Music in Our Schools, Music in Your Classroom!

The National Association for Music Education recognizes Music in Our Schools Month (MIOSM) as a time to “raise awareness of the importance of music education for all children—and to remind citizens that school is where all children should have access to music.”

Here are five ways you can integrate music into geography, language arts, civics, and social studies classrooms. Use our diverse resources to explore discussions and inquiry-based projects with music and musical ideas.

1. Music is a Sense of Place

Styles, genres, or even individual pieces of music can be strongly associated with a specific or regional geographic location.

This teacher encouraged her students to sing along with Indonesian folk music, not just listen to it. How do you students think participation changes their appreciation of music and the culture that produced it?

What makes “Swan Lake” Russia’s “national ballet”? How have different cultural identities adopted and interpreted the piece? Is there a piece of music that is associated with your region—and do you think it’s a fair or accurate association?

How have Afghan musical traditions helped shape its national identity? How was that musical identity altered under the Taliban? Can students think of any examples in which a government or other authority (such as a school) has restricted musical expression?

How do students think national anthems contribute to music creating a sense of place? Do students associate national anthem more with national identity or with a more specific geographic place, such as a sports arena?

2. Music Defines a Time and Space

Popular music can instantly evoke a community, time period, or even a specific event.

Outkast identifies and represents the city of Atlanta. If parties, church, and avant-garde thinking are part of Atlanta’s hip-hop geography, what activities and institutions do students think inform popular music in your area of neighborhood? How do students “put the city on their backs”?

Although Leonard Bernstein was primarily a classical musician, he is probably best-known as a composer of music for theater and film, including West Side Story and On the Waterfront. Ask students to think about music in film. How does music help create an atmosphere? How do certain songs establish a setting or time period?

According to Willie Nelson, Ray Charles “did more for country music than any one artist has ever done.” Yet Ray Charles is generally not considered a country musician. What elements do students think contribute to a style of music—instruments played, rhythm, lyrics, the identity of the performer? How do students think different interpretations or covers can help redefine genres?

3. Music is Lyrical

Music lyrics are a valuable and fresh source for introducing reading nonfiction texts.

Lyrics are an accessible primary source for studying social studies and history. Read through this educator’s strong strategy on using contemporary music to study apartheid and protest. Using traditional worksheets, primary source analysis tools, and interactive presentations, students develop inquiry-based lessons on the themes of “Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning.”

As a lyricist, Beyonce does not rely on metaphors as often as the poets who inspire her. Have students listen to Beyonce’s music. Do they think this makes her lyrics any more or less accessible, or able to be identified with? Do they think this makes her lyrics any more or less “poetic”—emotional, expressive, or imaginative?

4. Music is Civics

Music can give a voice (and melody!) to political and social movements.

The people who are trying to make this world worse aren’t taking a day off. How can I?” So said the legendary reggae musician Bob Marley. How do students think music helps to make the world a better place?

Van Cliburn, the “Texan Who Conquered Russia” during the Cold War, did his conquering at the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Do students think music competitions like the Tchaikovsky competition or the Eurovision Song Contest ease political tensions or reinforce stereotypes? Why?

Afghanistan welcomed its first female music conductor, a 17-year-old girl, just a few years ago. Why do students think it’s unusual for women to be conductors in Afghanistan? Why do students think its unusual (less unusual, but still unusual) for women to be conductors in the West?

Woody Guthrie’s famous folk song, “This Land is Your Land,” reminds Americans that the United States—from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters—belong to all the people, not just the rich and powerful: “This land was made for you and me.” Do students think Guthrie’s vision is still important today? Why?

One of the most important concers in U.S. history was given by the operatic contralto Marian Anderson, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939. Anderson’s voice—”a voice heard once in a hundred years”—came to symbolize the struggle for civil rights and the integration of public spaces. Use our outstanding resource to listen to the concert, and discuss civics questions on public spaces and government policy.

5. Music is Harmony

Music can bring people together across cultural, economic, linguistic, and even geographic boundaries.

“Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will.” Have students navigate the geography of jazz  with our interactive GeoStory. Can students think of other music genres that have distinct geographic identities? Hip-hop? Country? Metal?

How about when the only change in a musical resource is the language? Ask students to watch the video and “let it go” in 41 languages. How do they think the phrasing changes the impact of the song? What version is their favorite? Why?

The 1985 Live Aid concerts were one of the largest nonprofit events in history, and included millions of television viewers as well as live audience members. Although the concerts raised money for famines in Africa, very few African musicians performed. Why? What other ways can musicians support economic, political, or environmental development?

Finally, we love this lesson on “Global Sounds” and the way it integrates education, geographic thinking, and music. Educator Mary Ludwig creates presentations and has students develop projects focusing on individual aspects of music around the world: instruments, musicians, genres.

Global Sounds is a terrific lesson to adapt, and we hope you do!

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