Why is It Important to Teach Literacy Through Music in Your Classroom?

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Why is It Important to Teach Literacy Through Music in Your Classroom?

Language literacy is arguably the most important skill a child will acquire during preschool and elementary school years. Comprehending concepts taught in social studies and sciences, or even understanding a word problem in math class, all depend on reading fluency. Unfortunately, in the push to ready children for careers that depend on knowledge of these fields, many school districts have cut the field that could hold the key to them all– music.

How Music Helps Us Learn

Ask any group of native English speakers to recite the alphabet, and a large number of them will recite the alphabet with the same rhythm that shares a melody with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, if they don’t sing the actual tune. Rhythm, rhyme, and melody aid memorization. This is especially true for language learning, as music and language processing take place in the same area of the brain. Jazz musicians “trading fours” are engaging in the same process we do when we hold a conversation: they are processing aural information and composing an appropriate response.

When students learn music, it strengthens the area used for processing language, making it better able to handle language processing tasks. This effect holds for students who learn music and language separately, such as children who take music lessons outside of school. And just as one’s strength improves with an established exercise habit, music lessons improve a student’s language abilities the longer students study music.

Using Music to Teach Language

Some schools help students transition into a calm learning environment by playing music. If your school does not do this through the public address system, consider doing so in the classroom. Once your students are ready to learn, consider teaching a lesson where music and language meet.

  • Teach language concepts using songs. Grammar rules and literary devices are especially amenable to this technique. These can be existing songs, original songs by you, or songs students compose.
  • Read a book that has an accompanying CD. Discuss with students how the music complements the story.
  • Analyze lyrics for grade-appropriate language concepts. Have students identify parts of speech, rhyme structure or poetic
  • Present a melody and ask students to write lyrics to fit. This will help them develop a keen awareness of rhythm, syllables, and the emotional connection between a melody and lyrics.
  • Ask students to write a story inspired by a piece of music. This can include, but should not be limited to, programmatic music.
  • Listen to poems and speeches set to music, and have students set a short poem to an original tune.
  • Have students compose music to suit the mood of a short story.
  • Hold an opera hour. Sing your lesson and require students to sing replies.
  • For the especially creative, compose and perform a short opera with an original libretto.
  • Have students create a musical cryptogram, wherein the notes form a code. Assign pairs to decipher their partner’s messages.

A World of Musical and Literary Meaning

Some of these lesson ideas involve students pairing musical selections with specific emotions. These responses may vary, and this is an opportunity to broaden the discussion. As music and language are cultural products, it’s important to let students speak the truth of their native musical and literary cultures. A piece that is intended to communicate happiness might share elements with music intended for sad occasions. A student isn’t “wrong” for recognizing that a dance tune’s melody is similar to that of a funeral hymn they know. This can open a discussion on how great literary works can spark centuries of often conflicting debate on intent and import.

Studies on the effect of music on cognitive abilities may select certain types of music, but these may serve to represent a broad range of effective music samples. The “Mozart effect”, the result of a study that showed temporarily improvement in cognitive abilities in adults who listened to works composed by Mozart for piano, sparked a great deal of excitement and the launch of recordings marketed toward the parents of young children. But don’t feel restricted to music used in studies with positive results. The results found for one style of music often carry over to other styles that share some basic elements. The results of a study that used a music style with a slow tempo and strings playing softly might hold for a style with woodwinds at a similar tempo.

Music Aids in Social Cohesion

Using music to teach helps students learn more effectively and music in the classroom helps foster cooperation. Sports teams have fight songs, and nations have their anthems because singing together helps people form social bonds. Creating music together helps groups feel more positively about themselves and their group members, enhancing a sense of safety and improving overall mood. Students who feel safe in the classroom, who feel good about themselves, their classmates and their teacher are students in an ideal state of mind for learning. Learning through music is more than a way to make learning enjoyable. It often makes learning possible.


Limb, C. (2014, February 19). The Musical Brain: Novel Study of Jazz Players Shows Common Brain Circuitry Processes Both Music and Language. Retrieved August 13, 2015, from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/the_musical_brain_novel_study_of_jazz_players_shows_common_brain_circuitry_processes_both_music_and_language

“Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Explorations in Children,” Yim-Chi Ho, M.Phil.; Mei-Chun Cheung, Ph.D.; and Agnes S. Chan, Ph.D.; The Chinese University of Hong Kong; Neuropsychology,Vol. 17, No. 3.

Mitchell, H. (2013, December 30). Why Does Music Aid in Memorization? Retrieved August 13, 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304483804579284682214451364

Suttie, J. (2015, January 15). Greater Good. Retrieved August 13, 2015, from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_ways_music_strengthens_social_bonds


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