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Should I Play Music in my Classroom?

new teachers

Are you wondering if music should accompany your classroom activities? Listen to this resounding chorus of positive reasons to use music in the classroom.

Music and the Brain

Let's start off with the science. Music grabs our attention. Certain kinds of music make us feel more alert. According to Dr. Jonathan Berger, who co-authored a study on the relationship of music to attention and memory, music helps the brain sustain attention. Using functional MRI scans, the same study showed how musical transitions activate working memory.

Music makes the brain more flexible and prepares the nervous system to accept new knowledge. Music also primes the brain to notice auditory patterns. This, in turn, could make students more receptive to grasping information delivered through lectures.

While research on music and the brain is ongoing, many educators are putting melodies and rhyme to use in their classrooms to achieve goals such as classroom organization, curriculum enhancement, and stimulation of student creativity. Let's look at why some educators are singing the praises of music in the classroom.

Schedule and Structure

Brent Vasicek, an award-winning teacher known for his dynamic style, explains how he uses music to manage school day structure. Songs in Vasicek's classroom—or short snippets of them—signal the start of the school day, times of transition from one subject to the next, and when it's time to wrap up for the day.

Music in the classroom can be used in several ways, including establishing and reinforcing the structure of the school day.
He has found that students learn to anticipate the end of a repeated sound clip. They are conditioned to stop talking when they know a time of transition is about to end.

To successfully structure your classroom schedule with music, Vasicek emphasizes the following rules:

Consistency

Use the same songs at designated times, such as a repeated theme for starting the day and a different theme for saying goodbye in the afternoon. This habituates your students to associated mindsets and activities.

When they hear their morning theme song, they know it's time to get their brains into gear and start learning. During transition times, short snippets of specific songs prepare your students for a particular attitude and set of actions. At the other end of the musical spectrum, an afternoon theme prompts your students to pack up for the day.

Avoiding Overuse

Music should be used consistently, but not constantly. Silence can signify that it's time for reading or serious classroom discussion.

Using Music with a Purpose

Vasicek believes that music used without a specific purpose in the classroom can be counterproductive. Playing music randomly can be disruptive. When the music in your classroom always serves a purpose, it becomes a powerful and reliable tool.

Avoiding Innuendo

Of course, any music you play in your classroom must be age- and school-appropriate. Some lyrics contain hidden meanings, so make sure you read through them thoroughly to avoid introducing inappropriate content. Vasicek offers dozens of playlist suggestions filled with student-friendly songs. He breaks them down into categories of use, with helpful links to the songs or albums.

Setting the Tone

Music isn't just a tool for creating structure. It can also set the tone in your classroom. For example, you can use peppier music to invigorate students at the start of the day, and more tranquil tunes to calm them when focused attention is needed.

Ambient noise can be a problem in an open-space classroom arrangement, or in schools with thin walls between classrooms. Placid classical music or instrumental music can be used like white noise to block out sound from neighboring classrooms.

Calmer classical music can be a tool to block out ambient noise in the classroom.

Some teachers use music expressly for helping students to concentrate. Avoid lyrical music during study periods or other quiet times, as the singing and words can disrupt focus and pull students away from their learning tasks.

Music and Curriculum

Author and celebrated middle school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron gives a few suggestions for integrating music with your curriculum goals:

Introducing Concepts

Whether you teach history, language arts, math, or chemistry, there are probably songs to enrich your curriculum. For example, this song from Schoolhouse Rock can be part of your lesson about nouns. Or you could use this song from Numberock while teaching your elementary-level math students the concepts of positional notation and number value inequality. YouTube has a wealth of educational music videos, which you can search by subject or grade level.

Poetry Set to Music

Your students can analyze song lyrics as a form of poetry. An appropriate contemporary song is a relatable way to capture your students' interest in poetry.

Writing Prompts with a Melody

Wolpert-Gawron recommends using music to stimulate students' imaginations for free writing sessions. Music provides inspiration and spurs creativity.

Music and Morale

Aside from its extensive uses within the curriculum, Wolpert-Gawron also notes that music is good for community-building within the classroom. Music helps create rapport and unity among the students.

It can also build a bond between the students and the teacher playing the music. When you bring your favorite music into the classroom, your students may return the favor by introducing you to some of their best-loved tunes.

In addition to its uses to structure the classroom and enrich curriculum, music can improve social interactions and classroom morale.
In addition, music has been found in various studies to improve empathy, foster trust and cooperation, and strengthen social connections. It can even boost oxytocin levels in the blood. Oxytocin is a hormone and neuropeptide linked to improved social interaction, as well as less stress and anxiety.

Music offers so many benefits, from structuring class time to curriculum enrichment to morale improvement. Why not give music a try in your classroom?

By Michelle Baumgartner
November 2017
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