Music and Memory – A Winning Pair in Social Studies


by History Gal

Have you ever gone through the channels on your car radio and happened upon an oldie but goodie you haven’t heard in years? Suddenly, you remember where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing the last time you heard that song. Even though you haven't heard the song in ages, you remember every word of the song. It's amazing how music interconnects with our memories. Because of this, content linked with music makes an excellent teaching strategy.



Music is used all throughout preschool and elementary school to help kids learn everything from the alphabet to the days of the week to math facts. By the end of the elementary years, the use of music as a learning tool fades away. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because we have so much content to cover and not enough time or maybe we feel the pressure of the state test at the end of the year. Whatever the reason, middle and high school teachers often miss out on tapping into music as a way to help their students retain and recall required information.

Can you recall any facts by singing a song? If so, you can thank your musical-rhythmic intelligence! I can still recite/sing all 50 states in alphabetical order decades after learning the 'Fifty-Nifty United States' song in middle school.  If you're old enough, you may remember the presidents of the United States or the countries of the world from songs sung by the Animaniacs or you may remember the process of how a bill becomes a law from Schoolhouse Rocks' 'I'm only a Bill.'  A lot of our "old-school" memorable teaching songs can be found online on YouTube. These great little videos combine the musical-rhythmic and visual-spatial intelligences to lock themselves in our brains. Yes, I do realize that not unlike the 'It’s a Small World' song that annoyingly gets replayed in your head for the rest of the day, many of these songs are ear worms, but that is the whole idea. The catchy tunes and memorable words help us remember the facts.

A few of my current favorites to use in lessons are:  
- Soomo Publishing’s Too Late to Apologize: A Declaration (this song and video gives a quick history lesson by Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers that your students will never forget)
- Bill of Rights (Shake it Off) (this song and video it is one the the best student made videos I have come across and I love to show it to students)
-Any song  Mr. Betts performs (his songs for U.S. History are corny, yet super catchy and informative)

Looking for some more songs? Mental Floss has a great list here

In addition to using songs to help students recall information, music can be used to signal transitions or certain tasks. You can play a certain piece of music to indicate that it's time to change activities or stations, that it's time to pack up, or that it's time for lunch. Once students learn the song signal, you just have to turn on the song and they immediately know what to do. For example, I play Scottish pipe and drum music when we rearrange the desks and Tiki music for passing out papers and materials. Students immediately know what to expect or do when they hear the musical cue.
Finding music is as easy as searching online. YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play will help you find fun television and movie theme songs for introductions to lessons or activities. You can also expand students' horizons by having them listen to music from the era or place they are learning about.

I'd love to know how you use music in your classes! Leave me a comment below.

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