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Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Elementary Music Lessons Using Pop Songs

I think most music teachers are on board with the idea of using modern/ pop music in their lessons, but the struggle comes in finding school-appropriate songs that are current enough to be cool and meaningful ways to incorporate them into lessons. Today I want to share a few of my favorite examples that I've used recently in my lessons, and how I use them.

1. Whopper Song: arranging

This song has been an ear worm for so many of my students I had to throw it in for my 6th grade lessons on arranging. Honestly for teaching arrangements, there is so much great material to pull from social media because people are always making "____ version"s of trending music- if you come across a school-appropriate trending song, try searching YouTube for "(song title) version" and see what comes up. For this year's lesson on arranging, I showed this original version, then showed this trap version and this classical version to give examples of how to take a song and arrange it for a different genre.

2. Chicken Wing: theme and variations

Last year I used this song as an example of theme and variations for my 4th graders. Of course I used other examples that have more distinct variations but this was a great way to quickly show students how the form is still in use today.

3. Waka Waka and No One: partner song

Did you know that you can sing the chorus of Waka Waka and No One as partner songs? These are definitely less current than my first 2 examples but they are "classics" that many of my students recognized as songs their parents listen to (I know, I felt old when they told me that too). This was a cool way to apply partner singing to more modern music for my 4th graders.

4. High Hopes: eighth / sixteenth note combinations

I used High Hopes with 5th grade to practice performing and identifying eighth/ sixteenth note combination rhythms. To be honest I used it too early- I thought it would be great because it has both combinations (with the eighth note first and last) but it was a little confusing when I used it as a way to introduce the rhythms. Next year I'll wait until they're more solid with what both combinations sound like before introducing this song. 

5. other general ways to use pop songs

Those are a few of my favorite more recent examples of specific songs I used to teach specific concepts, but I use current music all the time in my music classes for:
  • steady beat movement tracks (see my dance playlist here)
  • rhythm reading tracks
  • examples of major/ minor
  • examples of time signatures
  • examples of different tempi
  • examples of different dynamics
  • chorus songs for concerts (see my running list of songs I use for my elementary chorus here)
There are so many great songs out there, and so many great ways to use them, once you start looking! You can read more of my general tips for using pop songs in elementary music (and why I think it's important) in this post. If you have struggled to find ways to incorporate pop music in your lessons I hope this helps inspire you, and if you are already using current songs in your lessons I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

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