Have you been wanting to weave pop songs into your music lessons, to bridge the gap between what students have been learning in music class, and what they hear on the radio? Wondering how to include more relevant music? There are many reasons to use pop music in your music classroom, like the reasons listed here. In this blog post, I'm detailing five ways to include pop songs in your music lessons.
One note: you will need to be careful about which songs you choose. When I find a song that I'm thinking about using, I always look up the lyrics to make sure they are school appropriate.
#1: Movement activity
A simple way to include pop music in your music lessons is with a movement activity. With my K-2 students, I like to do an activity called “Follow me.” For this, I have students follow my beat motions. I typically do a beat motion (i.e. tapping my head, tapping my shoulders, jumping up and down) for 8 beats, then move onto another motion, and students follow me. If students are comfortable keeping the beat, about halfway through the song, I ask for volunteers to lead the beat motions. Super fun!
With my upper elementary students, I've done an activity called “Head Shoulders.” For this activity, you have six words on the board, such as “Head/ Shoulders/ Hammer/ Chicken/ Knees/ Toes.” (For hammer, students make fists with their hands and hit them on top of each other, and for chicken, students flap their arms like a chicken.) Students do each beat motion for 16 beats while listening to a song, then they do the beat motions for 8, then 4, then 2, then 1, so that each time they half the amount of the beat motions. It's very fun at the end when we only do 1 beat on each motion! Then, they can repeat. Students can suggest new beat motions, so they have voice and choice, and you can do it again!
#2: Pull melodic or rhythmic concepts from song
As a Kodály-inspired teacher, I love to pull concepts from pop songs, just like I would with a folk song. For example, “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors has the solfa “d s m s m s m r d” in the first verse. You could have students sing the solfa without any rhythm, then have them listen for where it happens in the song. When I find a song that I like, I try to figure out the solfa or the rhythm as I'm listening to see if it might work for a concept. You can also order the sheet music on a site such as Sheet Music Direct, so you can visually see which solfa and/or rhythm might be taught with the song. When looking for concepts, it's best to look for the most difficult concept and use it for that. For example, if a phrase includes “s f m r d,” use it for fa, instead of for re, as students learning re won't know fa yet.
#3: Learn song on ukulele or guitar
If your students play ukulele or guitar, you can look up the chords for the song and have them learn it on one of those instruments! There are many great ukulele play alongs out there; if you search “ukulele play along” with the name of the song, you'll likely find a tutorial. Some songs will need a Capo, or will need to be played without the recording, as the tutorial is in one key and the song is in another. Here's a great tutorial for “Try Everything” by Shakira:
#4: Analyze the lyrics
Another great way to use a pop song in your music classroom is to have students analyze the lyrics. Students could use a worksheet for this, and answer questions as they listen to the song, or they could listen and with a partner or small group, answer prompts, such as “What do you think the songwriter meant by the lyrics in the chorus?” or “If you wrote a song about the same topic, what would your lyrics be?” This can be a great way to get students thinking critically and build their small group skills!
#5: Learn song on barred instruments
Another fun way to incorporate pop music into your lessons is to have students learn the song on barred instruments. Here are some links to pop songs with Orff arrangements:
Happy listening, and happy teaching!