Engage Your Students with a Little Ethnomusicology

Harp PlayerHave you heard of ethnomusicology? Unpacked, it simply means the study of any music style particular to a culture or subculture around the world. But you do not need a degree in ethnomusicology or comparative musicology to use it effectively in the classroom!
Ethnomusicology connects music to real-world events, making it a perfect addition to many humanity courses like history and literature. Using a broader definition, you can even apply music to classroom management and even some particularly tricky science and math concepts. Dive into the world of ethnomusicology and you’ll find there are engage your students from ear to ear.

Finding the Music in Every Subject

Ethnomusicology has applications far beyond the music classroom! Indeed, some of the greatest benefits can come from listening to the right type of music at the right time. No matter what subject you teach (or how much quiet you like), music at the proper time can engage students and improve the learning process.

Consider history, the class where ethnomusicology has the most to offer. Do you want to talk about the European colonization of South American lands? Start playing Latin American music! Many Latin American songs use traditional beats and musical instruments associated with ancient peoples like the Aztecs and the Mayans. However, when the Europeans came they also brought their stringed instruments and the concept of long-lasting melodies. The synthesization of the two sounds produced a new age of music, which was eventually influenced by American styles and finally created many of the modern Latin styles seen today.

Music can be used to trace the movement or colonization of nearly any people. Even when looking at the history of a single group, music has its purposes. What does Irish folk music tell us about views, desires, and issues in the most turbulent parts of Irish history? How did the Civil War influence American music? By connecting key history lessons with songs, you can help students swiftly make connections and remember important points.

Or what about ESL classes? Music is a universal language. It can help bridge the gap between English and other languages by giving students many elements they can connect with. In this case lyrics become important. You can use the right lyrics to explain grammar, idiom, and strange spelling. Students frequently prove far more willing to dissect and examine the grammar of a song than a boring text. Never forget that the right music can be used to teach some of the fascinating aspects of any living language.

Music can also help with basic math and literature. Lessons on tempo can help explain fractions. Lessons on rhythm can be useful for explaining classical poetry. Even if you teach classes completely unrelated to music, like the hard sciences, different styles of music can still play important roles – especially with younger children. Pick lively and encouraging music when students are working on projects or brainstorming ideas. There are lists of potential songs online, but you can also pick your own appropriate songs to use.

Music is not only for elementary school lessons. With a little ethnomusicology study, you can successfully incorporate music in high school and college classes on anthropology, sociology, literature, and psychology. Listening to ethnic music for anthropology is no big leap, but think about applying music to different literature or cultural movements. What songs (or styles) represent a changing point in cultural ideology? Did counter-cultural movements use music as well as literature to express their views? Consider these questions, and find a few songs to bring in for the next lesson.

Teach with Music: Starting Tips

Do Your Own Homework: Good use of ethnomusicology starts with homework. Research what songs are appropriate, most useful, or most evocative. Study lyrics. Look into school rules about playing music in the classroom. Only songs that have a real connection with what you are teaching, or that flawlessly create the right mood, will work in your favor.

Start Small: You do not need to plan out songs for the entire semester or arrive at class with a list of songs to play all at once. Instead, start with just one song at the right time, and see how the class responds.

Lyrics Have Their Place: If the lyrics connect with your historical or humanity lesson, feel free to use them. But when it comes to encouraging creativity or study sessions, choose music without lyrics to keep students focused.

Connect Music With Time: Playing a quick song to announce time shifts can be a wise starting move, especially for younger students. Link songs to the start of class periods, the beginning of break times, or with particular instructions like “get out the art supplies.”

Manage the Mood: Tempo and style are important considerations when picking the right songs. Think about the mood you are trying to encourage. Music during test times may be off limits, but you might surprise yourself by how many ideas you have on using music at other occasions.

Listen to Feedback: Find out what your kids think. If music helps them concentrate, learn, or think creatively, great! If they find it more distracting or annoying, then change tactics or use silence instead.

Additional Links to Help Out:

Edutopia: Using Music in the Classroom to Inspire Creative Expression

John Hopkins University: Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom

Using Brain-Friendly Music in the Classroom