Music in the Classroom


I love music.  Love it.  As a result, I want to share it with people and one of the best outlets for that can be the classroom.  But as I have experimented with this, I’ve found that only certain music works, and moving within the confines of what is traditionally used sometimes frustrates me.  Over time, I have realized Top 40 songs will be too distracting and experimental/progressive music can be too weird and a disturbance.  Studies show that classical music is the best option for the classroom, as there are really no words to sing to, and it stimulates student’s brains.  Is there anything other than classical that really works though?

When I was student teaching, we were starting a Document Based Question (DBQ) group activity one day.  This was a new assignment for our students, and for a class that was already typically slow to get started each day, the change in desk arrangement would be an additional curve ball.  The re-arrangement was necessary for this group work though, so I wanted some way to create a soothing environment as students walked into a newly designed classroom.  I decided to go with Mozart, and played that over the speakers as students walked in from the hallway.  The result was a surprisingly smooth transition for students, who also had to find what group they were assigned to and sit at the right table.  As we started the DBQ and students got down to business, I put Mozart back on, and even though I got a couple of gripes, it went really well and the class was engaged in the material.

Miles Davis

In more recent months, at another school I have been working at, I have tried playing music other than classical for students while they work on projects or assignments.  Jazz such as Miles Davis has been used, The Beatles, and even some innocuous indie rock music like Radiohead, Deerhunter, and Real Estate was played.  I’ve had varying degrees of success with all of them.  So I wonder what other teachers have used in their classrooms, and especially in the social studies?  I have thought about playing music from the time period being studied, but that would only work for certain units.

Here is a small list of music/artists that have worked for me.

The Beatles, Mozart, Bach, Miles Davis, Local Natives, Radiohead, KRS-One (clean), Real Estate, Bob Dylan, The Weepies, John Coltrane, Jack Johnson, Simon & Garfunkel.


Tell me what has worked for you…

About Pat

Pat Riley is student teaching at Amundsen High School in Chicago's Lincoln Square neighborhood for the fall of 2010. He will be teaching Contemporary American History, starting just before the Civil War, as he works towards his Type 9 certificate with an endorsement in History and hopefully Business. Previously, he worked in public relations and business development for a law firm in Chicago, but decided his passion was education. Prior to working in public relations and business development, Mr. Riley received a B.S. in Kinesiology with a focus in Sports Marketing from Indiana University. Follow his blog at Musings on Apples and Education.
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