Music in classroom

Bob Marley’s conviction, “Music’s gonna teach them a lesson” couldn’t be further from the truth if you were to look at way educational programmes are designed and delivered in most schools across the world.

Arts in general and music in particular, are neglected in our classroom. The rationale is irrational – they cost too much as specialist staff and materials need to be arranged for or they are acceptable only as interesting breaks for kids and teachers but they add little or no value to “education”. As one of Howard Gardner’s major intelligence areas, music is valuable for its own sake as well as for what it can do to a lesson.

Sustained and rich school music programmes are ideal, but schools across the globe can be classified into three broad categories in this regard:

The first type of schools has a well-thought out and articulated music programmes making it an integral part of school curriculum, second to none. The second type of schools, have some kind of music programme showing that the schools do recognise the importance of music in education but either does not have the leadership or understanding to give it the position it deserves in the school curriculum. So while music lessons have been introduced in school, they are rather isolated and limited in scope, being used as “we also offer” incentive for enrolment or to prepare students for non-academic school events like Annual Day and other school functions. The third type of schools is very clear about the importance that they accord to music in the realm of education. Nowhere! It is considered superfluous entertainment and something that school has no time for and interest in. At the most, the pre-primary teachers can indulge in it as means of entertaining the kids.

To the second and the third kind of schools, I have to say, music does not have to be banished from your school. Integrating music with other academic subjects is one way to salvage some of its strengths and enrich the entire curriculum.

Preschoolers are taught days of the week, animal sounds, parts of body, early literacy and practically everything that they learn in these wonder years through songs. In the primary and secondary grades, “math songs” activities and math-themed lyrics to popular tunes help kids memorize essential formulas and skills.  As early readers, it is important for children to know that we read from left to right and then back down to the next row. I know of teachers who use a tune by songwriter Jack Hartmann called “The Way We Read”, on which kids act out with their hands and bodies as they sing along, to make them understand one of the basic rules of reading.

In the middle grades, I once had the students write a rap song to add more life to a history lesson on the French Revolution. Eminem was a rising star and more than half my class was crazy about him. I had amazing pieces from students for assessment of their understanding. While learning about the Holocaust, my students wrote epitaph and eulogy in the form of haiku, which was then sung to music of a popular number. This killed three birds with one stone – bundling history, language and music, saving time (something that all teachers need to learn to do).

Children with language difficulties in particular can benefit from music. For example, a version of “Hokey Pokey” starts with a word like train. The teacher sings: You take the “t” out and put a “g” in, you take the “r” out, and look at what you have. You put the sounds together and you try to sound it out. (Kids clap.) What is the new word? Kids: Gain!

I have utmost respect for teachers, like some of my ex-colleagues, who in spite the lack of a music curriculum in school, brought the joy of music into class by playing appropriate and supportive music when children are at different tasks

Music is a means of “reaching” the growing number of disadvantaged or at-risk youth through performance projects that are powerful learning experiences encompassing academic and life skills. Song-based lessons, projects, and activities are tools that will enable educators to create opportunities for all students to experience success in the classroom so that “no child is left behind”.

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