• SECnet: Music in Every High School Classroom

  • Music in Every High School Classroom

    Subject Area Specialists

    Focus on a particular subject area may create an unintended myopia regarding how different academic fields relate. Secondary school teachers are most often subject area specialists. They have a passion for history, math, physical education, literature, religion, music, biology, and so forth. Loving one’s subject area is both laudable and necessary for the kind of in-depth study needed in secondary education. One’s focus on a particular subject area, however, may create an unintended myopia regarding how different academic fields relate to and can enhance a teacher’s instructional planning and delivery in their chosen discipline.

    To illustrate how we might accomplish such curricular cross-pollination, let’s use the discipline of music as it relates and can be applied to other high school subjects, using the idea list that follows:

    Music and Math

    For this activity, you’ll need some music staff paper, repositionable adhesive, and a digital keyboard. Better yet, have one of your students bring their instrument to class or ask one of your music instructors to help. Ask a group of three or four students to create a melody of eight measures (time signature of your choice) using half, quarter, eighth, and dotted notes (keep it simple for now). Before they assign the notes to the staff, they must use note values that add up to the number of beats in each measure. Use only treble clef with no sharps or flats in the key of C major. This activity assumes that either you or one of your students can explain the difference between a quarter note and an eighth note, etc. There’s sure to be a student who can do this, but if not, call on your music teacher to help you. This is how the music might look with just the correct timing for each measure (not a great melody, as you can imagine).

    Now have students assign (compose) the notes on the staff (any notes will do for now). Each group will have something different. For example:

    At this point, it doesn’t matter what the melody actually sounds like. Paste the melodies, in random order, on a page with repositionable adhesive to make a “musical score” and have someone play the entire collaborative piece.

    It may or may not sound pretty, but it will help your students to understand that merely placing random notes in proper metric notation on paper doesn’t mean they’ve composed music that is worth listening to. To become a true work of art, music needs a combination of well-crafted melody, rhythm, and harmony. In like manner, there is harmony and beauty to be found in a perfectly balanced equation or in the mysteries of three-dimensional geometry. Both disciplines need practice and specific skill sets to create something that is true, good, and beautiful. The same is true of all art forms, including math.1

    Music and Art

    Find pictures and/or photographs dealing with the subject of war via an internet search.2 Insert the pictures into presentation software accompanied by appropriate excerpts of classical music. Examples of musical accompaniments could be “Mars, the Bringer of War” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst or the Finale from the “1812 Overture” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.3 While the assignment could be accomplished with contemporary popular music, let’s stick to the classics for now. Keep the length of the presentations to three minutes, and have students give a brief oral report about what they learned about the visuals, artists, and how the music enhanced the presentation of the artwork. This concept could be used in history, church history, media studies, English, and others classes.4

    Music and Physical Education and Dance

    Music has long played an important role in physical education; in dance, it is essential. While the study of music is not widely done in

    P.E., perhaps we could assign students to create an exercise routine to music that has classical roots. You can select a piece of music, or let the students choose from a list of music that you create.5 Try some of these selections for starters:

    • Finale to Rossini’s, “William Tell” (The Lone Ranger theme song)
    • Copland’s, “Fanfare for the Common Man” (Great for pushups!)
    • Bizet’s, “Prelude to Act I from Carmen” (If this doesn’t get your heart pounding, nothing will!)
    • Wagner’s, “Ride of the Valkyries” (Knocks out the theme from “Rocky”!)

    Have the students find the internet site for the music and cue it up when their exercise routine begins (you might want to do a little warm up first). Have the student introduce the music, who wrote it, and the “story” behind the composition (information is available online and in reference books).6 The students should print out a picture of the composer and subject matter of the music for their oral introduction to the exercise (e.g., print pictures of the Valkyries if they do Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”).

    • Whose help will you need to secure prior to implementing the process described?
    • In which subject areas might this work best?
    • What obstacles will you need to overcome and how will you overcome them to make this work?

    The same type of activity can be modified for dance classes if your school holds them.

    A Word of Encouragement

    The examples above are just a starting point. I encourage you to use your creative imagination to add some music to your classes whenever possible. It will stimulate your students’ minds and keep them engaged in learning throughout the day.7

    Jeffrey Burkart is emeritus professor of educational media/communications, artist in residence, and director of drama ministry and special projects at Concordia University, St. Paul.


    1. Excellent examples of the beauty and practicality of math can be found in films such as Hidden Figures, October Sky, and Stand and Deliver. Assign students to watch one these movies and react to it through critiques, essays, and/or oral reports. This kind of activity could be modified for classes such as drama, media studies, sociology, history, etc.

    2. Art works such as Picasso’s Guernica, Eugene Smith’s war photography (see the following site) https://www.google.com/search?q=eugene+smith+war+photography&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjjoaGhktjtAhULX80KHamYBOMQ_AUoAXoECAYQAw&biw=1163&bih=525 Also search: War Art Paintings at: https://www.google.com/search?q=war+art+paintings&rlz=1C1GCEU_enUS819US819&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiV_-Wek9jtAhURCs0KHVbaCc4Q_AUoAXoECA8QAw&biw=1163&bih=525

    3. An excellent selection of ten classical music videos on the topic of war can be found at: https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/11/music-war-remembrance-ten-great-classical-music-works-stephen-klugewicz.html.

    4. For example, in history, church history, or art classes, this assignment could be used to familiarize students with the music and art of the Reformation. Pictures of Luther sites in Germany and/or artwork depicting Luther and his contemporaries could be accompanied by a choral or instrumental version of Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” (LSB 656 & 567). The woodcuts of 16th century artists such as Albrecht Drürer or Lucas Cranach could be accompanied by Reformation hymns or other church music of the 16th century. Students can do some research on how art and music played a large part during the Reformation. This was especially true of the polemical art (much like today’s political cartoons) of the 16th and 17th centuries from both Protestant and Roman Catholic points of view.

    5. See any number of internet sites under the topic: “Classical Music to Exercise to.” You’ll find music from stretching to full blown mega training.

    6. For the music to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” go to: https://www.google.com/search?q=ride+of+the+valkyries&oq=ride+of+the+valkyries&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j46j0j46j0i395l4.6488j1j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 For the background story of the music, go to: https://sites.psu.edu/whatigotyougottagiveit/2015/08/11/the-ride-of-the-valkyries/
    For information on the Valkyries go to the following Wikipedia site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valkyrie#:~:text=In%20Norse%20mythology%2C%20a%20valkyrie,and%20those%20who%20may%20live.

    7. See: “Let Music Take the First Chair in Your Lutheran School,” by Jeffrey E. Burkart in the spring 2020 edition of Shaping the Future at: https://leaconnects.lea.org/let-music-take-the-first-chair-in-your-lutheran-school


    Artwork from Wikimedia Commons. Music samples courtesy the author.

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