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[Classroom Management] 5 Tips to Engage Students Through Music

Friday, January 13, 2017 -- Scott Sterling

With all the options for music streaming that are available, we’ve all become more used to going through our days with a background soundtrack. And, digital-native students have never known a world where almost every piece of recorded music wasn’t available at the click of button. This being the case, music can be a great tool to enrich your lessons and engage students in classroom. Here are five best practices to follow.

1. Always, always, always, preview

This first one is obvious, yet teachers consistently find themselves in trouble for failing to preview music played in their classrooms. Not only do you need to be on the lookout for swearing or inappropriate innuendo, but broader subject matter that could be offensive to different groups of students. Considering that many artists create music with the specific intent of expressing opinions or expanding others’ minds, this eliminates a lot of songs. Be especially careful if you use a music curation service like Pandora or Apple Music—if you don’t know what’s included on a playlist, don’t use it in your classroom.

2. Set the right mood

Ever been somewhere, like a restaurant or clothing store, where the background music doesn’t quite fit the vibe? The same can happen in the classroom. Not only that, but remember that music can be used to either stimulate or tone down mental responses. For example, after lunch, when students can be a bit sluggish, you may want to select something more upbeat. However, sleepy students may not appreciate that upbeat music first thing in the morning. Make sure that the playlist you choose fits the time of day, your students’ moods, and the task at hand.

3. Make curricular connections

Music ties into so many other areas of curricula that it makes a valuable addition to almost all units and lessons. If you’re studying a specific culture or country, share some of its music with your students. Relate music to math by talking about beat counts, rhythm, and patterns. Even science can be connected to music by talking about concepts like frequencies, vibrations, and sound waves. And don’t forget to dig into the profound effects of music on the brain—it triggers different areas of the brain, elicits emotional responses, and even helps memory function by giving the brain context for new information it’s trying to assimilate.

4. Choose your soundtrack wisely

When used in the background, many teachers opt for music without lyrics to avoid distracting their students. Music with lyrics can then be reserved for transitions or other movement activities to reengage students. Consider music soundtracks from video games; they are specifically composed to keep players focused and engaged for long periods of time. If you’re unsure of where to start looking for good background music, try instrumental covers of popular songs, like those from the band Vitamin String Quartet—your students will be pleasantly surprised when they realize they recognize different songs.

5. Embrace headphones

It’s hard not to find a student who doesn’t have headphones on when walking down the street or riding the bus. It’s second nature for most children. This brings up the question of when it’s appropriate for students to listen to their own music while in class. First and foremost, follow your school’s guidelines regarding devices and music, but do consider loosening the reins during individual work time that requires focus. Letting students rock out with their headphones offers a noninvasive way of keeping chatting to a minimum.

Looking for more creative strategies to use in your classroom? Check out these 21 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas Every 21st Century Educator Should Try!