Incorporating the lives and music of legendary musicians into the classroom can be an engaging and effective way to teach various subjects within the current English National Curriculum. Music transcends boundaries, connecting with students on a profound level. It can serve as a powerful tool to enhance learning across diverse areas such as English, History, Science, and even Mathematics. In this blog post, we will explore how teachers can utilise the rich tapestry of musical history to make learning exciting and meaningful for students.
Analysing Song Lyrics
One of the most obvious ways to use musicians in the English curriculum is by analysing song lyrics as poetry. Legendary songwriters like David Bowie, Tom Waits or Joni Mitchell are known for their thought-provoking lyrics, many of which can be picked apart in a classroom. Students can dissect the lyrics, exploring themes, figurative language, and symbolism. This not only enhances their literary skills but also encourages critical thinking. Musicals and Disney songs are all perfect go-to resources.
Songwriting / Creative writing
Stimulate students' creativity through song writing. Encourage them to write their own songs, Use GarageBand to create a continuous rhythm for them to hear and practice along with. Here, children are able to express their thoughts and emotions through lyrics. This exercise not only fosters creative writing but also reinforces grammar and vocabulary skills. You can also use this opportunity to teach literary devices like metaphors and similes. Another alternative is to use music videos as stimulation for creative writing. Take on Me by Ah-ha could be watched and the story re-written or Titanium used as a story starter for children to continue.
Music often reflects the social, political, and cultural climates of its time. Teachers can use the music of various decades, from the swinging '60s to the rebellious '70s and beyond, to help students understand historical contexts. For instance, explore the counterculture movement through the music of the Beatles or the civil rights era through the songs of Nina Simone. This contextualisation can make history more relatable and engaging for students.
Musicians as Historical Figures
Music legends like Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Marley not only left a mark on the music world but also played significant roles in shaping society. Incorporate biographical studies of these musicians into history lessons. Explore their lives, struggles, and contributions to social change. This humanises history and provides students with a broader understanding of the interconnectedness of events.
The Science of Sound
Music is fundamentally about sound, making it a perfect entry point for teaching acoustics. Introduce students to the science of sound waves, frequency, and amplitude through musical examples. Explain concepts like pitch, harmony, and resonance. You can even conduct experiments with musical instruments to demonstrate these principles, making science more accessible and engaging.
Music and the Brain
Delve into the fascinating world of neuroscience by exploring how music affects the brain. Discuss the cognitive benefits of music, such as improved memory and enhanced problem-solving skills. Explore the emotional impact of music on the brain, including how it can reduce stress and anxiety or use music to explore mindfulness.
Music is inherently mathematical, with rhythm and timing governed by precise patterns. Use musicians like Johann Sebastian Bach or Igor Stravinsky to teach students about musical notation, time signatures, and mathematical relationships within music. You can even ask students to compose their own pieces, emphasising the mathematical precision required in music composition.
Music in Mathematics
Incorporate fractions and ratios into the curriculum by examining their relevance in music. Explain how notes and rests are divided into fractions of a whole note. Explore the concept of musical intervals, which are expressed as ratios. For example, a perfect fifth has a ratio of 3:2. This interdisciplinary approach helps students see the practical applications of mathematical concepts in real life.
Music Around the World
Music is a universal language that varies greatly from one culture to another. Use the music of different regions to introduce students to geography and cultural studies. Explore the instruments, rhythms, and melodies unique to each culture. For example, study African drumming, Indian classical music, or Latin American salsa. This broadens students' horizons and fosters an appreciation for cultural diversity. When studying a topic in history, find out what typical instruments were used during that time and what the music may have sounded like.
Creating Musical Maps
Encourage students to create musical maps that visualise the influence of music on geographical regions. Have them plot the birthplaces of famous musicians and music movements on a world map. Discuss how music has transcended borders and connected people across the globe. This activity not only enhances geographical knowledge but also promotes critical thinking.
Harnessing the life and music of important musicians can transform the way we teach the English National Curriculum. By integrating music into various subjects, we create a dynamic and immersive learning experience that resonates with students. Music has the power to engage, inspire, and connect, making it a valuable tool for educators. So, let's embrace the rhythm of education and invite the legendary musicians of the past to guide our students on a journey of discovery across the curriculum.