Music has a strong effect on adults, and it can have an even stronger effect on a child’s growing brain. Teachers may want to harness the power of music on a child’s mind, without distracting them during important lessons. Music recommendations can help, especially when considering age differences between grade levels as kids get older.
The natural rhythms, patterns, and lyrics in a wide range of songs can help children learn new information, develop a better brain-body connection, and improve cognition and memory skills. Many kids even benefit socially from singing, learning instruments, or simply playing with music in the background. As a teacher, you can use music to keep kids focused, elevate or even out their mood during stressful periods, or help them memorize difficult new ideas.
We’ve outlined what classroom music is, how it helps us learn, and how to choose music for the classroom. Then, we’ve listed some of the best classroom songs, so you can create your own playlist.
What is Classroom Music?
Classroom music helps to set an atmosphere, reinforce learning, or promote relaxation in a classroom environment.
Whether you play music at the very start of the day as students arrive at school, during study periods, or to mark the beginning of break time, music can be a valuable tool in your classroom. Music can help to set a mood for your students.
• Study music promotes relaxation and allows students to overcome stress and anxiety while studying.
• Background music could help students to improve their focus while working through long study sessions.
• Relaxing music can help to ease study nerves and beat pre-exam anxiety.
• Additionally, music can help your students to absorb and retain more knowledge.
How Does Music Help Us Learn?
Music helps with the retrieval of information and memory retention.
When we listen to music, our brains light up like a Christmas tree as the sound stimulates multiple parts of the brain. Think about it: The more lights on your tree, the brighter your living room will be.
Consider your students’ brains like the Christmas tree. Music can activate parts of the brain that help students shine brighter and become more successful in their learning endeavors.
Music can motivate active participation during lessons. Classroom music can be a powerful tool for student engagement. Although there could be a student or two in your class that doesn’t want to sing, most children love music.
When compiling your classroom playlist, ask each student to name two or three songs they like. Then, try to incorporate some of these tracks into your classroom music playlist.
Music can help to promote kinesthetic learning. As a teacher, your goal for every lesson is student success. And music can help you incorporate kinesthetic learning. When you combine movement and motions with music, you help transfer information into your students’ long-term memories.
Music can help to focus on learning key concepts. If you take information from your educational syllabus and create a song with your students, you synthesize and summarize key information. This information will be much easier to remember once it’s been incorporated into song.
Music can help to build a positive classroom environment. This is especially true for elementary classes. For example, if you create a “good morning song” with your students and sing it together at the start of every day, you create a positive and fun start to everyone’s morning.
Benefits of Using Songs for the Classroom
Classroom songs bring a wealth of benefits to the overall learning experience.
Songs help to balance energy levels. Some children come to the classroom bursting with energy, while others can be very reserved. When you start the morning with an active song, it allows high-energy students to let off some steam while helping students with less energy to pep up a little.
Songs create a fantastic atmosphere. Many teachers spend hours decorating their classrooms and making them warm and conducive to learning. However, not as many educators spend time enhancing their classrooms with audio. Young learners can reap immense benefits from exposure to songs and singing at school.
Songs are an effective way to signal transitions. Students are easily distracted and often lose concentration, especially during transitions from one activity to another. However, if you use songs to signal changes in learning activities, it’s a great way to help students understand what’s going on (and it can give your voice a rest). Try incorporating different songs for different activities such as “cleaning up,” “making a circle,” and “getting out your books.”
Songs promote participation. In any classroom, you’ll find students with varying levels of intelligence. However, singing is an activity that children of all ability levels can enjoy equally. While less advanced students can bob along and dance to the music, more advanced students will learn the lyrics and sing along. At the same time, this type of inclusion reinforces a positive atmosphere throughout the learning environment.
Songs are “sticky.” When you incorporate songs into your teaching, you can rest assured these songs will get stuck in your students’ heads long after the end-of-class bell rings. This is one reason they’re such a great teaching tool. They make information easier to retain and recall at a later date.
These genres and artists can work in any classroom setting without developing a specific playlist:
Classical music: With many studies linked to improvements in intelligence associated with listening to classical tunes, it is no wonder this is the go-to choice. Playing classical music can reduce stress, improve cognition, and increase attention without diverting attention due to lyrics.
Guitar tribute players: Often instrumental music without lyrics, these artists can improve the attention of children in your classroom, as they play cover songs children might recognize. Songs tend to be slightly more upbeat or faster-paced, and this could be a good addition to intensive studying or test-taking.
They Might Be Giants: Although this band has many adult-focused albums, Tiny Toons used many of their popular songs in the 1990s to create animated short music videos, developing their first children’s audience. In 2009, TMBG released Science is Real, an album of educational songs geared toward kids.
Creedence Clearwater Revival: More familiar to adults than children these days, CCR still holds strong appeal thanks to their emotional, instrument-heavy, and consistently rhythmic songs. With many songs on the longer side, they are good background music as there are fewer distracting breaks between experiences.
Disney music: The Walt Disney Company is the leading producer of musicals for children of all ages. Even their older songs from their first animated musicals remain favorites among children.
Just as it is important to have songs to help kids focus, it can be equally important to offer songs that give kids a break from their classwork. As you shift between subjects or periods, or even find that your classroom is more agitated than normal, consider putting one of these songs on and encouraging your students to dance around the room:
“Footloose” by Kenny Loggins
“Get Back Up Again” by Anna Kendrick
“Applause” by Lady Gaga
“Roar” by Katy Perry
“What Do I Know?” by Ed Sheeran
What is the Best Music to Play in the Classroom?
We’ve gathered some classroom-appropriate songs for you to use with your students. Please note all songs selected are better suited for high school or college-age students. (The next section is dedicated to songs for younger students.)
Music With Words
“Someone Like You” by Adele
“Girl On Fire” by Alicia Keys
“Halo” by Beyonce
“Clocks” by Coldplay
“Shape of You (Super Clean Version)” by Ed Sheeran
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson
“Towards the Sun” by Rihanna
“Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira
"You Need to Calm Down (Clean Lyrics)” by Taylor Swift
Emmit Fenn - “Drive”
Moods - “Sincere”
Four Tet - “Lush”
Lane 8 - “Midnight”
Julian Calor - “Rain”
RUFUS - “Simplicity Is Bliss”
Bonobo - “Cirrus”
Tycho - “Epoch”
deadmau5 - “Snowcone”
Shlohmo - “Wen Uuu”
Music for Break Times
The Beatles - "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
Vanessa Carlton - “A Thousand Miles”
Lage Gaga - “Poker Face”
The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey - “Closer”
Elementary Classroom Playlist: Ideas and Suggestions
Now that we’ve shared some classroom music appropriate for older children, we’re going to share some ideas for elementary classroom playlists.
First, here are some tips for choosing appropriate music:
Opt for quiet songs. Find songs that remain quiet throughout the entire song. Many songs fool teachers by starting quiet, but soon, you are faced with a loud clatter, which can be disruptive and distracting for students. Always listen to the whole song first.
Check all lyrics. It’s not just swear words you’re looking out for. It’s inappropriate phrases that your kids could go home and sing. Always check the lyrics via a quick Google search to highlight anything you deem inappropriate.
Pick a slow tempo. The slower the tempo, the calmer the class will be. We’ll leave this decision up to you!
Create a nice mix. Make sure you provide an eclectic mix of artists and genres for your kids. This helps to hold their attention and keep them on their toes as they listen.
Create different playlists for different times of day. This helps to provide consistency for your students and control the classroom atmosphere.
Here are some great songs to add to your elementary classroom playlist.
“Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley
“Happy” by Pharrell Williams
“Roar” by Katy Perry
“Count on Me” by Bruno Mars
“Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered” by Stevie Wonder
“ABC” by Jackson Five
“Clocks” by Coldplay
“Best Day of my Life” by American Authors
“Good Vibrations” by Beach Boys
“You’re Welcome” by Dwayne Johnson
“We’re Going to Be Friends” by Jack Johnson
“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves
"Learning to Fly” to Tom Petty
“All Star” by Smash Mouth
Additionally, thousands of songs help early learners with language, counting, alphabet, colors, animals, and word association.
Young Children & Music
For children younger than elementary school age, repetition, particularly with rhymes and music, are the best tools to help them learn. Many preschool and younger teachers know that children respond to songs that they can sing with each other, by themselves, or in a class group repeatedly, every day. They can learn new information this way, while they build memory skills, physical skills, and even social skills.
Here are some of the best songs for young children:
The Hokey Pokey
The Itsy-Bitsy Spider
Ring Around the Rosey
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
As children get older and are exposed to more advanced courses of study, retaining information is vital for success. Teachers spend more time introducing new subjects into the classroom, which can overwhelm some students.
Integrating music into education can help students to learn powerful study habits. As they learn to concentrate and absorb information, music can promote discipline and enhance the overall learning experience.
As teachers, we want to challenge each student appropriately to meet state standards while encouraging higher thinking. Classroom music is a tool that can be used to engage each student and reinforce learning pathways for deeper understanding.
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