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Songs in the classroom: The Why and the How

Page history last edited by Jeremy Houska 12 years ago

Below are suggestions posted to the PsychTeacher listserv. Complete conversations can be found using the PsychTeacher archives


Why use songs in the classroom?


  • Popular music is often relevant to course themes (Alan Strathman)
  • Illustrate concepts (Regan Gurung)
  • Examine how concepts are treated by the general public (Regan Gurung)
  • Stimulates interest and engagement (Annette Kujawski Taylor)
  • Puts students in a good mood (Regan Gurung)
  • Can energize students and instructors alike (Regan Gurung)
  • Another way to discuss topics to be covered (Regan Gurung)
  • Aids discussion when embedded within a lecture (Regan Gurung)
  • Can serve as informal conversation starters
  • May help build rapport with students
  • Create demonstrations based on the experience listening to the song (Tasha Howe)
  • Apply psychological concepts, theories, and phenomena to real life (Regan Gurung)


How can an instructor use songs in the classroom?


  • Use music to start classes (Regan Gurung)
  • Students learn that when the song ends, class begins (Clara Cheng)
  • Play a song for each new unit/section (Vicki Banyard)
  • Incorporate excerpts of songs into Power Point presentations (Jim Matiya)
  • Have students listen to the music and read the lyrics simultaneously (Chuck Schallhorn)
  • Including just a line from a song -- while not an in-depth analysis of a concept-- is a fun way to begin the lesson (Alan Strathman)
  • Songs as part of assignments


What types of assignments?


  • Prepare a list of questions to ask the students about how the song relates to the particular concepts. Students will often have novel interpretations and connections to other ideas (Chuck Schallhorn)
  • Have students compile a list of songs that relate to psychological concepts for extra credit (Laura Brooks)
  • Suggest students bring in songs that relate to topics of discussion. Students enjoy sharing music and discussing the messages they get from them (Christine Smith).
  • Students figure out how a concept/theory/phenomenon might be related to a song, then explain how the song illustrates it (Deborah Briihl)
  • Guide students to develop testable hypotheses and studies based on problems and issues presented in songs (Regan Gurung).


Challenges and Caveats


  • Are we as instructors out of touch with today’s pop music? (Kelly Birchfield Rich)
  • Boredom, lack of interest when students not familiar with the instructor’s choice of music? (Kelly Birchfield Rich)

Strategies to overcome this: discuss music ideas with someone closer to the students’ age range (Kelly Birchfield Rich)


  • Students have differing notions of classic/ old school music (Jim Matiya)

Strategies to overcome this: learn from each other’s tastes and backgrounds in music (Debbie Podwika). Draw a parallel between music and history (i.e., George Santayana’s quote Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.”) (Debbie Podwika)

  • It may be more difficult to find relevant songs for some units and topics (Annette Kujawski Taylor)

Strategies to overcome this: Use just an aspect of the song (e.g., the title, a line, a rhyme, a hook) rather than feeling as though it is necessary to do an in-depth analysis of the song lyrics. Students seem to enjoy “related songs”…even if only tangentially related (Sylvia Puente). Use an aspect of the music video as it helps relate the song to course content.

  • Colorful language, explicit lyrics, and/or suggestive music videos (David Pizarro)

Strategies to overcome this: Use “clean” or edited versions of the song. Avoid showing certain music videos. Keep in mind institutional culture and student backgrounds. 



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