13 ways to connect music and lyrics to class

Music can make strong connections in our brains. It can strengthen the connections in students' brains with new content. Here are some ideas for using music and lyrics in the class. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Music can make strong connections in our brains. It can strengthen the connections in students’ brains with new content. Here are some ideas for using music and lyrics in the class. (Public domain image via Pixabay)

Songs can embed themselves deeply in our minds and our memories. Can you remember a specific song that immediately takes you back to a place and time in your past?

For me, these three have very vivid memories:

  • When I was moving into the dorms at Indiana State University my freshman year — a wide-eyed brand new college student — “Smooth” by Santana (featuring Rob Thomas) was on the radio almost every hour.
  • As a high school kid, right after getting my first car (a 1987 Plymouth Reliant K), I remember blasting “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind as I cruised past Indiana cornfields with the cool summer air coming through the windows. (The air conditioning in that car didn’t work!)
  • When my wife and I were fixing up a foreclosed house we bought, I remember scraping off old kitchen floor tiles and hanging cabinets with Brandon Heath’s “Your Love” playing in the background over and over.

(If you have one of your own, please post it in the comments below!)

It’s amazing how song lyrics dig themselves deep into our minds and stay there our whole lives. However, when we want to learn something and try to memorize it, it won’t stick as easy as a song will.

Music and lyrics can play powerful roles in the classroom. They can help students remember key content. They can encourage conversations. Plus, there’s great fun in creating music that relates to class content.

In a recent #DitchBook Twitter chat, we discussed the impact of music and lyrics in the classroom and tossed around ideas for incorporating them to engage students. Sandy Otto (@sandyrotto) was the moderator, and it was a very well attended chat! (Click here to see the Storify summary of the chat.)

Here are some of my best take-aways from the chat:

1. So often, students can learn so much from songs but the lyrics are hard to understand or go by too quickly.

2. Music can teach students lessons that our own explanations just can’t. Sometimes, as I listen to music, I’ll jot down a song title to remember for a lesson later in the school year.

3. Song parodies can help both the writer of the parody remember content better as well as the students who listen to each other’s songs. My wife’s social studies class wrote song parodies, and here’s my favorite: a song about the Boston Massacre to the tune of “Uptown Funk”.

4. Even the most mundane of topics gets interesting with a song (and especially if there’s a video, too). This is a good one.

5. A key method for learning about other cultures is to listen to music. The instruments and the way they’re played say a lot about the people, and the lyrics can say even more.

6. The Autorap app lets you record a speech (or some spoken word) and automatically turns it into a rap song. Brilliant!

7. Literature plays so well with music. I love Rachel’s idea to tie songs to a character’s progression.

8. Songify is an app that does the same as Autorap (see above) but with a melodic song instead of a rap. (iTunes link / Google Play link)

9. Umm … leave me out of this one, Brian. But thanks for suggesting it. 🙂

10. I love this idea … a great way to create a different learning experience than students are used to seeing. Rebekah Remkiewicz (@RemScience) mentioned in the chat that she had students make their own instruments when they studied sound.

11. There’s so much greatness in Peter’s post here: the purpose of the project, the licensing/digital citizenship AND the connection to music.

12. Music can be a great writing prompt. Check out Brian’s Google Apps link to see all the details of his writing prompt activity.

13. I saw the power in this in the world languages classroom. Tying hand motions or kinesthetic activity to content provides a new avenue to the brain.

[reminder]How do you incorporate songs and lyrics into learning? Which of these ideas are you most likely to try? And what is your song that sparks vivid memories from your past?[/reminder]

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