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Music Is Not Dead in Public Schools

By CUE Member and Guest Blogger Bill Selak

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I know what you’re singing in your head right now. (Now you know your ABCs, I hope.) This song is so ingrained in us, that we forget that it’s how we learned the alphabet. Even as adults, we often sing this song in our heads when we’re going through the alphabet (like while playing a new word game). If you stop and think about it, music is a powerful way to learn something. If you can name all 50 states, I’m guessing you sing them.

Music should be easy to integrate into your classroom. If you’re new to the idea of music in your classroom, start with a chant. If that’s too intimidating, have students shout a few syllables. When I teach descriptive writing to my second graders, I give them a dull sentence and they shout out, “Tell me more!” It’s insanely simple (and not very musical), but they love it, they remember it, and they actually use this strategy when writing independently.

You don’t even have to be a musician to integrate music into your classroom. Do you remember Schoolhouse Rocks? Well, people continue to write educational songs. A quick visit to YouTube will make it easy to explain prefixes, conjugate -ar verbs in Spanish, or how to subtract fractions.

If you want to do more than curate educational songs, start creating them. Take a melody that everyone knows and change the words. For example, take “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and change the words to the letters of the alphabet. Oh wait, someone’s already done that. If you hate singing in front of people, this is an easy way to get your class singing: they already know the song. Nursery rhymes are an easy starting point; viral songs-turned-parody earn bonus points. You can use karaoke tracks as your background music to sound even more amazing (thanks to Diane Main for the #eduawesome idea!).

Once you’re comfortable creating original music in your classroom, it’s time to dig into GarageBand. Every Apple computer has GarageBand on it, and iOS devices can run GarageBand ($5 app). If you’re brand new to GarageBand, watch one of the 264,000 GarageBand tutorials on YouTube. In very little time, you’ll be comfortable enough with GarageBand to use it with your students. Trust me. GarageBand comes with loops: pre-recorded instruments that can repeat and fit into your song. Click on loops, select drums, and drag your favorite drum loop into your timeline. Repeat the steps for bass, guitar, keyboards, sitar, etc. It’s really that easy. You already listen to music, so you know the basic format of songs. If you are a musician, you can combine GarageBand loops with your own instruments for a truly original tune. GarageBand has the professional controls and effects you need when recording music. Add some lyrics, and you have your own song. Along the way, you also taught a creative writing lesson in a meaningful way.

Between chants, YouTube music videos, and GarageBand recordings, it’s never been a more exciting time to integrate music into the classroom. Start small and simple, and you’ll find that you have the tools and the talent to create your own classroom music.

Bill Selak

Bill Selak

Bill Selak is an elementary music teacher and an adjunct faculty member at Azusa Pacific University and University of La Verne. He served on the California State Superintendent’s Education Technology Task Force, and is on the EdCampSFBay and EdCampLA planning teams. He earned his Master’s in Educational Technology at Azusa Pacific University. You can find Bill online here

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