Getting Students on Board

Introducing Classroom Music to Your Students

The classroom music you will be using is no doubt different from what students are used to hearing, and they may initially express resistance to new musical styles. After students have experienced the benefits of classroom music, however, they will look forward to it and their music-listening repertoire will expand. Stand firm in the knowledge that although this shift takes a little time, students will learn to appreciate the new styles. Inevitably, after a short while, students point out if you’ve forgotten to put the music on and remind you to use it. A few simple guidelines will help you successfully introduce new music to them.

Explain “Learning Music”
When explaining classroom music, distinguish between qualities of music for entertainment purposes and qualities of music for learning. Entertainment music keeps us all going, as Charles Schultz pointed out, and everyone has favorite styles and selections. However, music for learning has specific qualities that can enhance the learning process.

Explain to students that you will be playing music during class that can assist their learning. Let them know they may also discover new ways to use music in their lives. You are more likely to get positive results if students understand the effectiveness of music in learning and the theories behind your musical selections. Discussing these ideas first generally reduces complaints. In a short time, even doubting students recognize how music helps learning and are eager for more.


Music is one of the things, like the ability to laugh, that has kept humankind going all these years.

–Charles Schultz (1932-2000), American cartoonist

Involve Students in Music Selection
Encourage your students to participate in selecting music. I make a deal with my students to go on a musical treasure hunt. I invite them to take turns bringing in a selection to play at a specified time during class when experimenting with music is appropriate, such as break times or as students enter or leave.
Sometimes I start by having students bring in the funniest or strangest music they have ever heard, or the first music they remember hearing. This way, we hear a lot of different music before taking ownership of favorite styles. My students have introduced me to numerous selections of music for classroom use that I might not have discovered without their involvement.

I make the following general classroom rules about sharing music:

  • No one can complain about anyone else’s’ music. Research shows that no music is liked by any more than 60 percent of the population (Halpern 1985), so there will always be someone in the class who will not like a particular selection. Knowing that, there is no benefit to complaining about the music. I generally add that the penalty for complaining is the loss of the privilege of bringing a selection to share. I have found this works well.
  • Inappropriate language is not tolerated. Reserve the right to do an appropriateness check before playing a musical selection in class. This will keep you out of trouble with lyrics that are not acceptable for the classroom.
  • Students must explain what they particularly like about the selection they bring and how they feel this music improves their lives. This teaches students how to use music intentionally and helps them recognize they have a choice in the music they listen to. Once students hear different styles of music, the range of music they enjoy often expands.

Most important to your music experiment–is give it time. You are giving a gift to your students that lasts a lifetime, but they may not realize it at first.

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