Classical Music in the Classroom

While there are many studies that debate whether or not listening to classical music improves test scores or helps students learn, one undisputed fact remains: classical music is here to stay! We find classical music in movies, on television, and it even lends itself to today’s popular music. It has a variety of classroom applications from art to math.

Creative Writing: Have students work in pairs or small groups and provide the students with the beginning of a story. For instance: “The carriage began to sway in the high winds and rain, and with a violent crack of lightning, the horses cried out and the rickety carriage was flung onto its side and slid down the muddy embankment. Ten year old Charlie was tossed into the darkness and found himself tangled in the branches of the giant oak that had just fallen….” The more aggressive and dark your story begins, the better for this exercise. Next, divide the class and play a relaxing piece of classical music for half of the groups, and a darker more sinister piece of music for the remaining groups. Ask all of the students to finish the short story with their own words. When finished, have the groups read each of the stories, and then discuss the turns the plot takes. Focus on the music to see whether or not students were influenced by “happy” or “angry” pieces.

Art: Play a piece of classical music and have students draw the images that they “see” when they listen to the piece. Have a class discussion about the use of bright colors versus darks, and have students explain what each drawing represents. For an addition project, have students gather in groups and write a composition that combines the images from the drawing of each member of the group.

Recognition: Make a game of classical music by playing songs from movies and cartoons. Divide up into teams and keep score of who correctly matches each piece.

Math: A short lesson in rhythm and the way music is composed on a piece of paper gives way to a lesson in fractions. Ask your school music teacher to help explain things like “3/4 time,” then listen to different selections and ask students to conduct a few phrases based on the rhythm of the music.

To get you started with some composers and selections, John Clare, announcer and producer at KMUW, Wichita’s public radio station, offers this “Top 10” classical music list:

1. Beethoven: Symphony #5
2. Pachelbel: Canon in D
3. Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
4. Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire
5. Brahms: Piano Concerto #1
6. Mendelssohn: Symphony #4
7. Beethoven: Fur Elise
8. Mozart: Violin Concerto #3
9. Tchaikovsky: Waltz of the Flowers
10. Schubert: Trout Quintet

For those of you in the Portland listening area, KBPS 89.9FM offers a unique broadcast Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30 a.m. for teachers to use in the classroom. Another program, Kid Rhythm Classics, airs Saturday mornings from 7 to 9 a.m. KBPS also suggests the following ideas:

* Use classical music as a “soundtrack” to students’ readings of poetry or other creative writing
* Have students listen for rhythmic patterns
* Play classical music from the time period being studied, giving historical events a musical and cultural context
* Discuss overlapping scientific and artistic developments that occurred in the time period of various classical music compositions
* Discuss the diversity of ethnic/cultural groups as expressed through music

“I had a great chuckle one day when a struggling reader came up to ask me if we could listen to Joanne Barch (Johann Bach) again,” writes Terri, a regular contributor to the T2T forum. For her class she chooses a Composer of the Month. “I don’t do anything elaborate, just simply write the name on the board and help them to pronounce it. Then we play music of that composer throughout the month, during our silent reading times. By the end of the month, the kids are usually able to hum along. I have copied pictures of each composer from encyclopedias, etc. so they know what each one looks like.” Terri points out that this concept works well for arts appreciation; she also features an Artist of the Month.

Happy listening with your class!