Importance of Music

"If you have never tried using music in these ways.... please do!" -- Chris Brewer [1]

Using music in any class can help to create a more positive learning environment and there is no better classroom to incorporate this than the English classroom. English class is a time in the school day where students are exploring different forms of literature and media which allows the teacher an opportunity to play non-distracting music for the class. Simply listening to music while doing activities and independent study can help students to focus and raise energy levels. Listening to music can also help students get inspired about the study of English and make connections between the two arts.

A very effective way of using music in the English classroom is through direct music activities. Using music in assignments and activities help students understand important concepts, use their imagination, and improve their creative abilities[2] . Everybody has their own personal experience to different kinds of music and English teachers can use these experiences to help students engage with the lessons found in English class.


"Listening" to Music in the English Classroom

Studies have shown that listening to music can temporarily increase right brain activity in students. Music is used frequently by many people to relax (Tesol). Listening to certain types of music such as classical or smooth jazz may have positive effects on an English class (see Culture | Mozart Effect).

A good strategy for using music in the English classroom is to start the class by playing music (Brewer). Playing music at the start of the class creates a positive environment for students. This affects the mood of the students and can help them to concentrate and make them interested in what is being taught. Another strategy is to play music during transitions between classes throughout the day so that students leave and enter class with similar positive feelings.

Certain types of songs can have different positive effects on students. The English teacher must pick the music based upon the desired effect. Music can be chosen because the class is not functioning to the best of its ability, the focus level in the class is down, or because the teacher wants to use music to help associate memories. Some music can inspire students to get involved in class as "music has the ability to produce greater student motivation. Songs and rhythmic chants invite the students to become active in the learning practice." [3]

Teachers must be careful when selecting music for students to listen to while they study English. Music with vocals and lyrics may be highly distracting to some students and can detract from their ability to focus. Teachers should choose pieces that are calming in order to get the desired effects.


Music can be used to help teach students about the cultures that are related to what they are learning in English. Some lessons require literature from different parts of the world that may have a culture that is not familiar to that of many of the students in the class. A good strategy to introduce foreign cultures is to play music from that culture to get students engaged and interested in learning. Playing music could help catch the attention of some students and make others want to get a greater understanding of that culture.

Mozart Effect

FA-Mozart-Kopfhoerer.jpg The Mozart Effect is a study on the effects that music has on the human mind. "In 1993 Rauscher et al. made the surprising claim that, after listening to Mozart's sonata for two pianos (K448) for 10 minutes, normal subjects showed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than after periods of listening to relaxation instructions designed to lower blood pressure or silence".[4]

The Mozart Effect is one example of how music can positively affect the brain to help engage neural connections. This study focuses on spatial understanding which can help people understand shapes and their surroundings. This research found that listening to classical music written by Mozart increased scores on standardized tests.

music-notessmall.jpgProject #1: Metaphor Identification and Interpretation

Using examples of songs can help students to understand concepts in English that may be difficult to express. Metaphors are one example of a lesson taught in English that can use music to help explain its use. It is important to first make sure that students understand the basic definition of a metaphor.

"A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity."[5]

Once students have heard the definition of what a metaphor is, the English teacher can begin working with music to further their understanding and to associate songs with identifying metaphors. From learning to identify metaphors in something that is familiar to students, such as songs, students will be better equipped to identify metaphors in other aspects of English literature.

I am a Rockpiano_keys1.jpg

Simon and Garfunkel
A winter's day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
Don't talk of love,
But I've heard the words before;
It's sleeping in my memory.
I won't disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armour,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries. [6]

Project #2: Soundtrack/Creative Writing

Students will work individually on this project as it will be a more personal interpretation of the song chosen. Students may pick their own song as long as it meets the following criteria:

  • No Lyrics/Strictly musical instruments
  • 3 - 5 minutes in length

The teacher should provide students with a list of songs that meet the above criteria. Many students in our culture have lost touch with music without lyrics; therefore, it is necessary to provide student with musical examples as a starting point. This is not to say that the project must be restricted to a set list of songs; though, any new songs added must be previewed and approved by the teacher. Below is an example of a list of appropriate music with corresponding sound clips:

"Prelude l’apres midi d’une faune" by Claude Debussy

"Braveheart" by James Horner

"Shelob’s Lair" by Howard Shore

"The Kraken" by Hans Zimmer

"Hourglass" by Liquid Tension Experiment

After having made their choice each student will be asked to carefully listen to their song and write out a story or a poem that reflects what they believe to be the tone and emotion evoked in the song. They will then be asked to present their work in front of the class. In presenting it is expected that they evoke the various emotions of the music through the recitation of their work. This project will require students to write within the emotional contours of the music and to practice reading the text with their musical soundtrack. One example a teacher can use to demonstrate this project to the class is a poetic work called "We Are More", by Shane Koyzan.

This is a good example of incorporating poetry to a soundtrack in order to add emphasis to the emotion of national pride that the author intended to portray. He also presents his poetry in a way that is both engaging and appropriate.

Music is a very powerful tool in being able to convey a message and to portray emotions. Whether the emotion captivated in a song is happiness, anger, or sadness, words put to music can convey a message quite powerfully. This activity will enable students to do not only go deeper in their thinking about their emotions but allow them to express them in creative writing, storytelling, or poetry. It will show them the importance of tone, speech, and sound in wanting to convey a message.

Project #3: Teaching Parody through Musicstuff2.jpg

Parodies are another example of a English concept that can be explained through the use of music. In the context of an English program this project would be perfect to use following a historical examination of different uses of parody in literature and culture, or to begin dealing with a novel or poem that contains elements of parody.

  • Choose any song they desire between 3 – 5 minutes
  • Print out the song lyrics
  • Identify (on the lyric sheet) the rhyming scheme and other various components of form and content
  • When students write their parody, they will be asked to follow the same rhyme scheme as the original author.
    • For example: If the original song follows an AABB rhyme scheme, the student will be asked to write their parody around the same rhyme scheme (This can add a more technical side to the project, but its implementation is completely left to the English teacher’s discretion).
  • It is also required for a student to take one aspect of the song as the main topic of parody.
    • For example, if the song is about love, you can choose to parody that theme.

The following example, is a song called "Hey There Delilah", by Plain White T’s. The first video is the original form of the song and the second video is a parody.

The next video is of a Christian comedian named Tim Hawkins. This example does not used all the rhyming criteria, but it is a great example of a comedic parody that is appropriate and interactive for students.

In this song, Tim takes the original love story of "Hey There Delilah" to write a "break-up" song about the Bible characters Delilah & Samson.

music%20note5.jpgProject #4: Listen/Record/Write

A fun and energetic activity for an english class is to create a story, based upon a students emotional response to a song. This project teaches students the craft of oral storytelling that has been found in all history of language arts around the world. It also helps students to connect to the music that they are listening to on an emotional level and express that through their words. music_note.gif

To accomplish this activity, students will need a recording device (tape recorder, digital recorder, computer with built in microphone) and a cd player or mp3 player with headphones. This activity is best done in pairs so that students can interact while telling the story. The teacher will assign songs from genres of music that do not incorporate lyrics such as classical, jazz or contemporary music. Students should get the opportunity to listen to their song once before they begin this activity. Students will then set up their recording devices and begin to tell a story based on any feelings or cues that they get from listening to the music.

Once the students have finished recording their story, they can play it back and discuss their reactions to their creative work. Each student can then individually write out that story in a more coherent manner.

The following video is an example of Brian Burns and Kyle Doucette explaining the various steps that go into this project.


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