I recently read two intriguing studies about music. One study suggested that musical skills can help improve reading skills, while the other linked the singing of a foreign language being learned with better retention and accuracy. Both studies hint at the power of music. Music can heal, music can relax, music is “like a bridge over troubled water”, and, let’s face it, music can make you shout, “I feel good!” And that’s why there should be more music in our English classrooms. Here’s the “Top 10 Chart”.
1. Children are naturally attracted to rhythm and music, and find it enjoyable learning English through songs.
2. In TEYL classes, rhythmical chants are fun to create and perform.
3. Having your own sense of identity means having your own favourite songs. Students might prefer J-pop or K-pop, but it’s not hard to find an English song that will catch their hearts.
4. Given the depth and speed of the Internet, creating a cloze exercise for a song takes about 15 minutes nowadays.
5. Every picture tells a story. And so does a song. Challenge your students and have them figure out a song’s meaning.
6. Video may have killed the radio star, but it sure makes listening to music easier. Most students will be interested in the video for a song, even if it’s only on your phone. Here’s a true story. A father and son are listening to a song on the radio. The father says: “So, what do you think of the song?” The son replies, “I don’t know Dad. I haven’t seen the video yet.”
7. Music teaches content. Every singer, band and genre of music has a story that is just waiting to be told, or exploited in info-gap materials.
8. The Internet provides 24/7 access to music videos, biographies and lyrics in almost every genre, past or present.
9. Music is culture. In order to close the divide and get closer to English-speaking culture, it’s essential to play English music even if we don’t use it for an exercise.
10. Music is relaxing and provides a welcome change to the usual classroom atmosphere. Play jazz, classical, new age, ambient, romantic or even old ragtime songs in class, during breaks, or as students write. If they fall asleep, remind yourself never to play that music again. I once played Indian sitar music in class because we were reading about Bollywood. I asked my students what they thought and one student answered, “It makes me hungry and I want to eat curry.”
I’ve always been a lover of music. When I wrote my first EFL book on music, “The Story of American Popular Music”, I spent so much money on books and CDs in order to understand the story of how the music of the African slaves mixed with European styles and led to the creation of almost all of the popular music styles today. When I wrote my second book, “The Story of Popular Music”, I realized that ‘pop music’ dominates the world’s musical tastes. With a collection of more than 5000+ CDs, I can truly say that I have a ‘wall of sound’ and each new cd is just another brick in the wall. I can’t live without music.
A famous music shop has a logo that is difficult to argue with: ‘No Music, No Life.’ I tell my students there is a school equivalent, “No Homework, No A’s.’, but they never laugh. Even 2500 years ago, the ancient Greeks understood the power of music. The philosopher Plato wrote, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I think there should be more music in our classrooms!
Note: Herman Bartelen will have a new cd of his own songs released in September this year. The title is “Zongs for the Cities” by Hermanb and the Annubhava Orchestra, and it will be available on i-tunes.
The Story of Popular Music