Music is a universal language central to every culture of the world. It has been used to entertain, communicate, educate, inspire, and instill a sense of social and communal understanding. Rhyme, rhythm, song and movement have historically been used as powerful teaching tools that have infused the values, mores and customs of cultures and societies. Research evidence now suggests that the musical arts are central to the cognitive process and dramatically impact the functions and systems responsible for all learning.

The human body is more than 70% water. It is a perfect conductor of vibration. Rhythmic patterns and sound waves have profound effects on the body and emotional states. Isolated tones, scales and simple tonal sequences have all been found to have an energizing effect on the body. Music changes the metabolism, affecting muscular energy by raising or lowering blood pressure. The heart, which normally beats between 70-80 times per minute, can be regulated by listening to faster or slower tempos.

Music reduces mental fatigue, calms tension, focuses thinking and greatly impacts creativity and sensitivity. Listening to music also stimulates the release of endorphins which are produced in the brain to relieve pain and produce a euphoric state.

Normal brain wave function generally falls into the category of BETA. Music can evoke the more relaxed ALPHA and THETA brain wave states which are more conducive to memory and enhanced creativity. Specific selections of music can therefore be utilized to set the tone for discovery and learning in the classroom. Educators are now beginning to understand the vast implications of music as a powerful teaching tool!

Learning through music is extremely effective because it is completely brain compatible. It stimulates and unifies cognitive function and automatically touches three of the four modalities through which the brain processes information. Music is auditory, kinesthetic/tactile (movement), and tactual (elicits emotion). When song lyrics are made available in the printed form, music also taps the visual modality. Music provides meaning and relevance to the learning process through its inherent emotion and patterning. Songs, poems, rhymes, and raps can thus become incredibly effective vehicles for long term and cumulative learning.

Consider this! More than 80% of all the information processed by the brain comes in through our ears. Our daily lives are naturally filled with rhymes, rhythms and mnemonics. We commonly access specific stored information with mental strategies such as: Thirty days hath September... Red sky in the morning....and ROY G. BIV (colors of the rainbow). These techniques can therefore be invaluable resources for remembering and recalling information.

Advertisers have used musical techniques for years. Their jingles and clever rhythmic patterns are created specifically to help us remember their products. Can you recall the ingredients of a Big Mac? “Two all beef patties...” or “Winston tastes good...” (Does it really?) How about “Yo quero, Taco...” or “Got Milk?” Through repeated rehearsal, rhythmic data is naturally stored in the memory for later retrieval, even if it sometimes something you really don’t care to remember.

If merchandisers can get consumers to focus and remember, why can’t educators use a rap, chant, poem, or song to teach skills, concepts or even learning standards? The regular use of music would therefore become an incredibly powerful delivery system for processing and storing information.

Effective ways to integrate music across your curriculum

  1. Write and Display Lyrics on Chart Paper
    1. Songs become related pieces of literature.
    2. Children read the charts once songs are learned.
    3. Teachers or students may point to the words and track them as the songs are sung aloud.
  2. Make Class Picture Books of Songs
    1. Each child is given a line of lyrics to illustrate. Pages are combined in sequence to form a class book. Class books become part of the room library.
    2. Individual books can also be made and used to teach reading.
  3. Teach Vocabulary Words From the Lyrics
    1. Make flash cards of selected words. Students develop their sight vocabulary as they match the word cards to the chart.
    2. Use the words as a springboard for vocabulary development, phonic instruction, structural analysis, comprehension, etc.
  4. Pocket Charts
    1. Write the lines of a song on a sentence strip. Have the students recreate the song in a pocket chart. This procedure develops sequencing and comprehension skills.
  5. Overhead Projector
    1. Reproduce the song lyrics on a transparency for work with word recognition, punctuation skills, word attack (phonics), rhyming, compound words, prefixes, suffixes, and many other forms of structural analysis.
    2. The transparency can be projected onto the chalkboard so that students can work with the lyrics directly on the chalkboard.
  6. Drama
    1. Interpret the song in the form of skits, plays, puppet shows, etc.
  7. Listening
    1. Play the song (instrumental version) during creative writing, free time, art, or cooperative learning to set the mood and atmosphere for the classroom.
    2. Use the song as an "into" activity to introduce core and enriched literature books and themes. Students discuss the mood created by the music and make predictions about the type of story to be read.
    3. Listening to various musical styles and noting the types of instrumentation used, helps to develop auditory discrimination.
  8. Creative Writing
    1. Rewrite the song or adapt it.
    2. Give students a copy of the song with various words missing.
    3. Rewrite the lyrics with new vocabulary to strengthen word usage skills, i.e.; nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.
  9. Illustrate Favorite Parts of Songs
    1. Students write descriptions of their pictures.
    2. Explain why they chose this part to illustrate.
  10. Performances
    1. Perform songs for other classes. Children enjoy singing and sharing songs with their peers.
    2. Invite other classrooms in, or cruise the campus and go into other rooms to perform the songs.
    3. Use the music as part, or all, of a program for parents, assemblies, P.T.A., and other such functions.
  11. Movement/Dance
    1. For improved reading skills, develop beat competency via clapping, tapping, marching, or dancing.
    2. Play the song and allow free movement and creative dance.
  12. Wall Stories
    1. Write each stanza of the song on large sheets of paper. Individual students or groups illustrate a part. Display these on the classroom walls and you have a giant wall story, "song". When you take the pictures down, put them together as a class book.
  13. Transparency Story
    1. Provide students with transparencies to illustrate stanzas from the song. The stanzas can be photocopied onto the transparency. Students then sequence these to match the song, and share their part on the overhead projector.
  14. If You Can Sing a Song, Learning to Read Becomes Easier
    1. All modes of presentation (individual lyric sheets, charts, sentence strips, transparencies, etc.) become valuable reading tools linking music and literature.
  15. Math
    1. Graph favorite characters, favorite parts of a song, most interesting facts, etc. Graphs can be concrete, pictorial, or symbolic.
    2. Tally the number of characters, in words, contractions, action words, appearance of specific characters, etc.
  16. Science, Social Studies, and Other Subjects
    1. Many songs naturally lend themselves to across the curriculum activities because children are dealing with specific facts, concepts, geographic locations, etc. that might be included in the tune.

Integrated musical experiences provide excitement for learning and improve students' reading, writing, and thinking skills. They expand the instructional process and accommodate differences in learning styles. Most of all, music adds an irreplaceable element of fun to the classroom!

Sara Warren, a third grade student from D.A. School in Oxford, Michigan, summed it all up in a thoughtful letter written to us. "I think that it is a very good idea to use music in the classroom. If kids learn with music it will be more exciting! If kids learn with music they will work harder. If they played music for each class, kids would pay more attention."

In the final analysis, it is undeniable that rhyme, rhythm, and music can make vast differences in teaching and learning! They are the intangible educational tools that can touch students in uniquely memorable ways.

References and Resources

  • Campbell, Don G. Rhythms of Learning. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press, 1991.
  • Crowley, Susan. "The Amazing Power of Music," AARP, 1992.
  • Hart, Leslie A. Human Brain and Human Learning. New York: Longman Inc., 1983.
  • Nash, Grace, Jones, Geraldine, Potter, Barbara, and Smith, Patsy. The Child's Way of Learning. Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. 1977.
  • Ostrander, Sheila and Schroeder, Lynn. Superlearning. New York: Delcorte Press, 1997.
  • Webb, Terry Wyler. Accelerated Learning With Music. Norcross, Georgia: Accelerated Learning Systems,1990.

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