August 30, 2012 by mtteaton
Music can be a powerful force in the world of education. As a young lad, I typically found it easier to connect with a particular topic if a teacher or other educator was able to introduce me to relevant music to the topic at hand. This cognitive connection that I have made with music and learning has continued throughout my life. If I am reading for class or writing a paper, I almost always listen to music to go along with the work I do. Heck, right now as I type this, I have Blitzen Trapper’s American Goldwing playing in the background. For me, when I hear those sounds, the wheels in my brain really start to turn.
I recently co-produced a short documentary film that promoted a local historical story in my area. This film will soon make its debut on YouTube, so I will be sure to share it here when it is available. I really enjoyed working on this project and was confident that our project team would make a great film, but when I saw the first cut I was worried. The film didn’t have much punch, not much excitement at all. Thankfully, our director and editor found some fantastic upbeat music that plays during the film’s opening credits and here and there throughout the film. When you hear the pounding drums and the bounce of the tune, the film gets you excited. Excited to learn.
Historical period music can play a vital role in education as well. At the Dickinson County Heritage Center in Abilene, Kansas, we often have musicians play during our Chisholm Trail Day Festival in October. One of my favorite musicians that comes every year is Dave Zerfas, though I suppose I should refer to him as “Zerf” when talking about his music. Zerf is a guitar player and a singer of cowboy songs and Kansas ballads. He dresses as a 1860s-1870s cowboy complete with a six-shooter strapped to his hip. Through his music, Zerf is able to give audiences a snapshot of western history, an aural experience that would be impossible to find through a history book.
Another fantastic way I have seen music inspire people to learn is through songs that relate to an educational topic. I once shadowed a middle school history teacher who played Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song to kick off a lesson on Vikings. When that guitar kicks in, it’s hard not to get into the song, so this proved to be a great way to get the kids excited about a topic.
Fact-based songs can be a lot of fun too. I’m especially partial to the music of They Might Be Giants. Particularly their song about James K. Polk.
Really, there are tons of ways for music to be used as an educational resource. Overall, I would say I have many teachers to thank for my love of connecting music with history and education. Oh, and also the Animaniacs.
What about you? Do you have a favorite educational song?