Reflecting on Music in the Classroom

A few months ago Rob at the TESOL blog posted a nice article against music in the classroom.

One problem I have with blogging is commenting: I either have nothing to say or enough to say that it’s basically another post. I picked one thought and left it as a comment on the original post. Below I’ve turned my other thoughts into their own post.

8713899106_5227c3d7ceI have sparingly used music in the classroom to highlight some of the very features Rob says it distorts, especially stress (word- and sentence- level) and connected speech.

One lesson I remember fairly well was using “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin in an academic listening and speaking class, so I just listened to it again with those elements of spoken English in mind.

Now I’m of two minds. On one hand, in this song many function words are mumbled and many content words are given at least a beat if not more; it’s nice and high-contrast that way. The stressed syllables of the stressed words also tended to be on the stressed beats (or syncopated nearby). Yes it’s distorted, but it by and large emphasizes normal English prosody, and that can be very valuable to help students hear the music of spoken English.

On the other hand, for all the “natural” prosody in the song, there is some “unnatural” pronunciation and prosody as well. I think I glossed over it in picking the song. What I gloss over, the students might pick up on (and vice versa).

Also, even with the emphasized “natural” prosody, emphasis is still distortion. For example, my colleague Jody’s former students all called her Judy. She told us that when she changed jobs, she introduced herself very slowly and clearly so her new students would hear the “o” properly. “And that’s what they all call me here: Joooooohdy.”

I don’t think listening to this song every day for a year would cause my students to start talking the way Robert Plant sings. However, I think I didn’t have enough respect for the various points of confusion mentioned in the against article.

In the future I need to specify exactly what the students should be listening for, highlight examples from the song, and relate them immediately to spoken English.


Photo Credit: Clive Darra on Flickr

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Journal: Cheesy ESL Songs… Kind of Rock

During my planning this weekend, I realized that the students need to have some sort of memorized reference for forming questions and possessives. 

Based on the fact that I can’t remember all the days of the week in Russian but I can remember how to say in Russian, “Do you want me to blow up all the stars that disturb your sleep?” (from the song “Khochesh” by Zemfira), I decided that using a song this week would serve my purposes best.

Our text series actually comes with a whole book of pop-style songs, as well as both normal audio CDs and a karaoke CD.  There’s a song for each level in each unit, and seriously, I was so excited when I read the lyrics of the song.  They’re nothing profound, but they the exact vocabulary, phrases, and demonstrations of possessive nouns and adjectives (i.e. Emily’s and her) I was looking for.  Memorizing these lyrics will help them understand and use the language we’re working on.

Then I listened to it.  Ouch.  It was the dumbest sounding thing I’d ever heard.  It was seriously painful.  I was really hesitant to stand behind anything so trite and hopelessly cheesy. 

But they need what it had to offer English-wise, so we’ll be studying it every day this week.  This is not, after all, a music composition class.  Today I took a deep breath and dove in.  I confessed to the class that I was scared to use this style of music because I think it’s bad music.  I also told them that the lesson is very good, and that they’ll remember it forever. 

Regardless of my lukewarm introduction, they seemed to enjoy it.  Some students were even singing along, some tone deaf and some not.  🙂

So I’m glad I tried out this song thing.  I’m not quite as glad that it’s super catchy and will be in my head all day. 

PS – A better Zemfira song (in my opinion) is London.  She’s a pretty incredible singer.