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Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Using Pop Songs in Elementary Music

I love being able to incorporate a broad range of musical genres in my elementary general music classes, and while there are plenty of "classics" from bygone eras that have stood the test of time and remain in my repertoire, I also think it's important to show students that the music they're listening to in their day-to-day lives is relevant to everything they're learning in class as well. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use current music in my elementary general music lessons.

First can I tell you a story? 

My first year in my current position, I had a 6th grader who was constantly disruptive and disengaged in class. Whenever I would try to problem-solve with him, he insisted that he hated all music. Multiple times I insisted he MUST listen to SOME music, and he always insisted he did not. I couldn't figure out how to get through to him. Then one day I saw him outside at dismissal waiting to be picked up and he was wearing headphones- I ran over shouting, "A ha! I knew it! You're listening to music!" and asked him what he was listening to. He hesitantly told me the name of the rap artist and, when I asked to hear, he quickly found a spot in the song that was "clean" to play for me. When I proudly proclaimed that I had caught him, he looked at me with genuine confusion and told me he didn't know I was talking about "his" music, he thought I was talking about "music class music". No matter how many ways I had asked him, it never once crossed his mind that my definition of "music" included the stuff he listened to outside of school.

That's the real heart of why it is critical for us to include current music our students are listening to in our music classes. 

And I know, there are many reasons why including current music in elementary school is challenging, mostly because the content of the music many of our students are listening to is just not appropriate for school. But I promise you the songs are out there- though they may be harder to find sometimes- and it is worth the effort of staying on top of current trends and looking for that needle in a haystack to make that connection for our students.

OK so now let's talk about the how- that's the easy part honestly! The most common ways I use current music in my lessons are:
  • As a listening example of a musical element we are studying, to have students aurally identify (tonality, rhythm or pitch elements, instrument timbres, genres/ styles)
  • As a choral piece for my choirs to add some solo singing and parallel harmony (I have a whole post on this you can read about here)
  • As a track to practice steady beat movement with Kindergarten
  • As a track to have students read rhythms or improvise with
  • To sing or play an excerpt on instruments to practice a musical concept that is in the song (usually a rhythm or pitch element), especially with upper grades
  • As a starting point for students to create an arrangement
Any time I come across a new school appropriate song, especially those that have a positive message, I try to make a note to myself to remember to include it. Often I'm just adding it to my rotation of steady beat movement and rhythm practice tracks, but I always try to do a quick analysis to see if there are any clear rhythmic, pitch, or other elements in the song that would be good to use it as an example of. 

What are your favorite ways to incorporate current songs in your elementary music lessons? What songs have you been loving in your class lately? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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