When do I use songs? 

Check out The Green Book of Songs By Subject

Whether sung by the students or played from a recording, songs offer golden opportunities to motivate students, get their attention, or help them learn content.

Research Michael Thaut and others feel that music works as a memory device because musical patterns of melody, harmony, and rhythm naturally group sound (or lyrics) into units (Gfeller, 1983, Wallace, 1994, Claussen and Thaut, 1997).

Content information put into song lyrics becomes chunked through this intrinsic musical patterning. Chunking is an important mechanism for memory coding known to be effective for learning and recall. Not only can musical chunking help our students manage large amounts of content, it also makes repeating information fun, facilitating the critical memory element of redundancy. An example of musical chunking is the “ABC” song. Most of us quickly learned the alphabet through this simple song and could easily sing it today because it is firmly encoded in our memory through numerous playful repetitions.

It also seems that students pay more attention to lessons that are connected with something relevant to their lives and music provides an excellent bridge. For instance, one study reports that contemporary vocal music has been played successfully to teach reading strategies to adolescent students. The study showed they responded with higher motivation and interest to the instructional reading strategies and that their reading confidence and fluency improved (Rivard and Bieske, 1993). The Rock Hall of Fame provides lesson plans using rock songs to teach content and is a good resource for ideas.

But take note of when music with lyrics is not appropriate. I only using songs when the lyrics help teach content, set a desired learning mood, motivate students or direct a classroom transition.

recommend that about 75 percent of the recorded music played in a learning cycle be instrumental because music with words can be distracting when working with subject matter. Recorded lyrics may cause distracting when you are speaking or students are reading or studying. Then lyrics can cause confusion in the brain because it is not clear which words to focus on. An exception is music with lyrics in a language other than the one understood by the listeners. Cultural music sung in a non-native language works because the words do not have meaning for the listeners. The voice becomes just another instrument.

You will find many fun and productive ways to use songs with lyrics in the classroom, but do take note of when music with lyrics is not appropriate.

There is nothing finer on which to hang a memory than a song.

–Gene Buck, 1885-1957, Past President of the American Society of Composers and Performers (ASCAP)


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