How to Integrate Music Instruction with Other Subjects

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we discuss methodologies for integrating music instruction with various subjects, and examine the relationships between the concepts and processes of music and other classroom teachings.

Music in the Classroom

Have you heard how some teachers are using music like Mozart's in the classroom to help build a creative environment? This idea can be taken even a step further by actually integrating music instruction with various subjects.

For example, music can be used as a great motivator simply to get the class started. Before the bell rings and students are filing in, play something uplifting like Beethoven's Ode to Joy, or if the subject for the day is the planets, play something fun and space-related like the Star Wars theme.

As a general rule most educators recommend playing just short excerpts of songs intermingled with a relevant lecture or slide show presentation. Anywhere from one to five minutes is probably ideal. This is for three reasons:

  • Students have short attention spans
  • This leaves time to discuss the music
  • The music may be replayed

Using Music to Teach Other Subjects

There are lots of ways you can use music to teach other subjects. Have you ever noticed students sometimes can't memorize vocabulary words, but know the lyrics to hundreds of popular songs by heart? Using songs as a memory aid can be a valuable teaching asset. For example, do you remember those legendary Schoolhouse Rock songs that taught English and government and civics? They educated us on everything from conjunctions to interjections to how a bill became a law. To this day, some educators still use those old videos to teach, which you can now find online. Other teachers play short podcasts that also use song to teach, and some really innovative educators actually create songs of their own to both entertain and educate their students.

Science and Math

Music also helps students delve more deeply into the concepts behind specific subjects. For instance, students can explore engineering concepts by making their own music with free music apps and websites. But teachers must go a step further than just allowing their students to tinker and create on their own time. They should then quiz the students on different engineering concepts and how they apply to real world situations. For example, a teacher could ask students to compare the sound of older albums and analog recording versus newer compact discs and digital recording. The students could even list some of the pros and cons of each type.

Have you ever heard it said that music and mathematics are related, or that without mathematics there would literally be no such thing as music? Teachers can use music to teach fractions, by having the students tap to the beat - four quarter-notes add up to one, so the student would tap four times. The teacher could also draw a circle, divide it up into four equal pieces, then draw a quarter-note in each of the four sections, demonstrating visually that four quarter-notes add up to one full note. Next, the teacher could divide another circle into eight equal pieces, draw an eighth-note in each of the eight sections, tell the students to tap eight times, and ask them to pay attention to how both circles still add up to one, even though they are comprised of a different amount of notes.

English, History, and Politics

Students can integrate music and history by wearing period-appropriate costumes while they play.

English teachers can have students convert popular song lyrics to poetry, or conversely have them create a song out of a well-known poem. They can also ask students to study television commercials and then try to write their own ad jingles, or even pretend they're music critics and write a review of a song in order to practice their analytical writing skills.

Music can also help complement the study of history, and bring ancient civilizations and cultures alive. For example, we actually know how some of the music from China and India sounded more than two thousand years ago. In fact, the Indian chants today have changed very little from the way they used to be; teachers can play recordings of these chants and ask students to apply their other knowledge of these ancient civilizations while they close their eyes and imagine themselves going back in time.

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