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5 Ways to Increase Student Engagement by Using Music

Posted on: September 1, 2021

Evidence shows that an arts education enhances students cognitive development. In this blog Debbie Tannert, co-author of Using Music to Enhance Student Learning , explores 5 musical techniques that teachers can use to help students learn.

Elementary Education majors need tools and skills to integrate music into the general education classroom. Pre-service teachers can set a goal to increase student engagement in Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies by using music. Here are 5 intuitive musical pathways that are effective in maintaining a student’s attention, building motivation and enhancing learning in all subjects.

'Cognitive neuroscientists at seven major universities have found strong links between arts education and cognitive development (e.g. thinking, problem solving, concept understanding, information processing and overall intelligence). Children motivated in the arts develop attention skills and memory retrieval that also apply to other subject areas.' - Learning, Arts, and the Brain (2008)

1. Using Music to Enhance Learning in Science: Connecting the Four Seasons and Music

One interesting aspect of the study of science involves learning about the four seasons and understanding that the tilt of the earth’s axis causes the seasons. A famous composer of the Baroque period, Antonio Vivaldi, wrote music for a solo violinist and a small string orchestra that portrays the earth at these four different times of the year. Have the students help list on the board what they would think a musical piece written to describe springtime would sound like. Words such as “birds singing, “ “light and airy,” and “rainstorms” might be listed. After they hear Vivaldi’s first movement, “Spring,” go back to the list and compare the items to how the piece actually sounded.

2. Using Music to Enhance Learning in Math: Playing a Singing Game to Memorize Multiplication Facts

“Weevily Wheat” is an American Folk Song and Singing Game. Students can sing and play the game to practice multiplication facts.
In psychological research, music and rhythm have been shown to benefit the rote memorization process. When various types of verbal information (e.g., multiplication tables, spelling lists) have been presented simultaneously with music, memorization has been enhanced. (Gfeller, 1983: Schuster and Mouzon, 1982.
Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmUAN5iOECo  to watch a group of children playing the singing game “Weevily Wheat”.

3. Using Music to Enhance Learning in Social Studies: Teaching World Music to Understand Other Cultures

The goals and objectives for most elementary schools include understanding other cultures as well as our own American culture and historical eras. The arts provide a perfect means for exploring other peoples and historical periods. Singing songs and performing the dances of many countries helps children understand other cultures. Incorporating world music into units highlighting specific countries is an excellent way for classroom teachers to integrate music into the curriculum. Watch Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey . Take notes on this vibrant musical sound journey around the world, a celebration of music, dance and cultures. In small groups, have students discuss the commonalities and differences in the music. Discuss how the music shows that the world is connected in many ways we may not be able to see. Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8dKfsnfYSA  to see and hear the Timbalada band in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, one sections of this video.

4. Using Music to Enhance Learning in Language Arts: Create with Music and Children’s Literature

The incredible range of literature available to use with children is a rich storehouse for the elementary classroom teacher. Students can practice using the musical elements of dynamics and tempo as well as different vocal registers, when retelling favorite fairy tales. For example, in the Three Little Pigs, using high, medium, and low registers for the voices of the different pigs and the Wolf can develop flexibility in the students’ voices. Saying one pig’s lines quickly and softly and the Wolf’s lines slowly and loudly contributes to an understanding of tempo and dynamics.

'Correlations exist between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. One of the central predictors of early literacy, phonological awareness, is correlated with both music training and the development of a specific brain pathway.' - Learning, Arts, and the Brain (2008)

5. Using Music to Enhance Learning in Health: Creating Piggyback Health Songs

Making use of music to help students learn and retain information in the Health curriculum can produce excellent results.

Choose a Health topic. These can include nutrition, the body, the organs, and functions of the organs, or good hygiene practices. Have the students select a tune such as “You Are My Sunshine”, “I’m a Little Teapot”, “Are you Sleeping?” or “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”. Brainstorm words/ideas for your Health topic. Count out syllables for each line in your song. Mark the spots where rhyming words occur. Create new words to match each phrase in the song, using the same rhyming word pattern. Perform your song.

In closing, we as college professors can prepare our future elementary educators to involve their students in music activities to engage and enrich the standard curriculum. Music is a marvelous tool to help children learn. However, many elementary education majors fear they lack the needed musical skills to use music successfully. These suggestions have been included for the elementary education student who has had little or no previous experience in music. I hope you will enjoy the good teaching techniques and materials that will energize learning experiences for children.