How to teach music

Literature can be used to introduce the story upon which a piece of program music is based. Programmatic music can be selected for grade-level appropriateness, for music related to another content area to practice an interdisciplinary approach to teaching the arts, or for other criteria such as current events or student or teacher interest in a piece of music or a particular composer.

After selecting a piece of programmatic music, introducing it with literature, and playing it for students, use reader response questions and prompts to lead a discussion. What were you thinking about as you listened to the music? Tell about anything the music reminded you of from your own life as you listened. What did you wonder about the music? Tell how you heard the story in the music.

For younger students, create a T-chart to record student ideas in two columns. In the left-hand column, list the Sights/Story, and in the right-hand column, list Sounds/Music. Older students can write responses in a double-entry journal. A double-entry journal uses a page with a vertical line down the middle, similar to a T-chart. In the left-hand column, they can note the sights or part of the story they hear in the music, and in the right-hand column, they can write the sounds of the music that correspond to the sights and the story. Older students can write in their journals while listening and share what they have written in a small group first; then a spokesperson from each group can share what they discussed with the whole class.

You can continue writing in music journals with students and discussing the journal entries, or you can choose from several ways to extend the experience of listening to and writing about programmatic music: You can read literature related to the story or to the author of the story that forms the inspiration for the music; read, write, and learn more about the piece of music, the composer, or the period of history in which it was written; or create interdisciplinary projects related to the music, such as creating a dance choreography, dramatizing the story with the music, or responding to the music with the visual arts.


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