Music in the classroomI teach English, and I LOVE using music in the classroom. (I use it to teach lit terms, as practice for analyzing poetry, to help students understand the time period in which...

Music in the classroom

I teach English, and I LOVE using music in the classroom. (I use it to teach lit terms, as practice for analyzing poetry, to help students understand the time period in which different works of literature were written, etc.) Do you use music in your classroom?  If so, how? 

Expert Answers
MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I also love using music. Depending on what text we're reading, I'll play music from the era. I do this sometimes with The Outsiders when I've taught freshmen, since many of them have no cultural context with which to approach the novel. When I teach world literature, I like to find popular music from the author's native country (or the country in which the novel is set). It helps students gain a greater cultural understanding of the text, as well as establishing a historical context.

I also teach in my school's Arts Institute at the sophomore level. Many of these students are in choir or band (or theatre, art, dance, etc.). They often find pieces that remind them of what we're reading, and ask to play them in class. Sometimes, I also work a musical project as a choice for a culminating assignment. I've had students sing, play piano, play guitar, and compose original pieces for the oboe, all relating to the text we're studying.

I myself find it difficult to work without listening to music, and many of my students feel the same. They're not allowed to listen to their own music in class, so occasionally I'll turn on the tunes while they're doing individual or group work. I've had good feedback on The Beatles and some opera pieces I've played for them. This can also work as a reward; if they've grown as a class or behaved particularly well with a sub, I'll play music as they work.

kristenfusaro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I absolutely agree with the use of music. Along with all of the aforementioned uses, I love using music to thematically relate whatever we're reading to the students. Following the philosophy that all literature is about the human condition, it is possible to find a modern song that students will recognize that could thematically connect to whatever we're reading -- great strategy for prereading to get the students to understand the empathy required with reading literature.

I also love to use music when teaching "tone" to my AP students. They often brush it off as the easiest literary element to grasp, yet there is almost always 5-7 questions about it on the AP exam (nevermind the essay portion!), and my students have a hard time grasping the correct answer at the beginning of the school year. After showing them their wrong answers and establishing an ominous tone in the classroom (harhar), I use songs that were remade to show how they evoke different feelings. A good one for that is "Empire State of Mind" -- this was created by Jay Z, and also sung by Alicia Keys -- two very different tones; when I feel they are grasping it, I will throw in "New York State of Mind" by Billy Joel into the mix, asking them to write about New York in each of the different tones of the different artists.

sboeman eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I tie in music to lessons as much as possible.  For example, when my ninth graders read Romeo & Juliet, they have to create a soundtrack for any ten scenes from the story.

Also, my students are responsible for choosing music from each area of the world we are learning about in our 11th grade world lit unit-each student can bring in up to five songs.

In ninth grade speech class, my students can choose a singer of his/her choice and give a well-organized speech while his/her music is playing in the background.

Any student who receives above a 90% on a test can be entered into a drawing for being a "DJ for a day": I'll play his/her music selections during independent study times (as long as they're clean, of course).

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I used contemporary music lyrics to teach poetry, particularly rhythm and rhyme scheme. While much of his work is too profane to use in the classroom, Eminem is a master of both, as well as a skilled developer of theme and user of Gothic imagery.

My students' favorite was "The Real Slim Shady," which employs anapests, trochees, and other interesting rhythms. I was already out of the classroom by the time "Lose Yourself" won the Academy Award, but it is both technically brilliant as well as an incredibly powerful treatment of urban poverty.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I often use music when students are asked to produce a visual text. If we are working to music, we have a simple 'no lyrics' rule (saves the whole class singing along!) We have had lessons to Mozart, electric violin numbers and some fascinating world music choices. I find music adds atmosphere to our work.

That said, along with post 5 I am also an advocate of Eminem's less violent but more lyrical works. No one assonates like him!

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I often use music in the classroom: lyrics to introduce and teach elements of poetry, songs that relate to thematic elements in short stories and novels; and even instrumental music (usually classical) as background for free reading and writing assignments. Since I'm in my 50s, I still find it inspiring that The Beatles prompt some of the most positive responses. I always keep a copy of "Birthday" around to play on students' birthdays.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We have a music day during American Lit for all the folk songs and ballads written generally during the frontier era.  Things like "Clementine" and "Oh, Susannah" and "Camptown Races" as well as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and some of the spirituals.  I also use it as part of my compare/contrast writing unit.  Music is so much a part of who teenagers are, and using it always strikes a chord (sorry) with them.

copelmat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree completely with the thoughts expressed above about the relevance of music in the classroom. English teachers might be interested in a website created by a colleague of mine that explores the use of music in the English classroom: Of particular interest might be the connections database which lists more than 600 songs and the canonical works of literature to which they connect.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have also used music to complement lessons, and I have also taught songs as literature.  I have played blues music to complement the reading of "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin.  I used to teach an American literature class, and as part of the curriculum, I taught slave spirituals.  The students listened to several to get a sense of mood and tone.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I use music as background noise, so that there is some noise in the classroom.  It helps some students concentrate, and others are uncomfortable in a totally silent room.  I also think it's inspirational.  Sometimes I do use lesson-related music, especially when teaching poetry or a work from a certain time period.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have a history of rock and roll unit in my history class in the spring.  I also use some of the "classic" country music, and include the evolutio of hip hop and reggae in my Ethnic Studies class, along with Latino and even some Iranian artists.  Going to try and bring in some east Indian music this year.

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