Using music in the EFL Classroom

Music is an area of life that, regardless of age, character, gender or nationality, everyone can enjoy. It is also an invaluable learning tool. In a matter of fact, a large body of research points to the huge benefits music brings to language learning. Neurologists have found that musical and language processing occur in the same area of the brain, and there appear to be parallels in how musical and linguistic syntax are processed (Maess & Koelsch, 2001).

What are the advantages of using music in the classroom?

  1. It’s authentic, and thus, motivating
  2. Songs repeat a lot. Of vocabulary and grammar structures. Repetition aids recall.
  3. Good examples of colloquial English
  4. Do not follow the “inauthentic” grammar of many EFL coursebooks etc.
  5. Highlights features of pronunciation such as ellipsis and elision
  6. Enables teachers to teach culture and history
  7. Music is one of the biggest sources of English outside the classroom, if students enjoy these tasks, they may search out more music independently

This is not going to be a theoretical paper; As such, I’ll leave the theory to other papers and suggest sources at the end of this post if you are interested in learning more about the processes involved.

Listening and speaking activities

Through listening to music, students are exposed to the stretching and compacting of English speech and how intonation, stress and rhythm change the meaning of English in context. In Depeche Mode’s “Don’t you forget about me”, /t/ with initial word /y/ becoming /ch/ can be heard. There are many examples of such changes in pronunciation. This can be particularly useful for your students due to the phonetic differences between English and Russian. This ‘bottom-up’ processing not only improves your students’ pronunciation, but also their ability to comprehend both short and extended streams of native speech. Teachers can draw attention to these in class and drill them.

Comprehension questions and response sheets can be used to generate class discussion about a particular topic or even the song itself. An important part of language learning is for students to be able to feel that their feelings and opinions are understood.

Reading and Writing activities

Cloze Activities

Music can also be used to isolate particular grammar structures or vocabulary. Students’ attention can be drawn to these in the form of a cloze activity. Words can be deleted to practice a target grammar point, such as past tense verbs, prepositions, or compound nouns, or to identify key words (Griffee, 1990)

Lyrical strips

Lyrics can be cut into strips and put into order as the students hear the song. Following this, the students check their answers by listening to the song again and mumbling or miming along to the song.

“Dictation”

With short songs, students can write down all the words that they hear. They can then try to piece together the lyrics of the song with a partner. Afterwards, the teacher hands out the lyrics sheet for them to check.

Story Telling

With songs that tell a story (and let’s face it, that’s most of them), students can either retell the story to a partner, covering reported speech and supporting conversational abilities or write a written response. For example, many songs contain stories where a husband/or wife has been unfaithful. Students could write a response letter refuting the allegations etc.

Vocabulary and Grammar activities

Cloze activities

Again, the traditional EFL activity of putting words into gaps in the text can be used to draw attention to particular language items. Personally, I like to follow these pieces of vocabulary up with discussion questions.

Giving clues

Example: Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

Hey where did we go,

Days when the rains came

Down in the hollow,

Playin’ a new game,

Laughing and a running hey, hey

Skipping and a jumping

In the misty morning fog with

Our hearts a thumpin’ and you

My brown eyed girl,

You my brown eyed girl.

Find the following collocations and expressions.

  1. A question about where you went with someone.

[Where did we go?]

  1. A question about what became of something that existed in the past.

[Whatever happened to…?]

  1. A collocation to describe someone‟s physical appearance.

[brown eyed]

  1. An expression for where something is that cannot be seen.

[Hiding behind a… ]

(Ken Lackman Lexical Approach activities http://kenlackman.com/files/LexicalActivitiesBook102.pdf)

What did you hear?

Write some vocabulary on the board (some in the song, some not). Students listen to the song and circle the words they hear.

Isolation

This can be used to isolate a piece of lexis. However, it can also be used to isolate a grammar structure or a pronunciation feature that you want to teach. Students simply stand up from their seats when they hear this piece of language in the song.

Build it in!

Personally, I think songs have too often been relegated to the “Friday afternoon” slot in lessons. When you’ve come to the end of a unit of a book, or just want a quick and easy way to reinforce a language point. That’s all well and good, but music can also be used as the centre of a lesson.

Choosing a song for your learners

  • Ensure the language is appropriate for your learners. Be aware of problems with metaphors
  • Ensure the lyrics are clear and not drowned out by music
  • Ensure the content of the song is appropriate and not explicit or offensive.

Further Reading

Adamowski, E. (1997). The ESL songbook. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press

Bechtold, J. (1983). Musical ESL. TESL Talk, 14, 180-184.

Domoney, L. & Harris, S. (1993). Justified and ancient: Pop music in EFL classrooms.ELT Journal, 47, 234-241

Griffee, D.T. (1992). Songs in action. Herfordshire, England: Phoenix ELT

Moriya, Y. (1988). English speech rhythm and its teaching to non-native speakers.Paper presented at the annual convention of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Chicago. (ED No. 303 033)

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G., & Ky, K. (1993). Mozart and spatial reasoning. Nature,(365) 611.

Matt Vesty for Accent Language Center

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