MUSIC CONNECTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM by Eric Houghton and Alan Vellutini

Given that music programs and arts curriculum continue to experience cuts in classrooms across America, our ability and willingness as teachers to integrate musical awareness, principles, and concepts into instruction will be of greater importance as students begin to make connections between content areas and how it might relate to their own lives. This Wiki presentation emphasizes several key elements of scientific research that focus on music's impacts on cognitive processes and emotions and how that development might translate into how students make connections in a classroom setting.

Top 5 things we learned about music's applications in the classroom:

  1. Our brains are wired to understand specific musical patterns, due to our culture and early exposure. Different kinds of music can make us feel different ways.
  2. The repetitive, playfulness of music can be applied to practicing and memorizing simple procedures, such as in the San Diego State University video.
  3. Applying music to right brain activities can be beneficial for students, because the wiring between the left and right sides of the brain takes place between the ages of 4 and 12.
  4. Music can be a great tool for authentic activities that really connect to student's lives.
  5. Music can be incorporated into many different subjects, such as science, social studies, and spelling.

If you were to look at only one resource....
Make it the video about the
Opening Minds Through the Arts program in
Tuscon, Arizona (5th video on this page).

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"Your brain can distinguish (composers) even when you don't."

This Youtube excerpt originally produced by NOVA discusses how the brain reacts to music and why some brains are not receptive to music while others are sensitive to even the most minute musical nuance. Dr. Oliver Sacks, a world-renowned author, physician, and neurologist agrees to work with a team of neuro-scientists at Columbia University to scan his own brain activity based on selected musical compositions. The results reveal that separate compositions by Bach triggers succinct activity within the Amygdala, an area of the brain that processes emotions. This is very important to consider when discussing how music can influence the emotional triggers of our students and how that can impact learning and even long-term emotional processing. Because this video excerpt revealed an important insight into the potential of how music influences emotions and brain activity, I gave it a rating of 4.5/5.

"Music is medicine. Music changes us."

This brief video sourced through reveals the story Nathaniel Ayers, the Julliard trained musician who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and refused treatment, but somehow found music as a form of medicine. He was also the subject of a book and a 2009 film adaptation that illustrated his life as a homeless man and how music became the medicine and sanity that eventually shaped his own emotions into reality. This is an important video because it discusses how music can potentially be an element of medicine, sanity, and overall release for people suffering from different diagnoses and even mental illness. It ties directly into how music can be an incredibly production tool to assist students who have been previously diagnosed with ADHD or even Autism. With music being cut from arts curriculum, the unfortunate side-effect is that students who can potentially benefit from music are not being given an adequate opportunity to fully utilize music as a learning tool in the classroom. I gave this video a 4.5/5 because I feel it highlighted the essence of art and how music can help shape emotions into reality, even with our students.

"Regardless of where I am, anywhere, every audience gets that."

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

In this video taken from the World Science Festival, Bobby McFerrin demonstrates our brain's natural expectations for the pentatonic scale. Bobby is starting with a spatial keyboard and the shared knowledge of the audience, and using motion to control rhythm. This demonstrates how effortlessly music can draw on background knowledge, expectations, and emotions to evoke a response. I give this video 3/5 stars because it doesn't directly address classroom applications of music, but is very entertaining and speaks to the subtle, unconscious power of music. I could imagine this as a classroom management tool. Instead of the old 3 - 2 - 1 - silence trick, hopping side to side would get the class focused and in tune! To find out "what the hell just happened here," see the full 5 part discussion on how music affects our emotions:

"A lot or research indicates the connection between music and cognitive development,
social-emotional development, math and science."

This video sourced on youtube discusses research conducted through San Diego State University. This research studied the development of music as it relates to specific skills during the beginning stages of education, such as pre-school and even kindergarten. Basic skills such as washing hands and sitting down were first identified and then music was developed to assist students and instructors during transition times. This approach helps students develop their own sense of routine and an emotional response based on the music being played or sung and helped students make specific connections between song and the skill being performed. I gave this informative video a 4/5 rating because it highlights an important fundamental approach that encourages and engages students to make connections between music and the development of specific skills.

The arts "provide (ELL students) with an art form that is connected
to learning in a way that they can connect
no matter what language they speak."

This video sourced through illustrates connections between the arts and other core curricular areas through a program recently implemented at Corbett Elementary in Tuscon, Arizona. The Opening Minds Through the Arts (OMA) organization utilizes music and the arts to enhance other core subject areas such as math, english, reading, writing, and social studies by employing local arts professionals to work with teachers and administrators to develop integrated curriculum using arts as the core instructional foundation. Arts professionals work closely with teachers at the beginning of the year helping develop curriculum that aligns to state standards, utilizing the arts as the main focus with the ability to make connections to other subject areas. Importantly, the OMA program has allowed English Language Learners (ELL) an element of instruction that they can connect with, both socially and educationally. I gave this video a 5/5 because of it's extremely informative description of an effective approach that doesn't simply incorporate music and the arts as a peripheral subject, but instead utilizes it as the foundation of instruction in order to make connection across the curriculum.Visit the OMA organization website at for more information.

"A lot of kids have an identity outside of class,
and then come to school and feel like they don't belong,
so that disconnect is really unmotivating."

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Many of us can recite the lyrics to dozens of our favorite songs. We learned the order of the alphabet, the capitals, and maybe even the presidents through song. Making use of our ability to memorize through music, two men from New York have developed a program called Flocabulary. The program is leveled and is set from grades 2-8. Highlighted in this MSNBC short are the connections students make with reciting rhymes about history, vocabulary, and math, and even writing their own. I rate this video a 4/5 for being an example of learning by activating creativity, working the left and right sides of the brain.

Lesson Plans incorporating music into the classroom:

Robert Johnson's Birthday Lesson Plan: On May 8th, celebrate Robert Johnson's birthday by exploring the blues. Great Language Arts applications in analyzing blues lyrics and structure. The blues are characterized by repeating rhymes, personal themes, similes and metaphors, allegories, and even call and response.

Arts Edge: Awesome ideas for lessons! The "multimedia" presentations are multimedia in the thinnest sense of the word; they are basically slideshows accompanied by a podcast, as far as I could tell. But they do have great ideas:

  • African music (SS standards)
  • Chinese music (SS)
  • Stories behind the music of the Great Depression, the Star Spangled Banner, and football fight songs (SS)
  • The music of space (Science standards)
  • The sounds of nature (Science)
  • Musical instruments and pitch (Science)
  • Analyzing historical and current event issues through lyrics (SS, LA)