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Interactive Strategies for Using Music
in the Academic Curriculum
Michelle Lazar, MT-BC

          Music is often an integral part of the preschool and kindergarten child's school experience.  But what happens in first grade and beyond?  The increased focus on academic curriculum standards often makes it more challenging to integrate music into classroom lessons.
          Luckily, with a little creative planning, music can actually serve as the method to teach selected curriculum units.  In this context, music is viewed as a multi-sensory approach to enhance learning and retention of academic skills.  Here are some practical suggestions:

How Teachers Can Ensure that Music Activities are not Detracting from "Academic" Time

          1)  As with games, worksheets, videos, and manipulatives, music activities can be considered just one of many types of instructional approaches.

          2)  The music activities used will directly carry the curriculum content that the student is to learn.  For example, if the student is to add single digit numbers, the lyrics to the educational song or chant will deal directly with that target skill.

          3)  Research supports the use of music as a mnemonic device for the learning  and recall of new information.  Music also plays a role in focusing attention and providing a motivating environment for learning.  In addition, educational research confirms that we learn and retain information better when we find it interesting and meaningful. (See the References, below.)

Practical Ways to Integrate Musical Approaches into the Curriculum

Reading & Spelling

          -- Students clap or tap out syllables on a drum when building phonological awareness or practicing new vocabulary.  Example: "Wa-ter-me-lon."

          -- Students are given rhymes to recite which correspond to important spelling generalizations, such as "I before E except after C."

          -- Lyrics to a song are given as a reading assignment.  When they are able to read it correctly and fluently, the students get to sing the song out loud.
             Examples: On Top of Spaghetti, Yankee Doodle, and other picture storybooks.

          -- A song is presented via recording or sung with lyrics. Students then utilize comprehension skills to discuss what the song is about and draw inferences as to what may happen in the next verse. Unfamiliar vocabulary can be discussed. 
             Example: Puff the Magic Dragon.

             [Editor's note: More songs that lend themselves to comprehension development can be in the middle of our Reading page.]


          -- Students listen to a short song and then write the words. Once finished, they can sing what they wrote.
          -- Simple rhymes are given to help students remember the basics of letter formation such as

"g and j and p and q
Their tails are really great. 
Two curl back and one curls front
And one just hangs there straight."

History/ Science/ Social Studies

          -- Play songs from various eras when teaching American History.
             Examples: "Oldies", "Disco", etc.

          -- Play songs that represent a historical event and have students discuss relevance of the lyrics.           
             Examples: "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Battle Hymn of the Republic".
             [Editor's note:  Find other song lyrics on our Social Studies page.]

          -- Play songs from various countries when studying cultures or geography. Make an instrument from the designated country or culture. Examples: Native American Indian rainstick, African drum, etc.

          -- Use simple rhymes to help with the recall of facts.
"In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue."


          -- To address patterns, have the group stand in a circle and listen while the teacher claps a rhythm pattern. Each student must then copy the rhythm one after another until it goes around the entire circle correctly.
          -- Chant Addition or Multiplication Facts to a rhythm.
          -- Use a tune to remember various counting patterns. Examples: Count by 3's to the tune of "Jingle Bells", 4's to the tune of  "Old McDonald", 6's to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot", etc.
          -- Teach the concept of fractions by studying how various music rhythms are divided (whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, etc.)

Generalizing Newly-Acquired Skills from the Music to the Non-Music Setting

          1)  Pair songs with corresponding visual material or written text that relates to the content.

          2)  Provide the students with a verbal "quiz" or related worksheet after the song to review the information that was covered.

          3)  Implement fading techniques of the music as you guide students from singing addition facts, to chanting addition facts, to spoken addition facts.

          Claussen, D., & Thaut, M. (1997). Music as a mnemonic device for children with learning disabilities.  Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, 5, 55-66.

          Colwell, CM. (1994). Therapeutic applications of music in the whole language kindergarten.  Journal of Music Therapy, 31(4), 238-247.

          Gfeller, K. (1983).  Musical mnemonics as an aid to retention with normal and learning disabled students.  Journal of Music Therapy, 20(4), 179-189.

          Lamb, S., & Gregory, A. (1993). The relationship between music and reading in beginning readers.  Educational Psychology, 13, 19-26.
          Kilgour, A.R., Jakobson, L.S., & Cuddy, L.L. (2000). Music training and rate of presentation as mediators of text and song recall.  Memory & Cognition, 28(5), 700-710.

          Morton, L.L. (1990).  The potential for therapeutic applications of music on problems related to memory and attention.  Journal of Music Therapy, 27(4), 195-208.

          Register, D. (2001). The effects of an early intervention music curriculum on prereading/ writing.  Journal of Music Therapy, 38(3), 239-248.     

          Standley, J., & Hughes, J. (1997).  Evaluation of an early intervention music curriculum for enhancing pre-reading/writing skills.  Music Therapy Perspectives, 15, 79-86.

          Wallace, W. (1994).  Memory for music: effect of melody on recall of text.  Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20(6), 1471-1485. 

          Wolfe, D., & Hom, C. (1993).  Use of melodies as structural prompts for learning and retention of sequential verbal information by preschool students.  Journal of Music Therapy, 30(2), 100-118.

About Michelle Lazar, MT-BC
          Michelle Lazar, MT-BC, directs Coast Music Therapy, a San Diego-based agency focused
on providing a creative approach to learning through music.  She specializes in meeting the
learning needs of children with autism and developmental disabilities.  She also provides consultation, workshops and training seminars nationally for educators in both special and regular education classrooms. 
          Michelle holds a baccalaureate degree in Music Therapy from Western Michigan University,
with additional training in Neurologic Music Therapy from the Center for Biomedical Research in Music at Colorado State University.  Her publications include a chapter in Models of Music Therapy Interventions in School Settings, 2002 edition by Brian L. Wilson. 

          Michelle offers other practical tips for music-assisted learning at www.coastmusictherapy.com.





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