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Links to Divisional Headings

Why Do We Need Music
Language Instruction
Curriculum Development
Staff Attitude Development
Cultural Education and Information
Understanding and Acceptance of Other Cultures
Self-Esteem Enhancement and Learning



Music has been introduced as a positive entity for use in a number of different situations. Now we turn to its specific uses in the classroom. These can be categorized in seven areas: teaching about and providing information of people in a variety of cultures; promoting understanding and acceptance of others; raising self-esteem and pride of students; helping teachers develop positive attitudes towards all students; assisting with language instruction; and developing a more well-rounded curriculum in which a variety of people, places, ideas, and activities are studied.

Though all of these are important, the last two items will receive brief acknowledgment while more emphasis will be placed on the learning and understanding of cultural considerations, both of students and teachers. One more important note: there may be overlaps between categories, which make it difficult for pureness therein. Some information may fit in more than one area: especially the areas of understanding and education which may be considered part of a reciprocal process and not standing all alone on the continuum.

One other point: since I am involved with the ESL program my focus may lean more heavily toward that aspect of "culture". These ideas and concepts are, however, important in dealing with any type of cultural differences: religions, sexual preference, disability, gender, ethnic group, or age group.



In order to function in American society it is important for children to learn to speak English, the major language of our country. A whole paper could be devoted to that subject alone. Teachers have many strategies in helping students become more proficient in reading, writing, listening, and speaking--and music can figure in with any or all of these areas.

Songs involve hearing in that as the notes and words are vocalized those are picked up by the ear and sent to the brain for processing, synthesis, and future usage. More vocabulary is acquired, both through hearing and reading the words. These can each lead to more practice with pronunciation of words. (Facio, unknown date)

In practical application, pop music is very helpful in language learning. These songs, loved and sang with joy and enthusiasm by young folks have a number of benefits: they have many repeated words; the words are short; the language is similar to conversations,statements and questions; and they are sung more slowly and with pauses that allow words to "sink in". (Lems, 2001)

The popularity of Karaoke machines ties in well with music in language instruction. Children love to come to the front of the room and get a turn with the microphone. This repetition reinforces vocabulary, grammar, and logic in the learning process--and it is just plain fun! (Adkins, 1997)

There is a plethora of information on the net with many exciting ways of using music to teach language. Madylus (2003) is just one example. On the One Stop Site she provides many activities, songs and ideas to use in a very practical fashion. She believes in the efficacy of using songs and music because: they are memorable, provide repetition, involve active and physical components of learning, highlight phrases and pieces of language that are easily recalled in other settings, channel natural energy, and alleviate stress.



Bacer is quoted by Novelli (1994) as saying:
"Music is a part of people's culture (and is) the way people express themselves. (It) belongs in the classroom and integrating (it) into the curriculum is a piece of cake."

Curriculum should never remain stagnant, especially in this ever-changing world. It is very important to flow with the needs of the schools and the children in them and to readjust core curriculum accordingly and regularly.

Songs can be included in classes of all kinds. Counting songs in Spanish for math; Chinese poetry that can later be set to music for English composition class; folk dances for P.E. class; examining instruments and musical styles by finding their countries of origin on the map for geography. (Novelli, 1994)

Thematic units can be developed with music as their center. For example, regarding weather a song called "Rain Clouds Have Come Our Way" is good for teaching about the monsoon season phenomenon. Geography can come into play when discussing where the monsoon seasons actually occur in the world. For music class such songs can be used in movement--eg. Rain clouds and birds. (Murphy-1, 1991)

Another instance would be the theme of powwows. In art, pictures of the event could be studied; in science, corn, how it grows, and the important part it plays in the festival; English and literature, games and folktales; social studies, the different dances, their meaning, and accessories such as rattles; geography, maps of where various American Indian tribes have lived; music, songs such as "The Moccasin Game Song"; and physical education, hoop dances and other sports. (Edwards, 1998)

In specific content areas music can be a wonderful tool. In history, for example one can find songs for almost every event that has happened. For instance U.S. history can be taught with songs from Johnny Horton--such as "North to Alaska". The words will help the children remember facts and call them to mind easily in a fun way. Songs can weave history in a special way as does Peter Rowan's, Awake Me in the New World; the history of the humble banjo on its way to American country music is traced through events involving Spanish, American Indian, and African cultures. Furthermore, rock and roll is very much a part of our day and age and to learn that it evolved from the influences of many cultures is important. This not only is interesting but also helps those cultures feel more an important part of the United States because of the contributions of their ancestors. (Polisar, 1994)

So, having music as part of the curriculum can teach much new information to students in all walks of life and change both their viewpoints and those of the staff. There are many more important reasons to have music as part of a good curriculum.

Murphy refers to the hidden curriculum where he believes most gains occur. These embrace the areas of: open-mindedness, tolerance, interracial understanding, and international goodwill which, it is hoped would show the way to an integrated community. (Murphy-1,1991). In another journal Murphy adds a few more to the list: "counterbalance racism and prejudice. produce social/racial harmony..(and) recognition of richness and diversity of traditions and achievements of many different (cultures) of people." (Murphy-2, 1991)

One point of caution: In planning the curriculum it is important that the classroom teachers have an intimate knowledge from which the music comes. If such is not the case, there are many people in the community who could be called upon for assistance. They can provide information to the teachers, come into the classroom and share their expertise, or even lead groups in learning and singing or playing music. Both the students and the volunteers will gain from this experience. (Murphy-1,1991).

To sum up this section, I share the words of Dr. Jean Feldman: "When you give children a song you give them a gift that will last for all time!" (Feldman, 2003).



It is only in recent years that teachers and other staff members have had such a multiplicity of cultures present in their classrooms. As a child in the 50's and 60's there were absolutely no students other than Vanilla-Skinned Caucasians in my classes. Today, not to have other cultures in my classrooms would seem an oddity. Even though this is the case the vast majority (i.e. over 80%) of education students are female and white. At the same time, about one third of K-12 scholars are from minority groups.(Chisholm, 1994)

As human beings and individuals teachers. like anyone else, have built-in sets of expectations, learned prejudices and biases, and a plethora of misinformation and/or lack of knowledge of their students. Teachers are the leaders of the classrooms. Their attitudes and behaviors will definitely affect the students and set the tenor for learning. Those attitudes can only reflect what they have been taught and exposed to previously,and, if negative can guide the children down an entirely wrong and erroneous pathway to a less than affirmative destination.

Training for teachers today's multicultural classroom needs to address and fill in the gaps in their previous knowledge about various cultures. A great many prospective teachers have not interacted with those members of other than mainstream America. They have not traveled nor been exposed to languages other than their own. If that is the case, the likelihood of understanding and acceptance is much reduced, and a feeling of distance can interfere with optimum classroom instruction. All too often teacher education programs simply seem to pretend that their students will teach in all-white, middle-class settings. This is not fair to the future educators nor the students they teach. Preparation needs to include direct contact with meaningful parts of other cultures such as music, stories, art, and myths. This can be of great support in understanding and positive reception of peoples in all social, gender, and ethnic groups. (Chisholm, 1994)

So, then, it's important for the teacher of today, if they have not already done so, to take workshops or classes in cultural sensitivity. In these, they will have the opportunity to learn about the history, lives, background, and customs of the students who will be in their care. (Powell, 1996) All of these items will have a bearing on how a student acts, learns, and perceives in the classroom setting. Music can be an important conduit toward this goal.

If a teacher understands these things s/he can make the classroom a happier and more productive place for students of other cultures; in addition she can set the pattern for all students to be more accepting of and patient with each other. This has the potential of extending outside the classroom to the community.

Another point worth mentioning here is that a teacher needs to come into this with a willing attitude. It takes openness and dedication to teach in such a setting. It is relatively easy to learn about and even teach about different cultures but actually putting these ideas into practice and walking amidst and schooling flesh-and-bone students takes a little more doing and is a challenge many do not choose to accept. (Teicher,1997)

Comparing an attitudinal pre-and-post test done with the students will help to determine the success of a program in cultural awareness and sensitivity. (Murphy, 1991) Results should be studied carefully and adjustments made accordingly. It would not even be a bad idea for teachers to self-test periodically to make sure hints of prejudice were not creeping back into their own outlooks.

One other important point is this: Teachers and others often coach their students to see an individual as a person, not as a color. While this is good in some ways in the sense that every human being should be treated equally regardless of the pigment of the skin, there is another area to remember. As Gisella Castro says, "If you...don't see me as a Latino, then you aren't seeing who I am a big part of me is being are negating who I am." (Power, 1996) To ignore the diversity would deprive students of a wonderful chance to learn and grow, to see the beauty that exists in peoples of myriad hues, to share new relationships and the fun and exciting activities bound up in these cultures. A view is opened on the world that might otherwise be missed.



People of other cultures have introduced a wide variety of musical instruments and forms. Drums come from Africa and Brazil. dances from American Indian and Chinese culture; rock music from Latin America; steel pans from West India; jazz; and many many more.

"The diversity of music (brought from other countries) is breathtaking," states Seeger. Unfortunately, however, music classes in the past and even some in the present tended to overlook any except that with European background. In so doing the classes reflected an unconscious hierarchy where only the music of the majority was deemed important. Valuable opportunities to experience beauty and vibrancy could have shared were forever lost. Seeger goes so far as to call this loss impoverishment of the world of music. (Seeger. 1992) It is to be hoped that this trend will soon be permanently reversed.

Music can assist in many subjects such as history. Just for example, the study of Latin American music reveals a fascinating blend of cultures ranging from French settlers to African slaves. The past records of these people is embedded in the words, the notes, and the rhythms of their music. It is there just waiting to be unearthed and studied by the student of today. Music can be viewed as a portal to the past and a skyway to the future. (Schmid, 1994)

There is an enormous variety of rituals surrounding life in many parts of the world every event from birth to puberty to death is celebrated or recognized. A great share of these proceedings have songs embedded in them. So to study music is to be closely allied to the historical events of many. It is an opportunity to learn as well as to honour and learn to understand the culture. (Page, 1995).

Students, both native born and immigrant, may feel shy and nervous at first about trying new kinds of music. It can be compared to sampling new food dishes. Trying a little here, a little there is not very difficult and soon this direct experience will cause total involvement. One may not like some parts of the music or even every type of music. Just having had the chance to be surrounded by it and be absorbed into it directly will produce a deeper level of knowledge to be embodied. (Seeger, 1992)

Another point to remember is that members of a particular culture may like and enjoy those of another. They do not restrict themselves to just one type of music. An example of this would be an American Indian who likes country western music. (Seeger, 1992). So it should not come as a surprise to see the various groups sharing a common interest in a type of music. This, in fact, will produce another bond between new students and their classmates.

One other thing to remember about teaching new songs is to make sure it is done in a slow, positive way so that kids will not lose their poise. First teach something about its background, explaining any unfamiliar words and create a design to enjoy it. Then work with it in short sections, giving them plenty of time for them to learn the words. This will make it worth your while to spend class time in such type of learning. (Page, 1995)



It can be difficult to communicate deep emotions and feelings to those around us, particularly if they have been raised in another culture than ourselves. Music has the capability of opening windows of understanding through which others can get a clearer view of many, components of another culture: things such as careers, cultural atmosphere, political concerns, and language to name a few. (MENC, 1993)

In order for this understanding to take place, the thoughts and ideas need a communication vehicle in order to pass through the above-mentioned window. Music is a vital part of the means for this to be accomplished. The reason for its success lies in its being a powerful force "speak(ing) directly to the emotions.."and hurdl(ing) the barriers which separate people and..nation(s)." (Schneider, 1962).

Through the window glimpses can be caught of different nationalitys' cultural heritage: how the people entertain themselves, find mates, worship, celebrate occasions, and earn money to sustain their families. Music is a way of expressing feelings and bringing others closer to their lives.

The students need to be directed to scrutinize music from the viewpoint of the society which spawned it. As in reading, the context of the music needs to be noticed for complete comprehension and understanding of it to occur. A song may be mainly an entertainment or leisure time activity; it may be part of a religious ceremony or other ritual; it may be a part of a society which keeps it together. (Murphy, 1991) An example of the latter would be music of the African slaves; their work songs while enduring servitude in the fields of the masters--which gave them hope, courage, and a sense of cohesiveness.

Children will notice the universal themes that music conveys---those that are basically the same cross culturally even though they are expressed in different ways. Some of these are: the beauty of nature, relationships such as hate and love, seasons and holidays, and friendship.(Conlon, 1992) Other attitudes are embodied such as attitudes between gender; values; sensitivity; importance of all people to the world; self-acknowledgement of growth. There are, again, some very basic similarities but also some rather large differences, and music paves the way to open discussion about these topics. (Edwards, 1998)

It is to be noted that concentrating on similarities instead of differences provides a much more unifying element. Using music it is easier to discover likeness while still rejoicing in diversity. Besides this, points of reference can be found so people can identify with each other. If people feel a gulf between themselves and a resulting lack of understanding there can be discord and hostility. When they are drawn to feel and recognize that many ideas are basic to man cultures across the world, it creates a new and beautiful bond. (Schmid, 1994).

When we make music together, we share with one another.. to teach compassion, the act of making the world a more beautiful place through caring for each other). And yes, music is beauty but it is also vital for the very survival of our planet. In music resides power to keep members of the human race more concerned and helpful to the needs of others around the globe. Instead of sitting on separate little islands, music draws people together to cooperate with and rely on others. (Page, 1995)

Another step is to involve students in active participation in music and of other cultures. In one case involving the Pakistani culture, it was noted that after learning their music, other classmates more willingly accepted them as friends and participants in games. (Anderson,2000)

This latter point ties in, I believe, to the concept of preservation of culture. If people are accepting of one other, there will be a greater wish and desire to stay close to the roots and not move away from them due to shame or embarrassment. Furthermore people who have learned about new cultures may become so interested they themselves may adopt some of their features and thus carry on tradition by adoption as it were. In fact further development and evolution of the culture may even occur. Murphy says that this can take place through experience and creation.. (Murphy-1, 1991)

It is important to remember that direct contact and involvement with the music will have the greatest benefit as it will have a bigger chance to being internalized in the student. As noted elsewhere, a native of the culture or someone very well versed in it should serve as a research person and participant in these learning experiences. Another thing is to make sure that you do not overwhelm the students with several cultures at once. Pick several prominent ones reflective of your own classroom makeup. (Murphy-1, 1991)

Using this approach will help communicate the essence of lands and peoples in a way that mere words alone never could.



Students who have come to America from other countries may feel very timid or even ashamed and embarrassed, particularly if their culture is so vastly different that their behaviour and beliefs may seem very odd or unusual. In fact they themselves may not totally understand why certain things are done.

Using music that they bring in from home or those the teacher has collected, a bridge can be built. Lessons using various songs to describe and identify history and culture may increase their sense of pride and help them see the historical importance of things that happened in their culture and how it benefited and/or shaped the world. (Facio, Date Unkpnown)

As tradition is studied with music as its center, a profound emotional bond can be forged. Students can look deep into their roots and reexamine both who they are as individuals and how they fit into their extended culture. In this way their identities will be fortified and broadened. Providing this kind of learning atmosphere where a person is free to seek out and formulate their own identity is so important. They can be confident and feel good, recognizing better who they really are and from this can pass on and contribute their knowledge to their classmates and the world around them. (Page, 1995)

When a child brings music to the classroom s/he can feel importance in the task of transcribing their songs to English and thus sharing them with the class in a deeper and more meaningful way. Music is often so much a central and pivotal point of family traditions that much is gained from this exchange. Most importantly the child will feel a wonderful sense of validation regarding his own home and culture (Levene, 1994)

Learning about varied cultures does not help just the self-esteem of those from them, but can offer the opportunity for classroom-wide-self-examination. As other unfamiliar music is studied (or even music of a person's own culture) it can set in motion a process of self-examination as the mind and cognitive processes do a kind of matching and renovation between previous and current schema as related to the musical forms and ideas. Relationships, suppositions, associational choices, standards, morals, and opinions--all these and more can be examined in the light of new or reprised information and ideas that are linked to the brain through music. This allows for reevaluation and potential for growth, stepping forward into new territory.(Elliott, date known)

To conclude I offer this statement from Will Schmid (1994): "The strongest argument for music and the other arts in today's multicultural curriculum is that they are basic to human existence. They are a unique record of where each culture has been; what is valued; how it lives, feels. and communicates; and sometimes even its dreams and visions for the future."



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