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Effective Ways to Use Music in the Classroom All Day Long

There is an abundance of research suggesting that listening to music, engaging in musical experiences, and taking music lessons are highly beneficial for the overall development and well-being of individuals, particularly children. Much of the research stems from how the brain develops in the formative years when neurons are busy making connections with other neurons. For example, when children are exposed to music at an early age, it can have a positive effect on how the neural pathways in the brain develop a number of functions, such as fine and gross motor movement, spatial reasoning, speech and reading, communication skills, and emotional well-being. Furthermore, children who take music lessons tend to have an enhanced understanding of subjects, such as math and science, better long term memory and concentration, and quicker reaction times to external stimuli. Additionally, when musical experiences include the company of others, such as singing together or playing in a band, children can feel a greater sense of belonging. 

Unfortunately, school music programs are the first on the chopping block when budgets are low despite ample evidence pointing to the benefits of music for the social, emotional, and academic well-being of students. With that said, there are a number of ways in which music can be integrated into the school day even when musicals, choirs, and band/strings programs are pushed aside. This includes a number of easy to do activities, which do not require a musical background for teachers to implement. 


Start and End of Day

Creating a ritual to start the school day is a powerful way to get students into the right mindset for learning, to welcome them into the classroom environment, and remind them that they are part of an inclusive community. Ending the day with a similar ritual brings students back together again as a group, lets them know the school day has come to an end, and prepares them to go home. The use of music can reduce the morning or afternoon jitters, create a sense of calm, increase energy levels, and strengthen student bonding.

Ideas (start of day)  

  • Play calming music and take the class through a mindfulness exercise or a series of yoga stretches.
  • Create a class cheer, dance, or complex handshake that students perform together every morning to a high energy song.
  • Play a different song every morning that has a positive message which students can listen to and reflect on as a class. 

Ideas (end of day) 

  • Play calming music in the background while each student shares one thing they are grateful for or something they feel they accomplished that day at school. 
  • Each day, have one student choose an inspirational song to play for the class that reflects a message they wish to share. While students listen they can draw or journal how the song makes them feel.

Daily Physical Activity

Many schools include physical activity sessions during the day that are separate from recess and physical education class. Music has the potential for making these sessions high energy and a lot of fun, especially when the students connect with the music being played.

Ideas 

  • Play a game of dance freeze or take the students through a high energy exercise routine while their favourite song is playing 
  • Create an obstacle course with cones, benches, hoola hoops, and other available equipment. Play different types of music such as fast and slow, staccato and legato, or strong and light. Have the students move through the obstacle course in a way that shows they are responding to the music playing. 
  • Create patterns using locomotor and non-locomotor movements.  For example, marching, jumping, melting, rolling, bursting, and galloping. Each movement is executed for a count of eight. Play music while students perform the pattern. 

Transitions

Some of the most challenging times in the day can be during transitions such as coming into the classroom after recess or a lunch break, transitioning from subject to subject, or travelling from one room in the school to another. Music can create a sense of calm and routine when it is included during these transitory times.

Ideas

  • Invite students to get out of their desks and walk around the room to stretch their bodies in between subjects. Play gentle music while they move. 
  • Bring the class together to sing and dance to a favourite age-appropriate action song such as The Hokey Pokey or Shake Your Sillies Out. 
  • Have students perform their best silly walk around the room while music plays   

Brain Breaks

The human brain can only focus on a task for so long without needing a break to recharge. In the classroom, brain breaks are necessary for optimal learning and can occur in the middle of a lesson. Typical signs that students need a brain break are talking with each other, fidgeting, staring off into space, or some other action that shows a lack of focus. A quick way to relieve the thinking brain is to get students into their bodies with music. 

Ideas 

  • Have students stand beside their desks and guide them through a shaking exercise. Start at the top of the body, shake all the way down to the toes, and then shake back up to the head. For example, have students shake their head, shoulders, arms, and so forth. Isolate the different body parts. Play music and shake along. 
  • Play a game of “Simon Says” with music. Let the music inspire the movements. 
  • Guide students through chair yoga where they stretch and move their body to music without needing to leave their seats. 

Independent Work

Music can help students stay focused when they are working independently on school work or tasks.  With that said, it is important to know your students and their needs, as music is not ideal for everyone. The least distracting music tends to be classical and nature sounds, such as rain, ocean waves, or forest ambience like birds and streams. It can be played quietly in the background. However, it is not recommended to play music while students read books or work on math problems. Creativity and imagination can be enhanced when music is played in art class or for journaling exercises. 


Classroom Clean-Up

Cleaning up the classroom between subjects, at lunchtime, or at the end of the day is always much more fun when really good high energy music is playing. Students can be encouraged to sing and dance along with the music while they perform their tasks.  


Tips for Choosing Music

  • Calming music includes nature sounds, chimes, instrumental, or classical music.
  • Include music that represents the diverse cultures of your students 
  • Choose upbeat music with age-appropriate lyrics or no lyrics 
  • Include music of various tempos, styles, and genres

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Traci L. Scheepstra, Ph.D., is the CEO/Founder of Embodied Learnings. Read here to learn more about her work in education.

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