This article is written by former New Jersey first grade teacher, Felicia Niven.
If you’ve ever played music in your classroom, you know it can transform the mood in a minute. Music is the language everyone speaks- even kids. We instinctively react energetically to lively tunes, and relax when soothing classical is played. In fact, music is a powerful tool in classroom management as well as learning.
How can you implement using relaxing music to improve student behavior and engagement in your classroom? Read on.
Studies show that music has real physical effects.
It’s no coincidence that music affects our mood. Studies have shown that music stimulates endorphins and improves our sense of wellbeing. It lowers our heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety. In one study, students who regularly listened to a half-hour of quiet morning music got less upset than their peers. Another study found that background music helped students stay on task, self-monitor their behavior, and improve their motivation.
Music helps in learning.
Music promotes brain plasticity, the ability of our brains to change and adapt to new things.
It stimulates both the left and right sides of the brain. The left side is more verbal and analytical. It responds to the sequence of sounds organized in a pattern. The right side is more emotional. It taps into feelings, visualization, and imagination. Using music as part of your lessons, or transitions between, adds another layer to learning for your students.
Ways to Use Music in Your Classroom
Incorporating music will take a bit of a learning curve if you haven’t done it already. Remember to listen to any tracks before you use them so there are no surprises. Determine how you’re playing the music (e.g. Smartboard, CD player, computer, iPad). You’ll want to practice with your students in the same way that you teach them beginning-of-the-year routines so they know what is expected. Trust us, the benefits will be worth the effort.
Here are some tried and tested ways that teachers are using music in the classroom.
1. Set the tone at the start of the day.
Imagine entering a room filled with relaxing background music. It automatically sets the tone for quiet voices and the behavior expected. Play music as you’re setting up for the day and keep it on as students come in. Turn it off when it’s time for the pledge of allegiance and the official start to the day.
2. Schedule a meditation moment.
Give your students a different kind of brain break—a guided meditation to music. It’s one way to keep mindfulness in the classroom, and it helps students calm themselves and focus.
3. Use music for transitions.
Transitions can be tough, especially for students who don’t have a clear concept of time. Choose a short piece of music to signal transitions. Teach students to put away their things or clean up by the time the song ends. While not necessarily relaxing music, TV theme shows are often a good length for transition pieces.
4. Make it memorable.
Memorizing a long list of facts, from state capitals to multiplication tables can be grueling. Put it to a familiar tune and you’d be surprised at how much fun students can have. This works for grammar and vocabulary, and dates in history, too. Add some period music and explore the context of historical songs for an immersive classroom experience.
5. Foster cultural connections.
Music is a wonderful way to connect to different cultures. Find and play the heritage songs from your students’ unique backgrounds. Add a cultural connection to your lessons or transitions with music and open up your students’ world.
6. Calm students after lunch/recess.
Calming music helps students wind down quickly after high-excitement activities. It immediately captures their attention, reminding them that the classroom is a quieter place. Plus, music is a nice alternative to raising your voice.
7. Have students “free write” to classical music.
Help students to explore their creative side by tapping into the thoughts that classical music inspires. Not only are they listening, but they are processing and reflecting on what they are hearing.
8. Incorporate brain breaks with music with movement.
Have students create lyrical movements inspired by music. Invite students to dance for a brain break. Have students take turns creating simple movements to the beat, such as clapping, snapping, and tapping. Wind down with relaxing music that segues into the learning activity.
Where to Find Relaxing Classroom Music
The good news is that you don’t need a big budget to incorporate music in your classroom. With a little time, you can find plenty of free options as well as subscriptions.
Amazon Music Unlimited offers plenty of instrumental tracks. This subscription service lets you try it for free for 30 days.
Apple Music is a music streaming service. This is another subscription service but Apple usually offers a teacher discount. You can test it out with a free 3-month trial.
Pandora offers a free version of its music streaming service with advertisements. You can listen offline and search and play songs on demand.
Spotify is a great resource for classroom playlists. Check out California Casualty’s Spotify playlist of soft, mellow music you can play in the background of your classroom to increase focus and promote calmness.
YouTube has the advantage of being free. Choose ones without distracting images if you’re playing them on a SmartBoard and make sure to skip the ads. Try out some of these popular music videos:
Finally, teachers know the best resources. Check with colleagues to find their “go-to” source for classroom music
Do you have another way to use music in the classroom or a good source for relaxing music? Share your ideas with fellow educators in the comments!
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