Jazz Up Your Lessons with Music
Teacher Lenn Millbower's 2000 book Training with a Beattalks about Howard, a kid who “comes alive” every time his teacher uses music to teach lessons — for example, the letters of the alphabet. “He taps his pencils, toes, hands, and anything else he can get a hold on,” says his bemused teacher to Howard's astonished mother, who always thought that all Howard cared about was getting in trouble.
There's a bit of Howard in all of us. Human beings have been responding positively to music for countless millennia. Indeed, wind instruments have been excavated from the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization, a culture that flourished in India 5,000 years ago. Moreover, the fact that composers such as the German genius Ludwig van Beethoven composed immortal symphonies while completely deaf suggests that music is perceived with the mind and soul as much as with the ear.
So why bar music from your classroom? Bring it in so that children will “come alive.” Try this: When you're reading your students a particularly sad passage from Matilda,the novel by Welsh author Roald Dahl detailing the child abuse Matilda suffers from her cruel parents, use your CD player to play American composer Samuel Barber's haunting Adagio for Strings. You might get comments from your students for several days afterward about how memorable your performance was — and you'll owe their high praise not just to your acting prowess, but to the power of music. Or when you're studying the American Civil Rights Movement in social studies, play American rapper Coolio's 1997 masterpiece “C U When U Get There,” lamenting the dashed aspirations of minority youth.
Also, when you study the American Civil War and you get to the part about the thousands of African-American soldiers who fought bravely for the Union Army, take a few minutes to play the memorable opening theme music for the movie Glory,a 1989 film about black Union soldiers. The theme, brilliantly sung by the Boys Choir of Harlem, seems hyper-charged with courage, dignity, and nobility — as were the soldiers of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the heroes who gave their lives for freedom.
Finally, utilize music's calming effects when students take a particularly rigorous test, perhaps in long division in mathematics or on the parts of a cell in science. Nothing drives away anxiety like soothing music — perhaps German composer Johannes Brahms's Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, Gute Nacht,or Brahms's Lullaby. Master teachers use music to calm students and enhance academic performance.