Student Engagement

Using Music in the Elementary Classroom (Warning: It May Get Loud)

A musician’s approach to managing the elementary classroom

August 30, 2011

Now Playing >>
Artist: The Black Keys
Album: Magic Potion
Song: Modern Times

Music chimes in the background of our lives; and the special songs -- the ones that creep up our spines -- push to the foreground and move us deeply. Music allows us to feel and daydream, think and set goals.

I walk the line when playing music for children. I strive to bring them meaningful and intelligent songs that will simultaneously inspire them, and rock their faces off.

Music is Standard in My Classroom

It's not a special event or an activity. My students anticipate, expect, and even demand music everyday. And, in the words of Gene Simmons, they want it "Loud, I wanna' hear it loud, right between the eyes." They get what they want, for sure. But I do have to say that from the beginning of my classroom musical revelation, the music has been for me just as much as it's been for the kids.

So, I don't play "kid" music all of the time. Yes, there are times when it's needed, but most of the time I'm exposing my students to "kid-friendly adult music." Kids love the tunes I play for two reasons: 1) They know they're not "kiddie" songs because they don't feature a cheesy organ or steel drum. 2) They notice that I love the songs, too.

When I was a kid, I wanted to spit blood and breathe fire. Silly, I know. But then I wanted to play guitar. Then I joined a band. Now I'm using music to inspire others and connect with students. Sharing is the new teaching. Let's share.

Here are some tips from my classroom:

Technical Stuff: iPod vs. CD

Most of the time when using a song in the classroom, you want it to play once and stop.

If you are using a CD player, there should be an option called "play one" in the CD settings. The problem with this setting is that when the kids are gone and you want to listen to an entire CD, you need to switch it back. Not terrible, just annoying. Using an iPod is much easier to play one song by creating a one-song playlist.

Create a One-Song Playlist

This is how I get my iPod to play one song and stop: Create a playlist for each song you want to use. For example, if I wanted to use "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, I would create a playlist and name it Purple Haze. Then, put "Purple Haze" into the playlist. That's it. By including only one song in a playlist, the music will cease after one song. Boom! Pow! Music stops.

Manipulating a Song in iTunes

Have these thoughts ever haunted your brain?

I want to use this song, but it's got a curse word halfway through it.
This tune is too long.
Man, I love this hidden tune, but it begins eight minutes after the last song on the album.

No worries, my friend. iTunes lets you start and stop a song at any time very easily. I started using this feature when I realized that the short, instrumental interludes in between select songs on the album Before These Crowded Streets (Dave Matthews Band) were the perfect length for quick clean-up songs. Quick clean-up songs run between thirty and fifty seconds. If you are looking for little jams that feature a variety of instrumental voices, check em' out. The interludes follow the songs "Don't Drink the Water," "The Stone," and "The Dreaming Tree."

Time Editing

1. Find the song for editing
2. Listen to the song and jot down the section of time you need
3. Right click on the song
4. Click on "options"
5. Find the start time/stop time section
6. Fill in your times

If you plan to use an edited song on a daily basis, just create a duplicate version of a song. One version will be edited for school purposes and the other version will remain in full.

The Get Down and Get Ready Tune

Forget about ringing a bell, tinkling beads, or pinging that ghastly zenergy chime. When I need my students to clean up in order to segue into the next lesson or activity, I hit play and walk away. Put down the chime, my brutha', and fill your room with some real tunes.

Finding the right "adult songs" for this purpose is not an easy task. The length of the song depends on the size of the clean up. A song could be thirty seconds or two minutes. Even if the students finish way before the song ends, I've never heard a kid complain about extra time to funk.

When the tune spins I expect:

  • All students attempting to clean up before the song ends.
  • Singing shouldn't be louder than the music.
  • Mild dancing is encouraged.

There are zillions of songs out there. Here are a few that I've gathered to get you going.

  • "Interlude I" Soulive, 0:52
  • "Intermission" Tool, 0:56
  • "Grind" Phish, 0:59
  • "Photographs" Eddie Vedder, 1:01
  • "Tuolumne" Eddie Vedder, 1:02
  • "Mr. Fox in Fields" Alexandre Desplat, 1:02
  • "I Blame You" Obits, 1:08
  • "Kickstand" Soundgarden, 1:34
  • "Scuttle Buttin'" Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1:52

Extension: I love asking math questions when the song ends (regardless if math is next in line): The song is one minute and four seconds long. How many seconds altogether? The song is sixty-eight seconds. We played it twice. How many seconds would that be?

Other Tunes at Other Times

Sometimes you need longer songs or even full albums to spin while your students are working on a fun activity:

Full albums for all ages:

Music to Teach Cursive Writing

Some teachers play classical music; I play everything else. I even have a name for cursive writing time: the Funk and Groove Handwriting Move. No classics here, just straight groove.

  • "Break Out" Soulive
  • "What Happened to Television?" Greyboy All-Stars
  • "Warmup" and "The Garden II" Tea Leaf Green
  • "The Horseshoe Curve" Trey Anastasia
  • "Breaking the Ethers" Tuatara
  • "Soulfinger", "Seth Pulls into Lot", and "Seth Runs on Track" from the Superbad Soundtrack

These are just a few songs and artists that I use in the classroom. There are tons out there. You just have to listen and make sure you share with your colleagues. Oh, wait. I've got one more: The Friday-Afternoon-It's-the-Weekend-Time-to-go-Home-Song is...

"Eruption" by Van Halen (Air guitar is mandatory.)

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Student Engagement
  • Arts Integration
  • Classroom Management
  • Arts
  • Physical Education
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.