The fact that music even exists is one of the marvelous things about being alive. And Harvard professor Howard Gardner said that music is actually an intelligence. However, in school, music is the first program to be cut out of the budget if there’s a financial crush, and many kids get to take music only two or three times a week, if that. However, in a homeschooling environment, you have more options. In addition to providing direct music instruction on an instrument (piano, guitar, violin etc.), there are ways to integrate music directly into your child or teen’s academic program at home. Here are nine of these ways:
- Let Your Child or Teen Listen to Music While He Studies (If It Works). Some kids (including many diagnosed with ADHD) study better while listening to music with their headphones. Other kids get distracted by it. The only way to find out if it will work for your child or teen is by trying it for a few days and seeing how productive, accurate, and/or efficient your child is in doing their work. They may want to listen to their favorite music, but it may turn out that a different style of music (e.g. classical, jazz, New Age, blues etc.) actually works better, so try out different styles of music (including recordings of natural sounds like birds in a meadow, or water rushing in a stream), and see what happens!
- Bring Music into Geography Lessons. While geography seems like it would have mostly to do with maps and globes, the fact that many places are identified with music can provide another way for your child learn about different geographical locales. To learn the states in the United States, for example, your child could look up the different state songs on the Internet, or for countries, look up the national anthems. Many cities have their own songs (”I Left My Heart in San Francisco” ”New York, New York,” ”St. Louis Blues,” etc.), and natural formations also have been set to music (e.g. Ferde Grofe’s ”Grand Canyon Suite” or ”Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver). You can learn about the locations by studying the lyrics as you enjoy the music. Finally, you can take a tour around the world listening to different kinds of World Music.
- Explore Math Concepts Through Music. One of the earliest Western philosophers, Pythagoras, was both a mathematician and a musician, and he felt that the two fields were closely related. One way you can see the connections is through fractions. A musical score consists of, among other things, notes that are fractional in nature (e.g. whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes etc.), and so the idea of fractions can be approached through these musical valuations (e.g. an eighth note = 1/8 = one eighth the duration of a whole note = 1). Another way to study math and music is through ratios on a stringed instrument. Take a couple of rubber bands and stretch them out on a cardboard using thumb tacks to hold them in place. When stretched out at the same length, the two strings make the same tone, existing in a radio of 1:1. Now, stretch one rubber band to be twice as long as the first one. They are now in a ratio of 2:1. Play each one consecutively. Notice that the tone of the shorter one has changed. It’s actually gone up an octave. Now try putting them in a ratio of 3:2 (you can use a ruler to measure this out on the cardboard – if the longer rubber band is 12 inches long (4 x 3), make the other 8 inches (4 x 2). Now pluck the two bands simultaneously. They should make a harmonic sound. Pythagoras believed that the ideal interval was the perfect fifth which exists in a ratio of 3:2, and if you listen to some Gregorian chants, you can hear the almost divine quality of this ratio.
- Teach History Through the Songs of That Era. There’s no better way to bring history alive than through the music that was popular at that time. I remember Johnny Horton’s song The Battle of New Orleans, which recounts a battle in 1815 between the British and U.S. Armies. He was actually a high school teacher and wrote this song to teach his students about the battle (and won two Grammys in the process!). If your kids are studying the Civil War, then have them go on the Internet and collect a few songs from that era and study what the lyrics can tell us about the experience of fighting in that war (from the standpoint of each side). Of course the further you go back, the harder it will be to find recordings, in which case you’ll have to ask your kids to COMPOSE songs for those times!
- Bring Literature Alive by Studying the Musical Rhythms and Imagery Embodied in the Texts. One of the most common ways teachers help students study musical rhythms in texts, is the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s plays (repeat after me: ”daDA daDA daDa daDA daDA”). He used that meter whenever the upper social class (e.g. nobles, kings etc.) spoke. At the other end of the reading difficulty spectrum, Dr. Seuss used a characteristic rhythm for his books that he actually borrowed from the rhythm of a train clacking along the rails. Another way to approach music is through imagery. All sorts of things happen in novels and short stories, for example, that involve sound. Sometimes music is playing in the background (e.g. the jazz playing in The Great Gatsby, or the voices in Toni Morrison’s Beloved: ”[T]he voices of women searched for the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words”). Sometimes it’s something more subtle, a musical metaphor (e.g. from Maya Angelou, The caged bird sings/with a fearful trill/of things unknown/but longed for still/and his tune is heard/on the distant hill/for the caged bird/
sings of freedom) or the rhythms of nature as with the wind or a powerful storm. Be alert for music when it occurs in texts, and highlight it, especially for your highly musical learners.
- Learn Science Concepts by Putting them into a Chant or a Rap. I was teaching Boyle’s Law, developed by the British scientist Robert Boyle in the 17th century, which is all about the inverse relationship between pressure and volume in a chamber that has a fixed mass and temperature of gas. So, I wrote this, admittedly lame, but nevertheless serviceable ”chant”: When the volume goes down/The pressure goes up/The blood starts to boil/And a scream erupts/”I need more space/or I’m going to frown!”/The volume goes up/and the pressure goes down. You can have a lot fun with your kids creating your own musical versions of scientific laws and principles!
- Spice Up Your Child’s Language Learning with Songs. Learning languages like French, Spanish, or German, should be more than learning verb forms and other grammatical rules. Naturally you have to do a lot of that, but it’s also important to approach a language from the other end as well, in terms of wholes rather than parts. Songs provide an entry point into the language as a whole. In my own French language class in high school, we had a ”cafe” performance where I sang on the guitar (with appropriate black beret and, I think, sunglasses) the French song ”Le Déserteur” by Boris Vian, which is now emblazoned in my memory, as is the Spanish song ”Guantanamera,” taught to me in my late teens by a guy from Cuba while I was staying at a hostel in Amsterdam while touring Europe. For Spanish, you might have your kids search the Internet for songs by Santana, Ritchie Valens, and/or Gloria Estefan, translate them, and then sing the original versions along with the music. Similarly, with other languages, you can use the Internet to download the lyrics and then sing along. Once you’ve become fluent in the lyrics to a song, there’s a lot more motivation to find out about the original words and the grammar that brings the words together.
- Study the Science of Music. Sound is really vibrations, and the frequency of vibrations is what makes different sounds. Music, then, is the result of those different vibrations coming together in an infinite variety of ways. Some simple activities you can do to explore the relationship between music and sound include: making a paper cup and string ”walkie talkie” (that you can sing into), discovering whether sound travels under water, translating a string’s vibrations into color art, and making xylophone water jars at different pitches. For materials and instruction for these and other activities, go to the Kids Academy site.
- Explore the Music Found in Nature. This is a novel way to investigate natural history and the plants and animals that make up our world. Learning about birds’ songs, for example, can teach us a lot about how they communicate with each other, how different species have different types of music, and what parts of their structures or anatomy allow them to make their unique sounds. Classifying animals by the sounds (music) they make could be a novel way of learning about every animal from anteater to zebra. You can also have your child do experiments of the effect of certain types of music on animals (e.g. your pets) or on plants and flowers.
Naturally, you don’t want to forget that music is there to be listened to, played on instruments, sung to, and enjoyed for its own sake. If you can arrange it, plan music lessons for your Music Smart child on an instrument of their choice (and it may not be the typical piano, violin, or guitar lessons that they want, but instead a saxophone, tuba, or piccolo). If you’ve got the Apple product GarageBand, kids can easily compose their own songs using a variety of instrumental choices. And at the most basic level, make your own musical instruments using oatmeal boxes, wooden spoons, cans filled with beans, and many other fun instruments (for ideas on making them, go to the Red Tricycle website). Then get together as a family and have a real old fashioned hoe-down or jamboree!
For more information about Music Smart kids and how they learn best, see my book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences.
This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
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