(How can this be a force for academic achievement, improving behavior and more?)

The Royal Conservatory, located in Canada, has been a leader in music education for over 127 years.  In an article entitled “The Benefits of Music Education, An Overview of Current Neuroscience Research” (April 2014), they include an amazing quote from Albert Einstein: “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition.  My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six.  My new discovery is the result of musical perception.” (p.5)

How could this be?  Some of their research findings, summarized below, can point to possible answers as well as why including music in school curricula can have a positive influence on all students:

“We know that from early childhood through to retirement years, whether involved in recreational music making or training for a professional career, people who are engaged in music study are sharpening their cognitive skills and developing social connections.

“Over the past two decades, several large-scale studies have found that music students outperform academically compared to other students, often by large margins. Music students tend to be more engaged and motivated in their studies, and more likely to win academic awards.

“Thanks to the groundbreaking research of neuroscientists, we now have a clear scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Music study leads to lasting changes in children’s brains, increasing their capacity to perform tasks that require sustained attention and careful listening and reading.” (p.8)

A section of the report entitled “Empathy and Social Awareness” states:

“Recent studies have shown that collaborative music making can increase empathy in toddlers. Empathy, in part, comes from being sensitive to subtle changes in the human voice that indicate mood and emotion. Children need to develop empathy if they are to thrive in family life, at school, and later, at work.

“This connection between music and empathy may be due to improved verbal intelligence. Playing music improves a child’s ability to listen and pick up nuances of speech – the way something is said and the emotions underneath the words, not just the words themselves, which in turn is a key element of empathy and emotional intelligence.

“Music is inherently emotional, and musical memories are among the most visceral and vivid… Whether harmonizing in a choir or performing in a string quartet or simply jamming with friends, music students of any age, even the very young, learn how to share attention, co-operate and collaborate…” (p. 6)

It is ironic that in this age where education departments and government officials are obsessed with standardized testing (which is supposed to prove how much students have learned) that music and other arts programs have been cut to spend more time with prescriptive test preparation.  This has led to less fundamental learning in many subject areas, a rise in anxiety among teachers and students, a loss of creativity in lesson planning, and a resulting loss of student interest in school.

Educators need to unite in efforts to reinstate the arts as well as to eliminate all barriers that have been erected that prohibit our profession from doing the best job of teaching possible.  Meanwhile, in our separate schools and classrooms, we can do what we can to bring lessons that include the arts into our teaching.

In this chapter, you will find examples of how teachers have used music to enhance interest, learning and behavior in a variety of subject areas, many at the elementary level, which could be adapted for higher levels, and music specifically for upper grades.  The hope is that this will encourage you to think in terms of including music when you are planning your lessons.

There is a list of resources in Part II of this chapter to help you access relevant music for your grade and subject area.

Loving Music and Singing at the Elementary level and Beyond

Children love music but can often be found these days only singing the latest rock and rap songs, many of which have lyrics reflecting violence, alienation and sexual innuendos.  Once I heard a group of third and fourth graders riding in a van singing loudly over and over again the chorus of a song they had been hearing on the radio:  “We will, we will rock you, sock you, pick you up and drop you.”  An adult had to step in and say it was time to sing something else – a song without violence.  Only then did they begin another song.

We live at a time in which anger, violence and sex predominate in the media, and so it is logical that the words to popular songs will reflect this state of affairs.  Children are great imitators and quickly pick up on the music, attitudes and gestures of popular performers.

Teachers can build positively on children’s natural love for music by offering them alternatives to the negative aspects of mass music and music videos. Fine children’s music is available as well as certain folk songs and contemporary songs for adults which can be an invaluable tool in helping to create an atmosphere of cooperation and respect in the classroom.  When children sing songs that they enjoy, there is a collective feeling of unity and pleasure.  Funny songs make children laugh, and laughter aides their mental health.  Songs which require children to contribute a word, a line or a verse encourage creativity.  Songs about childhood conflicts show children that their problems are not unique, while songs on friendship and respecting one another foster a positive, open attitude toward others.  There are songs dealing with global issues such as the need for peace and for saving the environment which can be engaging.

Such songs need not be didactic.  There are many readily available that feature creative musical arrangements with catchy tunes and words that are equally so, and children can really enjoy singing them.

Music on these themes can help bring out the best in children.  They encourage discussion of right and wrong, of why people are unkind to one another and what can be done about it.  This in turn can lead to role-playing serious childhood issues such as feeling left out or being scared of a bully.  When children are not afraid to express their feelings in class, helped in part by songs freely dealing with personal issues, a sense of security is created, cutting down on frustration and therefore behavior problems.

When they hear songs about peace, social justice and about people who have worked for these ends, they can feel more positive and hopeful about their future. These types of songs can be taught in the earliest years.  Ilene Moore, a first-grade teacher wrote:

“I love to sing and I have a captive audience.  As a product of the inspiring 60’s, my classes echo the songs of the Freedom-riders, the Civil Rights Movement, ecology, peace and love.  Some teachers may fear presenting certain folksongs because of the difficult verbiage, and some songs may seem above the heads of the young ones.  Have no fear!  I find it is the best tool I have to teach sensitivity and fairness.

“There is no piano.  I do not have a great voice.  I do not have a lot of songs on paper.  All I have and I need is my love and enthusiasm to get the message of the songs across to the kids.  They catch that joy.  Then, any song is teachable.  Words are explained so that the song becomes a part of each child.

“Folksongs in the classroom make learning so much more fun.  The environment in the classroom can be changed from:
tense to loving
tired to energetic
noisy to quiet
‘I don’t care’ to ‘Hey, I’m here for you!’” 1

Singing can simply be organized by a single teacher in his or her class.  It can also be regularized on a school-wide basis. In one school, every Wednesday afternoon for half an hour, children from a number of classes gathered in one room, and with the aid of a guitar, they built up a wide repertoire of songs.  These classes not only had more fun in school, but also enjoyed trips more as they traveled in buses and subway trains singing their favorite songs they had learned from their teachers.

How to Sing With a Class Despite “Not having a good voice”

Teachers may enjoy listening to music but not want to sing with their classes because they feel they don’t have a good voice.  This is a great mistake because you and your students are missing out on an enriching experience which is a lot of fun.  You don’t have to have a good voice to sing with children.  Mary Richards of the Richards Institute of Music Education and Research in Portola Valley, California https://www.new.richardsinstitute.org/  wrote that many teachers who were told as they were growing up that they couldn’t sing stopped singing which created great personal problems for them.

“Time after time we have provided assurance, encouragement and singing assistance to teachers whose childhood and adult years were clouded by the idea that they had no song.  When one who has been denied the singing experience discovers her or his singing voice, a remarkable release seems to result.” 2

John W. Scott, retired high school social studies teacher and long-time editor of Folksong in the Classroom wrote:

“Tone deafness is a serious myth in the United States, and tailor-made for the singing phobic.  Baring overt physical disability, anyone can learn to sing.  If you really have trouble with the whole idea, take a few voice lessons.  If your school has a music teacher, he/she would be more than adequate, and probably willing to help.  It should take no more than two or three lessons to get you started.” 3

According to John A. Scott and Laurence I. Seidman who also were editors of Folksong in the Classroom:

“…many people have fairly pleasant voices.  Teachers, who are very accepting of students, are overly harsh on themselves.  Their voices are usually much better than they give themselves credit for.

“But the quality of your voice is a false issue anyway.

“The whole idea of folksongs is to enjoy them yourself.  They are not necessarily to be sung to entertain others.  You do not need to play an instrument or have a trained voice to sing folksongs.  Your role as the teacher is the same with folksongs as with any other medium:  to transmit and teach a song so that the students can make it their own — assimilate it for their own pleasure and information.  The teacher is singing the song to the students not to entertain them (though it may do that also), but to make them aware of the melody, the words and their meaning and their background.

“You are merely the vehicle through which the student can discover the song and learn to sing it for himself.  So try it – sing away and enjoy yourself.  Your students will discover a new side of you and be swept up by both your nervousness and enthusiasm and the beauty and meaning of the song itself.” 4

Finally, “Singing in the classroom is an act of bravery and children love bravery.  What a wonderful paradox.  Bravery without physical danger.  Yes, the cowards way out.  By singing in the classroom the teacher demonstrates bravery, emotional maturity and challenges students to follow.” 5

If, in spite of the quotes above, you still feel reluctant to sing alone to your students, you can choose songs you like which you think your class will enjoy.  Then you can play CDs to teach the melody as you sing along, or have other teachers or parents introduce new songs. Children can contribute by bringing in music from home that they want to share with their classmates.

John W. Scott, quoted above, gives helpful information on how to make singing successful in your classroom.  Here are some of his points:

  1. If students are disruptive, stop the class and insist on getting respect. “I ask them if they think singing alone in public is easy.  They don’t think it is.  Now the culprits, not me, are seen by the rest of the class as the ones who have stopped the music.  I challenge them to try to sing a serious song seriously, and invite them to the front of the class to do so.  Of course, my offer has never been accepted, because it is precisely the kids who are threatened by public singing who try to interrupt it.  Seldom if ever do I have to be as vehement as I think this passage implies.  Usually there is no contest.  I merely explain that I insist on a safe environment where people are not ridiculed for making mistakes or taking chances in the interest of education.
  2. “…I tend to believe song is often the language of secrets, of the unexpressed and unsaid. It’s possible to safely intrude with a song where you otherwise might fear to tread.  By mirroring what students are feeling with a song you will tend to ease stresses and gain cooperation.  Obviously the more songs you have, the greater your flexibility.
  3. “…Sometimes I forget how good a song is, because I’ve heard it so many times I’m thoroughly bored with it. I can’t remember ever really liking “This Land is Your Land”. until the following incident took place.

“After singing this Woody Guthrie song with a group of second graders, I felt a persistent tugging at my clothing.  A child’s hand had a fist full of my pants leg, but his eyes were staring out the classroom window, transfixed on the horizon.  ‘It’s really mine?  really?’  he repeated over and over with each tug.  I had no idea what he was talking about until I followed his gaze and realized there was nothing out there but the point where the sky met the hill outside his school.  I believe the song imparted to this child not only a sense of collective ownership for our country, but also a responsibility for it.  I was impressed.” 6

Other Advantages of Music in the Classroom

Music can focus the attention of a restless class especially if there is clapping, stamping feet, standing up or some other physical motion involved.  Teachers who notice that their students don’t seem to be listening or concentrating on their work can try changing the subject beginning with a familiar song or songs to ease the transition.  This is much more fun than yelling or nagging students to do the work that few seem to be interested in at the moment.

I once visited a crowded 1st-grade class with an excellent teacher.  She had a very small portable piano and had taught her students how to march around the room using hand and arm motions as they sang.  They learned how not to bump into anyone else as they did this. Between lessons and when they got restless, she took out her piano and they sang one of the many songs she taught them while getting some exercise marching around the room.

Music can also be used advantageously to improve reading skills.  In learning a new song, the melody aids in remembering the printed words.  If children are learning from a CD, be sure that the words are clear and not drowned out by loud background music.

One technique is to number each line so that it is easier to help lost students to keep up.  For example, if they are reading and singing the song, and you notice some have fallen behind, you only have to say “Line 9” or whatever line they are on for them to catch up.  If you want to discuss the meaning of a particular line, you have only to call out its number for all to quickly find it.

This can be used at the high school and adult literacy levels to help students who can’t keep up or who space out reconnect easily with the words.

Students who read poorly can be so frustrated that they become discipline problems.  Reading while singing is one way to help them become more comfortable with the printed word and to reduce their anxiety.

A teacher can select appropriate songs and create reading lessons that encompass word recognition skills, comprehension and literary appreciation.  The rhythm and melody of a song can help develop a cadence or pattern to reading expression.  The tune and beat help the reader/singer continue from one sound, word or phrase to the next. A song can tell a story that conveys emotional feelings that can stimulate a desire to read, and the artistic expression of language in musical form is a compelling force that all can enjoy.

Music in Other Subject Areas

Music can be used as a soothing or stimulating background to class activities.  For example, a teacher once told me that she played Johann Sebastian Bach’s Two- or Three-Part Inventions during certain math lessons.  She explained to her class how mathematical Bach’s music was and they listened to selections.  She played Bach whenever the class was doing complex mathematical operations.  The complicated nature of the pieces she played were an appropriate backdrop to the challenging math assignments, and she thought the driving, relentless pace of the music symbolized the determination the class needed to solve the problems.

Teachers who know about opera, classical music, musicals or any other kind of music should share some of that knowledge and appreciation with their students.  The music most children are exposed to these days is limited to a few children’s songs and the latest rock or rap hits that they hear on the radio or see on videos.  Anything we can do to broaden their appreciation of other kinds of music can only enrich their lives and make them happier.

A high school biology teacher once told me that she often played Italian opera while students were working on a class assignment.  She told her students why she loved opera and explained what the pieces she played were about.  Her class began to show interest in this musical form, especially when the pieces were about love.

Music in the Social Studies Curriculum

Social Studies curricula have traditionally tended to be dry, lifeless and boring.  Many students are turned off to this subject and grow into adulthood seeing no point in studying the past.  The main problem as explained in Chapter 7, “The Need for a Curriculum of Social Justice” is due to the content which usually focuses on dates, wars and famous white men.  The problems, joys, successes and failures of everyday life in past historical periods are often left out.  History is portrayed through emotionless paragraphs that seem to have no relevance for today.  Students rarely read about movements for social justice organized by ordinary people, the strengths and weaknesses of these movements and what we can learn from them.

(Books have been written to explain why this is so.  The conclusion has been that the people who have controlled our country from its inception are by and large wealthy, white, Christian males.  This class of people has wanted to sing its own praises so as to maintain its own power and wealth.  It is simply not in its interests to encourage books and school curricula depicting the importance of average, struggling working people and their organizations over the centuries at home and abroad, and their influence in the creation of history.  Reading such history may provide encouragement for people today to take action for a more just society.)

As teachers search for ways to convey this hidden history, music can be our great ally.  Music can evoke deep feelings in the listener and bring to life the strong emotions that accompanied historical events which unfolded recently or many years ago.

Music can build understanding of what they have learned by putting information in a different context.  Suppose your class is studying the history of transportation and the difficult working conditions of the laborers who laid railroad tracks across our country.  If you teach them a work song in which there are motions that imitate hammering ties into the rails, and you stress how heavy the hammer was and that men had to repeat these motions all day long, students will develop more sympathy and respect for these workers as well as admiration for what they collectively accomplished.

Here are some ways I used music as part of my social studies curriculum.

Music in the Study of the Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, my friend Adrienne Sciutto, a high school social studies teacher, invited me to sing protest songs to high school students in her school’s Little Theater. Social Studies students had been studying the pros and cons of the war during their current events discussions, and this was a chance to hear reasons through song why there was a massive anti-war movement in the country.  I had been active in The Teachers Committee for Peace in Vietnam and had been leading singing with a guitar at rallies against the war.  (Anti-war songs were a big part of this peace movement.)

She had tried to get a speaker from the U.S. Army from a local base to share the stage with me but was unsuccessful.  She invited me anyway, and I sang a number of songs to a large gathering of social studies students and their teachers.

The students were very attentive and asked important questions during the Q and A.

The principal had been listening from the back of the room and when the event was over, he was visibly upset. He told Adrienne that this program was one-sided, whereupon she said she could continue to try to get a speaker from the military.  “This would not be worth it,” he replied, “because nothing that he could say would equal the power of those songs.”

Teachers, especially those without tenure, need to be sure to cover their bases when presenting controversial issues with students.  Studying different sides of an issue followed by respectfully listening to different points of view can help develop students’ critical thinking skills, and sometimes drive them to take action.

Many years later when I was Director of Outreach in the N.J. Department of Urban Education at the Rutgers/Newark campus, I also ran the Student Teacher Program. One of our students was doing his practice teaching in a high school social studies class.  At one point, his curriculum included the Vietnam War, and he told me he and his cooperating teacher wanted to include protest songs.

I showed up to his class with my guitar, sang a couple of songs and played one or two on a CD. I gave out the words before each song so as to define any uncommon words, to put the song in historical perspective, talk about the terrible waste of human lives, and to answer any questions.

The students, who my student teacher said were hard to please, were quite interested and some said they would look up the songs on the Internet so they could remember them.

Study of Paul Robeson

One year I was teaching a fourth-grade class.  I read that Paul Robeson grew up in the nearby town of Somerville, New Jersey.  I decided to introduce the children to his life story and his music especially as a follow-up to a cultural program they had seen in school which showed the connection between West African music, spirituals, blues and gospel music.

I stressed his academic achievements, his athletic skills, the fact that he became a lawyer, but chose to spend his life as a singer and actor.  I explained how he had always spoken out against discrimination of African Americans, and that he had refused to sing or perform before segregated audiences.  This limited his chances to make a living here, so he went abroad and was very well-received.

Once back in the U.S., the government took away his passport because he had spoken out against the treatment of African Americans while he was overseas as well as for equality for all, which was embarrassing to the leaders of our country during a time of strictly enforced segregation.

I played for the children an excerpt from a three-hour public radio program (Pacifica—WBAI in New York City) I had taped on Paul Robeson’s life.  The people of Wales had a concert honoring him and had hooked up a telephone so he could talk and sing to them across the Atlantic Ocean, and they in turn could talk with and sing for him.

The children were very moved by the deep affection the Welsh people expressed for Robeson and also by the injustice of his having to sing into a telephone instead of in person.  They were greatly relieved when they heard that his passport was eventually restored after national and international protests.

Once the class knew something about Mr. Robeson, I wrote out the words to certain spirituals and other songs he sang.  Each day we read the words to another song, heard him sing from one of my records and sang along with him.

I pointed out to the class that spirituals had hidden meanings, giving clues to slaves on how, when and where to escape and who would point the way.

After explaining to the class the story of the Jews in Egypt who were led to freedom by Moses, I gave out the following handout:

“Go Down Moses”

This is a song that came out of slavery.  It has a hidden meaning.  “Moses referred to Harriet Tubman.  What do you think Egypt land, Israel and Pharaoh could mean?

Chorus:  Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt land.
Tell old Pharaoh
To let my people go.

1. When Israel was in Egypt land,
let my people go,
Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
let my people go.

2. Chorus

3. “Thus spoke the Lord,” bold Moses said,
“Let my people go.
If not I’ll smite your first-born dead,
Let my people go.”

4. No more shall they in bondage toil
Let my people go.
Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil
Let my people go.

5. Chorus

We discussed this song and heard Paul Robeson sing it.  They were very moved as they sang with him.  His magnificent deep voice reflected the pain of slavery but also hope for a release from bondage.  The children saw how hearing or reading about the Jews’ experience, even though it was over 2,000 years ago, gave hope to American slaves that one day they too would be free.

When the children heard that Mr. Robeson was very ill, they wrote touching letters wishing he would get well, admiring his life of commitment to fight discrimination against his people, expressing sadness that his passport had been taken away for so many years and appreciation for his singing.  One girl was so impressed with his voice, she wrote, “I wish I had a voice like yours.”  Another child who wanted to give him something, drew a picture of a small hat and said, “Here is a hat for you.”

The children learned much from the study of Paul Robeson’s life.  Key points included the following:

  1. Music from the past can help people understand what happened before they were born.
  2. Music can make you feel deeply about what is just and unjust.
  3. Music can give you hope for the future.
  4. Important lessons can be learned by reading about the past. For example:  The Jews freed themselves from slavery over 2,000 years ago.  This helped inspire slaves in the United States to fight for their freedom; Paul Robeson and others spoke out and acted against segregation.  This encouraged many people to do the same and eventually public and private places became integrated. Mr. Robeson’s passport was taken away.  Worldwide protests had it restored.

The overall lesson from this study is that people who take a stand against injustice can help make the world more just and fair.

Using Music in Any Study of Africa

Music from Africa has had a great impact on the evolution of music in North and South America and the Caribbean.  It was from the western section of the African continent that millions of people were stolen and brought across the Atlantic to live in slavery.

These Africans brought with them the memory of their music. They did not forget the unique intricate rhythms of the drums and other percussive instruments, the varied musical styles such as call and response and their spirited dances. In the U.S. this music evolved into the blues, spirituals, gospel music, jazz and rock and roll.  The heavy, rhythmic beats in modern popular music can be traced back to its African roots.

Children still have many stereotyped and negative ideas about African peoples.  Despite the struggle for independence from western colonialism and the many contributions of Africans to world culture, the Tarzan image of the Great White Man vs. inferior natives lives on.

One way to help children develop more respect for African and African-American people is to introduce them to African music.

West African music makes you want to move, clap, sing and dance.  Children love to do these things, and so it is a subject they can more easily pay attention to.  Whenever I was teaching students anything about Africa, I always brought in music especially after I read the following in African Kingdoms by Basil Davidson (N.Y.: Time, Inc., 1966):

“The most astonishing element in African drumming is not sound, but rhythm.  Unlike western music, which is built on simple rhythmic patterns, like the one-two-three, one-two-three of the waltz, African drumming is polyrhythmic. After the opening bars, in which the master drummer announces the theme, each drummer takes up a complementary variation and elaborates upon it, crisscrossing it and weaving it into the rhythms of sound.  Most non-Africans cannot follow the intricacies of African drum music much beyond the introductory bars.  But Africans hear each rhythm as a distinct pattern, frequently picking out one to follow with their feet, while the other parts of their bodies follow other rhythms – shoulders moving to one, feet to another, heads still a third.”

To help children understand the complexity of African rhythms, I first pick a song they are familiar with in English such as “Row Your Boat” or “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”  I sing it and clap at the same time.  I point out how these songs have only one beat, in this case 4/4 or 2/4, and explain that this is how much of our music is.

Then I tell them that music from Africa has many rhythms going at the same time, and this is called polyrhythmic; that while western music has been built on simple rhythmic patterns, in African music, five such rhythms played simultaneously are common, and as many as a dozen at a time have been recorded.  (Africa and Africans, Paul Bohannan and Philip Curtin, American Museum of Natural History, 1964, reprinted 1995)

I pick three students or groups of groups of students and give them each a different rhythm to clap simultaneously.  Example, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8.  They quickly discover how difficult it is to keep up their assigned rhythms.

I point out that African musicians can do this easily.  I take out the album Olatunji, “Drums of Passion” (Columbia Records) and play the piece “Akiwowo” (Chant to the Trainman) in which the drums have many different beats, and the singers have their own rhythm.  The children are very impressed.

Another piece, “Oya” (Primitive Fire) creates a mental picture, through drumming and other percussive instruments, of a spark taking hold and growing into a big, raging flame which dies out at the end of the piece.  I ask the class to raise their hands when they think the spark has ignited the leaves and wood. They listen carefully and most of them can tell when the flame begins to burn and when it dies out.

I also point out that this song was dedicated to the idea of freedom.  If people aren’t treated fairly, they must struggle hard to change this.  Maybe only one person begins, symbolized by the spark at the beginning of “Oya,” but when others join, it can become a strong force for justice, reflected in the music as it becomes more powerful, louder and more complex.

I have the class listen to the different rhythms, and I point them out when they are heard.  One class was fortunate in that African drummers and dancers came to our school and that gave our study of African rhythms a greater reality.

I had almost no discipline problems when we were listening and learning about African music.  It is so dynamic and exciting, the children were caught up in the enjoyment and were focused on how interesting and fun it was.

Follow-up lessons included discussing the African roots of Negro spirituals, work songs, blues and jazz, and singing and listening to these types of music.  I gathered information from:

The Story of Jazz by Langston Hughes

Echoes of Africa in Folk Songs of the Americas by Beatrice Landeck, McKay, 1961

We listened to some of their favorite popular songs looking for any intricate rhythms that would indicate African musical influence on these songs.

There is so much more that a teacher can do with the study of Africa and African-American music, but the point here is to emphasize how music from any culture your class studies can help develop more appreciation for that culture.

My students’ great enjoyment of African music as well as American songs they learned that were influenced by this music was a major factor in improving their attitudes toward Africa and African-Americans.

A Note of Caution

Whenever your class listens to singing in another language, one or more students may ridicule it by exaggerating certain sounds hoping others will laugh.  It is very important to tell children that other languages can be used to express everything English does: sadness, happiness, fear and every other kind of emotion.  I explain that English can sound strange to people in other countries.

If a child speaks another language, I have that child write in their language on the board, or I do, and I have the children learn to say and write words and phrases in this language.  If no one knows a foreign language, I teach the class some words.

For example, I make two columns:

Spanish                                     English

Hola                                           Hello

Como esta usted?                      How are you?

Bien, gracias.                             Fine, thank you.

Si                                                Yes

No                                               No

Swahili                                      English

Jambo                                        Hello

U hali gani?                               How are you?

Njema                                        Fine, thanks.


Children feel important when they can say something in another language, and it helps build their respect for the language and the people.

Some CDs and songs found on the Internet that are in other languages have the words included in English and the other language.  You can copy the verses or put them on the board and compare the similarities and differences.  For example, if your class is studying about South Africa, there are songs available to play for your class. I used an album entitled “South African Liberation” (Safco Records) which has the song “Mandela” in the Zulu language praising Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in South African prisons and became president when he was finally released.  The name Mandela is repeated many times and I asked the children to raise their hands every time they heard it.

By looking at one or more verses of this song, students could see that Zulu is a written language and can express important ideas just as English can.


There is no question that the inclusion of music in the curriculum can immeasurably enrich a child’s life. Laurence Seidman, quoted above, sums it up by focusing on the effect folk music can have on your students:

“Folksongs are magic.  They are like no other medium.  When students sing folksongs, they become the people they sing about.  They not only learn about the runaway slave, the housewife on the frontier – they see, feel and experience being that person.  The words and tune bring alive that period of history. Because the songs have been shaped, honed and polished over a period of time, every line paints a picture which illuminates the scene forever in your student’s mind.

“…most importantly folksongs are magic because they really work!!!!  They are an emotional and intellectual catalyst that excites your students and makes them want to know more about the social, historical and literary period of the song and the people involved.  I have seen it happen again and again.  Once students learn a song, they rarely forget it.  Nor does it lose its potency to stimulate further learning.

“Folksongs are the voice of the people who built our country, passing on and sharing their thoughts, experiences, sorrows and joys.

“…my entire life has been enriched by them.  I have sung with thousands of students on all grade levels.  I have never found a student who did not like to sing – once he/she found out they were singing for themselves – not for a grade or for an audience.” 7



1Folksong in the Classroom, “Correspondence from our Readers,” Vol. X, #l, Fall 1989, p.4.

2Ibid., “Song, An Inalienable Right,” Mary Richards, Vol. IV, #1, Autumn 1983, p. 36.

3Ibid., “How to Get Your Students Singing,” John W. Scott, Vol. X, #1, Fall 1989, p. 8 and 9.

4Ibid., “Some Thoughts on ‘I have a voice like a frog so I can’t sing in my class’,” John A. Scott, Laurence I. Seidman, Vol. IV, #1, Autumn 1983, p.5.

5Ibid., Vol. X, #l, Fall 1989, p.9.

6Ibid., p.12-14.

7Folksong in the Classroom, “Adieu and Farewell – Folksongs are Magic,” Laurence Seidman, Vol. IX, #3, Spring 1989, p. 96-97.


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