Three Ways Music Can Inspire Learning

By Siema Swartzel, Southeast Region Tennessee Teacher of the Year

When one thinks of music, almost everyone is attracted to it, from the strains of violins in a movie score, to the chilling marches in Star Wars or the thought-provoking lyrics in hip- hop and rap, music speaks to everyone. Have you ever thought that music might be the key to  empower your students and create diversity and differentiation in your classroom?  Could it be the motivational tool you have been looking for to reach that “unreachable” student, the student who has reading challenges, or a student who is not quite proficient in English? Let’s investigate three ways that music can inspire you and your students in the classroom.

Music as a Learning Tool

Music is a dynamic way to create different pathways for your students to be better, more “out of the box” thinkers.  It is proven by research that music uses both hemispheres of the brain, and students who have a comprehensive music program at their school often have higher test scores and better comprehension in math, and higher scores on college entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT.  But how can you incorporate music to enhance learning and spark interest in other academic subjects?

In the younger grades, music can be used as a tool or learning device for students to remember long lists or difficult vocabulary in subjects like science or history.  There are many free songs available on YouTube that make learning fun, bringing concepts like the phases of the moon to life, helping students retain information in an interactive way.  Take time to do a little research and there are many songs that will fit your needs. I use the song “America the Beautiful” and create a slide show from student-created artwork to help English language learners show understanding of complicated lyrics. The music specialist at your school can be a great resource to locate songs that help bring to life critical topics like the Gettysburg Address, Bill of Rights, or the Preamble to the Constitution.

Using Rhythm as a Support

Incorporating rhythm into things like spelling words can also help support students. I have found that my students retain the order of the letters best through kinesthetic interaction.  We often use spelling words in a chalk hopscotch, placing sounds or pieces of the word in specific squares, requiring students to physically move to spell out the word. I have also found that involving movement with reading, such as American Sign Language, helps my students’ comprehension go through the roof.  My youngest students do best when they can move and learn simultaneously, using more of their brain to aid in retention.

Music as a Prompt to Inspire Thought

Music is also incredible when combined with language arts, science, and history in middle and high school grades.  All students connect to their favorite band or group, and doing a lyrics analysis, including students interacting with the thoughts and feelings of a specific composer and lyrics is a great motivating tool.  Music is also powerful used as a creative writing prompt. Themes from movies like John Williams’s theme to Schindler’s List or a classical piece like “New World Symphony” by Dvorak can spark creativity and provoke emotions and arguments in the writer. One example I use is Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” It is a fantastic, vivid portrait of twentieth century history. Have your students design an album cover to show American or world history, and create a dialog of why the pictures accurately show historical facts. The creativity that music can supply is endless, and you hold the key to this powerful learning tool.

I could show mountains of research that supports music as a wonderful tool in the classroom to amplify engagement and keep your classroom fresh and exciting. Music is a language that speaks to everyone, and allowing students an outlet for creativity, engaging both sides of the brain in purposeful learning, creative thinking, and a positive outlet for physical and emotional energy is proof enough for most of us. I believe if you keep music in your academic tool belt, it will help your students make measurable progress.