How Teaching with Music Benefits Student Learning

March 9, 2017

Contributed by Elizabeth Draper, Music Director for Cantata Learning

Instead of asking ourselves “why should we have music in our classrooms,” wouldn’t it be better to ask ourselves “why not?” Why wouldn’t music be an active part of a student’s learning experience? Music benefits learning in many different ways. Throughout human history and in most cultures, music and learning have gone hand in hand. Music is an effective way to engage and manage a classroom, promote listening skills, and encourage creativity and self-expression. It promotes social development and an emotional bond with those you are creating music with. Creating and listening to music causes the release of dopamine in our brains. Learning through music is an effective way to bridge subjects and comprehend larger concepts.


So, why not sing our lessons? Why wouldn’t we use music as a learning tool in our classrooms and libraries?

When learning a subject through music and song, our brains are using both of its hemispheres. This creates holistic comprehension as well as easier long-term memorization and recall. An integration of lyrics and melody in song is achieved through the combined action of two discreet systems for auditory-tonal and auditory-verbal working memory, based on a bilateral activation of the temporal and frontal cortex and of the supplementary motor area (Graham F. Welch

I’m sure I’m not alone, but I’ve found songs to be the most effective mnemonic device. Can you imagine learning your ABC’s or all 50 states and capitals without the handy tool of song? Why not use melody, rhythm, and rhyme to learn other even more complicated concepts such as odd numbers, letter blends, or even coding?

In my experience, I also find that using songs as a way to introduce a new idea or topic is an effective way to engage kids. It’s almost a way of “tricking” them into becoming excited about something they otherwise may have dismissed as something they had no interest in. They are more apt to keep an open mind.

Cantata Learning has an amazing assortment of songs and books to aid in teaching and learning about a wide range of subjects through song. Chocolate Chimpanzees, which teaches about the “ch” letter blend, is one of my favorites. This book fuses global rhythms and a clever story filled with characters all focused around the “ch” sound. There’s even a “charango playing cheetah.” The charango, of course, being a string instrument from Peru. Not only can you cover the “ch” letter blend, but this book can also open doors to further discussion about South America, string instruments, and other cultures.

Another example, Cantata Learning’s She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain, is a really lovely version of a timeless classic. This recording features the 5-string banjo. The banjo itself can open a whole discussion involving a variety of subject areas.

  • Geography – the banjo is originally an African instrument. This can open doors to any discussion about Africa.
  • American history – it was introduced to America by slaves and then found it’s way into American folk music as well as early jazz.
  • Science and STEM – What is it made of? How does it create sound? Can we create our own string instruments? How is it similar to and different from the violin, which is also in this song?

See what I mean? The possibilities for critical thinking, discussion, and activities are truly endless when you incorporate song and music!

So, why wouldn’t you want to offer students the opportunity to learn through music?