Students across the country are exposed to music for the first time in school. Some will go on to be professional opera singers and Broadway stars, while others might ignore their lessons and count the minutes until recess.
To engage every student no matter how much experience they have with music, educators are getting creative with how they bring music into the classroom. Through fun games, challenges, and activities, students learn to connect with different musical styles and expand their knowledge and appreciation for music. Here are just a few ways teachers can engage students in the classroom and get them excited to learn about music.
Image via Flickr by US Department of Education
Analyze Popular Songs
Music theory might not be the most exciting part of your music class, especially for younger students. Students might get excited about singing or playing instruments, but they may not be as motivated to learn how to identify chords or write their minor scales. One suggestion by Take Lessons encourages teachers to use popular music to connect with students.
Ask your students to pick a favorite song and look up sheet music for it, or you can choose a popular song like Despacito or Side to Side and review the music as a class. While students might get stuck trying to understand sheet music for a sonata they’ve never heard before because the tune and the score are unfamiliar, they can apply their knowledge of a popular song and see how it looks in sheet music form.
Including familiar music connects the students’ personal music experience to formal instruction. This is ideal for students who are new to reading sheet music, and can be adjusted based on grade level. While younger students can learn sheet music by singing The Itsy-Bitsy-Spider, older students might be more interested in seeing what Shake It Off looks like on a score.
Introduce Students to New Genres
There are common misconceptions about music that turn some students away. For example, some students might struggle to understand a Mozart concerto or get bored at the idea of playing scales and etudes. One of the major roles for music teachers is to explore a variety of genres. As such, the old Eurocentric view of music has been gradually replaced by multicultural music over the past 30 years.
Try starting each class with a new song. You can have a variety of genres ranging from classical to modern country to old Irish folk songs. The more varied the genres the better. Not only does this let your students listen to new music, it also gives you a jumping off point for discussing the piece and its cultural importance.
Get Students Up and Moving
School demands a lot from students. Most of the day is spent sitting at desks or in chairs listening to their teachers. This is particularly true as students get older. Activities that require moving to the rhythm help students connect with the music using a powerful tool that is often underutilized in other subjects: kinesthetic learning.
According to The Playful Piano, getting children moving is also a great way to teach “ear before eye,” in music. This is the idea that students might not understand what a quarter note is or that it gets one beat, but they can understand the different types of beats by clapping or jumping and then apply those movements to the terms and notation. This education style, called Eurythmics, uses motion to understand musical concepts. Students feel the music as they learn it.
Ask Students to Create Their Own Instruments
The team at ThoughtCo suggests letting students create their own personal instruments out of found or recycled materials at home. You can either make this an in-class activity and present a pile of materials for kids to use, or you can assign it for homework. This is ideal for elementary school students, but more advanced middle school students could be asked to compose a piece with their instrument and perform it in class. Ambitious classes could form an orchestra and play together.
This lesson can also be used to teach STEAM concepts. For example, by using recycled materials, teachers can include a scientific element and discuss the importance of preserving nature. Teachers can include lessons in math and acoustics to discuss measuring instruments to make different timbres and pitches. This turns a fun activity into an opportunity for a hands-on and well-rounded educational experience.
Create Their Own Silly Sentences
When students learn the notes on the treble clef, they typically learn that the spaces spell FACE and then make up sentences for the lines. For example, instead of asking students to memorize EGBDF for the lines, students learn that “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.” The blogger at Ms. Miracle’s Music Room emphasizes the importance of these sentences and encourages students to make up their own. For example, students might turn the line notes into the sentence “Empty Garbage Before Dad Flips,” or “Every Georgia Bulldog Defeats Florida.”
You can take this lesson a step further and ask your students to create songs about the acronyms using different combinations.
Create a Mystery Song
Many teachers use hand signals to teach students solfege. While students move their hands, they’re able to remember different sequences and intervals in their heads. Dr. Ashley Danyew, long-time music educator, takes that concept one step further by creating mystery songs for students. She will stand at the front of the classroom and move her hand up and down silently while her students try to guess what song she’s playing.
This can be an informal activity where students shout out the answer or a formal competition where students get a prize. You can also challenge a different student each day to create their own song and see if the class can guess what it is.
Through creative lessons, teachers have the ability to instill a lifelong love of music and an understanding of musical elements in their students. While these lessons are a great place to start, they’re just the tip of the iceberg of ways teachers can connect with students. With an online Master of Music in music education degree from Hugh A. Glauser School of Music at Kent State, you can elevate your approach in the classroom.