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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Using Viral Songs in Elementary Music

How can we continue to include music that is "of the moment" in our music lessons now that trends come and go so quickly? And how do we really create meaningful lesson plans with these little snippets of songs that our students are most likely to recognize from social media clips that are under a minute? Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate those viral songs from social media platforms into my elementary music classes.

In some ways it's harder than ever to keep up with the music our students are listening to because trends come and go so much more quickly, but in other ways I think because we have these little snippets of songs that go viral on social media, they can be a really easy swap for other song material we may have in an existing lesson plan.

theme and variations/ arranging/ remixing

My favorite way to incorporate viral songs and snippets from social media is as examples of arranging/ remixing, or to show a modern example of theme and variations. So much of the music that people are using in viral videos are edited versions of old songs, or edited versions of a currently popular audio. Once a song has been viral for a minute, there is usually someone who will compile all of the different versions of a particular audio people have done into one youtube video. So it's easy to take a few isolated versions to show examples of arranging/ remixing- have students listen to each and identify which musical characteristics were preserved and which were modified- and the compilations are a perfect example of theme and variations (since these compilations almost always start with the original).

use in place of folk songs

There has been a lot of conversation around removing many of the "folk songs" that had been passed around so much in U.S. American music education circles based on the discoveries that many of these songs come from questionable origins. The problem with that has been that it's way harder to reinvent the wheel than to keep doing what you were doing! These simple little "folk songs" are really convenient to use in elementary music lessons because they are short little songs that are easy to learn quickly and easy for us as teachers to find a song with a specific musical element in it that we want to teach. Good news: the songs (or snippets of songs) that go viral on social media are also short and easy to learn (and in many cases even easier than folk songs for students to learn, because half of them already know it)! If I stumble on a song I know could work well, I stop and think through the concepts I'm teaching over the next few weeks in each grade and see if any of them are embedded in that song (usually a specific rhythm or pitch element).

identify musical characteristics

This idea goes along the lines of the first 2 examples, but it's important enough to mention as a separate point that, since students are often at least somewhat familiar with this music, it's an easy way to give students practice identifying specific musical elements and characteristics, whether it's an instrumental timbre, a pitch or rhythm element, tonality, or expressive elements like dynamics, tempo, and articulation. They work great as examples and using them helps answer the question of "why does this matter" before it is even asked.

keep in mind...

There are 2 important notes we need to keep in mind with all of this that are hopefully self-evident but worth mentioning: 1) obviously not all viral songs are appropriate for elementary-aged students, and 2) the only way to realistically be able to quickly swap in songs in our lesson plans as they are trending is if you have a solid foundation in concept-based lesson planning/ curriculum. Simply put, if you know what the purpose of an existing lesson plan is- if you know what concepts/ skills you're wanting students to learn through the song/ activity- you can easily identify those same concepts/ skills in other songs as they come across your radar and use that instead of the song you have in an existing plan. If you don't, that process will take hours of reinventing the wheel to figure out where you can add in a new song, and that's not something any of us has the time for!

If you want to learn more about concept-based curriculum writing and lesson planning (which, quite honestly, is my answer to many struggles we face in effective elementary music education), I highly recommend this free series I've compiled. It walks you through the entire process from the ground up with all the free templates you need to create a curriculum for yourself, or make sense of the one you have: 

I'd love to hear your thoughts, questions, and lesson ideas you've tried! Leave a comment below or email me to join the conversation!

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