We can experience music almost everywhere: on the street, at a concert, in our homes, on our phones or radios, and even in classrooms. As an integral part of our experiences as people, music serves as a language: to communicate and build our cultural identities, convey our emotional experiences, and explore our passions. With this amazing transformative potential, it is no wonder that music is being used by educators across the world to build positive classroom environments and support young people in their personal and academic development.
Did you know that exposure to music can improve learning and increase positive classroom atmosphere (Eerola & Eerola, 2013; Foran, 2009)? Active engagement with music can impact the way that the brain processes information, enhancing the perception of language and speech, and subsequently improving our ability to communicate with others and learn to read (Hallam, 2010; Bokiev, Bokiev, Aralas, Ismail, & Othman, 2018). In addition, several studies have suggested that experiencing calming music can reduce aggressive behavior and feelings of anxiety and stress (Ziv & Dolev, 2013; Goldbeck & Ellerkamp, 2012; Saarikallio & Erkkila, 2007). This is an important consideration for the classroom, as teaching students to manage emotions in more positive ways can enhance their learning potential (Foran, 2009).
How can music be used in the classroom?
When considering the use of music in the classroom, it is important to first identify the ways it can be most effectively integrated (InnerDrive). For example, music can negatively affect cognitive performance on certain, complex tasks, but it has been shown to improve performance on simple tasks (Gonzalez & Aiello, 2019). The type of music also matters; students perform better when listening to music they perceive as calming rather than music that is perceived as more aggressive (Hallam, Price, & Katsarou, 2002). By considering these elements, teachers can find intentional and responsive ways to integrate music into their classrooms effectively.
There are several existing resources one can use to learn more about effectively integrating music into their classroom. In Edutopia’s 6 Smart Ways to Bring the Power of Music Into Your Classroom, educators share strategies for creatively and intentionally integrating music into the classroom. Some examples include exploring the historical events and periods in which songs were written, examining song lyrics to teach elements of poetry, and using music as a tool for remembering mathematical formulas. To integrate social and emotional learning (SEL) into classroom curricula, Edutopia suggests teachers use color-coded cards to help students map emotions onto songs as they listen together. This helps young people develop important skills in identifying and understanding their emotions as they respond to what they find around them. In addition, The John Hopkins School of Education provides a detailed overview of suggested methods for integrating music in the classroom, complete with suggestions of music to use in different settings (Brewer, 2012).
Regardless of your prior experience with music, there are many exciting possibilities for integrating music into your learning environment. Whether it is working to create a calm mood for focused work, enliven a lesson on poetry, or build community, music can be used to positively shape your classroom environment and support student thriving. For more information, check out these lesson plans from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and see the additional resources linked below!