on the task at hand, be it a reading assignment, a test or even a teacher-led lesson.

But what about using music for what it was meant? . . . Listening with Purpose!

We can expand students’ minds through purposeful listening experiences, whether it be jazz, rock or classical.  Imagine how much students could get from the effects of music if they actually listened to the intricacies of the music and thought about it?

Using Your Brain to Listen Actively to Music

Unlike listening to music passively (with music as the background to another activity) or responsively (when you respond to the music by singing or dancing), actively listening to music engages your brain in a different way. When you actively listen to music, you are concentrating on the music itself, using both your intellect and emotion to hear what is happening in a piece of music. Sometimes people actively listen when they are trying to learn or understand the lyrics of a song. At other times, active listeners want to study the melody of a song, so that they can play it on an instrument. Often when people actively listen to music, they will imagine stories that are happening inside the music or even relate the music to their own lives.

Many people have the opportunity to listen passively and responsively, but not actively. Listening to music for music’s sake is an untapped resource for teachers of varying curriculums. The best part about actively listening to music in the classroom is that you can then expand upon these listening experiences. Listening in a classroom then becomes much more than a music appreciation approach, it be comes an exciting experience from which to explore the possibilities.

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Getting Your Students to Listen Actively

The first step to getting your students listening actively is by setting aside some time for this to happen. In my elementary classroom, I set aside 10-15 minutes a day of active listening time, which usually coincides with snack break. In this short period of time, my students and I would relax and listen to music from various composers, concentrating on one piece of music for a full week.

When I taught 45 minute classes in a middle school setting, I would use 5-10 minutes in a class period to listen to a short piece or excerpt to discuss.  (Yes, I was a middle school music teacher, but I didn’t always develop my lessons around listening.  There was other aspects of the music curriculum to teach too.

However, I would spend time nearly each class practicing active listening.)

When you first begin to have active listening time, you should make it relatively short since the students may not be used to listening to long pieces of music. As the year progresses, so will the students’ attention spans and interests in listening, allowing for longer pieces.

Generally, CD compilations are good to use, especially the ones that have a collection by the same composer or are classical CDs made for kids. These types of CDs have familiar music that is proven to please crowds. Classical, jazz, contemporary, vocal and instrumental music are just a sample of the genres you could use. Be sure to include some of your favorites. Your enthusiasm will attract your students to listen to something new.

Once your students have listened to a piece of music, allow them time to tell what they thought of it, whether it be a musical observation or a personal one. Then listen again and again at various times during a given week. Each time you listen to a piece of music, you will hear new things. Challenge your students to discover surprises. Asking open-ended questions between the times you listen is the best way to get students thinking and talking about the music.

  • Why did you like/not like the music?
  • What made the music pleasing? Why?
  • What was your favorite part about the music? Why?
  • What was your least favorite part about the music? Why?
  • What did the music sound like/remind you of? Why?
  • What do you picture/imagine when the music is playing? Why?
  • How did you feel when the music was playing? Why?
  • What could have been the composer’s thoughts when he/she wrote this?
  • Why did the composer use this/these particular instrument(s)?
  • Why did the composer write/use these lyrics for the music?
  • Why do you think this piece was written?

A Method of Music Integration
Active listening time is similar to taking students on a field trip. You give them experiences outside the regular “norm” and build upon those experiences. Listening to music in your classroom is like taking a short field trip and when you “get back” you are able to use these experiences to enhance your curriculum, especially in the language arts. You can do something as simple as journal writing in response to your class discussions or as complex as write a story using the music as an inspirational springboard. Here are some other ideas:

  • Brainstorm some words and/or phrases that come to mind as you listen to the music. Use these words/phrases to create a poem.
  • Write a letter using the interpretations of the music. The letter may be from the composer telling why he/she wrote the piece, from the audience about the piece, or to or from an instrument in the piece.
  • After listening to two different pieces of music, have students write a comparison paragraph.
  • Use a graphic organizer to develop a story including: character, setting, problem, details and solution. Have students fill out the graphic organizer using their interpretations of the music as inspiration. Students then write the story or tell it orally.

Music is motivating!

Students are stimulated as they actively listen to music: experiencing it, talking about it, and writing about it. Integrating this approach of listening to music within your current curriculum will surely demonstrate how much power music can have in your classroom.

For more information about sharing listening experiences with your students, check out this resource book, Inspired by Listening, available in our store.

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