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Music Magic


I received tremendous response to my last posting about using manipulatives in secondary English and Social Studies classes. The posting was really about teacher fatigue, and trying out new ideas. Or maybe it was about burn-out, for both teachers and students, and how to combat it. I know this is a theme running throughout the professional lives of many teachers. We work really hard and sometimes feel burned-out and fatigued. But when we find new ideas or learn something new, we get back up and try again.

I received many emails requesting my booklet, and I am happy to share my ideas with my colleagues. Both experienced and new teachers shared their ideas with me. What a professional community we have! From California to Texas, Connecticut to Florida, and Australia to Mexico, responses have flown into my e-mailbox. I’ve enjoyed hearing from all of you, and hope this exchange continues. If you didn’t request my notes on using manipulatives before, you can by email to [email protected]

So I’ve been thinking about another idea, prompted by reader comments. One teacher suggested that music could be an educational manipulative because it’s tangible and involves the senses. I agree. I have often used music in my lesson plans for both social studies and English classes. I’ve also used music as a classroom management tool. I have a portable CD player, which I often lend to other teachers. I’m thinking of purchasing new music electronics. Wonder if I can get a grant for that? Here are some specific ideas on using music in the classroom:

Music for Management – Classical music does focus the mind and stimulate creativity. How do I know? Because I’ve seen it in my room. I often play classical music as students enter the room. It sets a certain tone. Classical guitar music is excellent for testing situations. Students hear it, but don’t notice it much. It helps to isolate them by helping them focus on what’s in front of them. Testing is smoother (less distractions, inappropriate conversations, student movement) when I use this type of music. Gregorian Chant is great for quieting a room – but play it too long and students go to sleep. I used it during nap time with my preschool children! Lively, exciting music is great to wake students up, or to signal a transition from one activity to another.

Music for Instruction - I also use music in history lessons. You can’t teach the Harlem Renaissance (Caged Bird) without jazz, or World War I (nationalism) without Wagner. Justine Philyaw wrote that she uses music and art with her students because "creating a context for students builds motivation as well as strengthens understanding." When I teach Gandhi, we listen to Indian music while contemplating important quotations. For world exploration, YoYo Ma’s Silk Road Project is perfect. Music in English class reinforces ideas about language. During Beowulf I found some early Celtic music and now I’m playing English Renaissance music for Canterbury Tales. This year we played Carrie Underwood in English 9 to introduce a discussion of revenge, and Johnny Cash for themes of personal journeys. I’ve invited a very creative student to create a soundtrack for her life for a project on autobiographies – her learning style is not word-based. I’ve used musical instruments as transition tools, or for cultural experience, or for teaching the importance of teamwork. When I incorporate music into my lesson it always gives me “bonus points” on my observations. Sometimes students say “Oh no, Mrs. Denney has music again!” But they always listen, because they’re curious. And curiosity is the first step towards learning.

Music for Pleasure – sometimes music is just for enjoyment. During independent work time I’ve played Disney themes, blues, and contemporary music just because it sounds good. Students are invited to contribute music to listen to. But I’m careful about what I play. I have a 40-minute ride each way to school – so I have car time to review a CD lent by a student before using it in class. That also builds a relationship between the student and myself. I also scout the public library’s collection for new material.

I may be older, but I like lots of music, and students appreciate that I am curious, too. I am still learning. Learning keeps me from burning out! Gets me up with excitement for the day ahead.


I have to thank you for all of your posts! I am beginning student teaching on January 2 and am scared out of my mind! Your recent posts have reminded me that I don't have to know absolutely everything yet...even three years in, or more, I still won't know everything. Learning is ongoing, for teachers and students alike, and so long as it keeps happening, teaching won't get stale :)

I do love your ideas on music! I hope that my cooperating teacher will let me use it in our classroom with the kids--1st graders!!

Thank you for creating this blog; I think what you are doing is great!!

Hi! I've enjoyed reading your blog for awhile now and I loved this entry in particular. As a music education major currently finishing up my student-teaching duties in Pittsburgh, I applaud your integration of music into your curriculum! I'll most likely be sending applications to southern Maryland because I'm from the county just south of where you teach. Happy Holidays!

Hanne-I would like to ask how it has been teaching Special Ed.? Does this include Severe Behaviorally Handicapped students? What type students do you have there? I have heard that English Language Learners are sometimes designated Special Ed.

If you haven't already, please let me encourage you to subscribe to a free, bimonthly publication I edit, Arts Education in the News. Published by the Dana Foundation, it is a collection of reprinted newspaper stories and journal articles related to arts education. Great for ideas!

Ms. Denney,
Excellent! I have always included music as one of the accommodations in a special Needs students IEP. People forget that when we had our children, before going to school, we all sang to them the ABC's, Ittsy Bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus....and even Christmas Carol's. If people notice when you are in the stores they play songs all the time depending on the time of day and the population of the people that are in the store - 70's and 80's music. How many times have you started to sing or hum along. It calms you and helps you to concentrate.

Stores have a whole department that works on just the music for the store to entice people to buy. This is the same things with all kids of all ages - disability or not. Music to entice them to learn!

Rose Moore - Talk Show Host

I have had a hard time going to sleep for almost 3 years now. WBR LeoP

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