Music is a powerful teaching tool and the more students learn about music the more it can actually help them read. So many of the same skills and strategies we use to read, we also use when we listen to music. When teachers can help their students practice these skills through music, it can help them become more cognizant of their own thinking when they read as well.
Listening to music is something nearly all teachers can do with their students. I listen to music with my fourth grade students each day during our snack time. When I taught in a middle school, I would set aside 5-10 minutes at the beginning or ending of my class periods to listen to music with my students. We listen to everything from Bach to Beethoven to the Beatles, focusing in on one piece of music over the course of a few days. That way they are actively listening to the music as they listen repeatedly.
Beginning, Middle, End
In my room I have a sign that says, “The BME Rule – Every Good Piece of Writing is Following It!” I refer to this rule throughout the year as we write, as we read, and as we listen to music. “Every good piece of writing (and music) has a beginning, middle and end,” I state. We listen to music and listen for the B, M, and E, and we transfer these concepts into our writing and reading. Doing this helps the concept stick.
I often will spend an entire week’s worth of listening time listening to the beginnings of pieces of music to understand how composers grab the listener’s attention, just as authors try to grab the reader’s attention at the beginning of a story. Try this in your own music collection. A song’s intro is meant to grab your attention as it sets the mood of the song and draws you into the story that will be told in the lyrics.
Complementing that, we will spend time listening to the endings in musical pieces. It’s interesting to note how our ears can tell an ending it coming, just as we may get that feeling of resolve as a story is ending or a speech is concluding.
This strategy in reading is crucial to a reader’s understanding of the text. It is also one that can be practiced with music. When you strip the other processes that may interfere with a student’s ability to read fluently (namely decoding the words on a page), students are free to practice the skill of actually making the pictures in their minds.
Encourage students to close their eyes and describe what they imagine when they listen to music. Then draw their attention to how this parallels with reading. They may see abstract lines and colors, they may see a story unfold, or they may visualize the video that goes with that particular song. Visualization is a huge key to comprehension. I have had students who have not been able to describe the text they are reading, practice this skill with music and improve in their ability to visualize and describe their reading. Practicing this skill with music can be very beneficial.
Music can be described using three basic components: pitch (the high notes and low notes in music), dynamics (volume in music), and tempo (music’s speed). Once students have had practice using these words to practice describing the music they listen to in an straightforward, observational manner, they can use this knowledge to infer meaning behind the music.
For example, if you are listening to a piece of music that is low in pitch and has a slow tempo, one may infer that the emotion of the piece is sad, dreary or scary. In comparison, a piece of music that has loud dynamics and a quick tempo, may be more cheery.
In allowing students to practice these skills with music, they are able to understand the strategies of reading in a different way. For some struggling readers, it is the practice they need to understand what it is a teacher is asking them to do. For others it is an interesting, abstract way to stretch their minds. Regardless, listening to music is a great way for teachers to connect with their students and build community while practicing important skills that will make them better readers.
For more on how to implement listening experiences into your teaching, please read “Musical Experiences – Listening in the Classroom.”
Elizabeth Peterson teaches fourth grade in Amesbury, Massachusetts and is the host of www.theinspiredclassroom.com, where she blogs regularly on arts integration and other educational topics. Elizabeth is the author of Inspired by Listening and Studio Days, teacher resource books that include a method of arts integration she has developed and implemented in her own teaching. She teaches workshops and offers courses on the integration of the arts into the curriculum and leads an arts integration PLC (PLaiC). Elizabeth believes there is a love of the arts in all children and that from that enthusiasm, teachers can shape great opportunities to learn.