5 Ways to Integrate with Music

2 Min Read  •  Video Series

Music can be one of the most difficult art forms to use for arts integration and STEAM.  Not because music itself is hard.  But because we as teachers are nervous about our own musical abilities.  Maybe you were told that you weren’t a good singer as a child.  Or maybe you feel like you can’t hold a steady beat to save your life.  Whatever the reason, trying to integrate with music can feel very risky.

In today’s episode of Teaching with Creativity, I’m going to help you conquer those fears once and for all.  You’ll walk with me as I teach you 5 easy strategies for integrating more music into your instruction.  I promise – you’ll be able to do these right away with your students and not feel awkward or nervous at all.

And if you’re a music teacher, this is a great episode for you, too.  As a music teacher myself, I know that we’re constantly being asked to integrate literacy, math, science and social studies into our instruction.  These 5 strategies will help you do that without compromising your own musical instruction time.  Let’s dive in!


Link to the Predicates and Cadences Lesson 


[00:00:02] Hi there. And welcome to another episode of Teaching with Creativity. I’m host Susan Riley and I’m the founder of EducationCloset.com, a digital hub for arts integration and STEAM.

[00:00:40] Today we’re going to be talking about how to utilize music as an integration point in your classrooms. Now this little mini lesson idea is really great for two reasons. One, if you’re a classroom teacher this will get rid of that fear or anxiety that you have about using music. We know that music for arts integration and STEAM can often be a barrier for teachers who feel as though they are not able to use music themselves. Whether they feel like they can’t sing or if they can’t play an instrument or hold a beat.

[00:01:19] Lots of times music can be a barrier for classroom teachers because they’re a little nervous about their skills. Today’s lesson is going to help you with that. And if you are a music educator, today’s lesson is going to allow you to take these kinds of concepts that you are already doing in your classroom to the next level by integrating them with purpose through ELA, math, science, and social studies. So if you are being asked to really think about arts integration and STEAM as music educator, today’s lessons will help you as well.

[00:01:50] So in this lesson I’m actually here to give you five strategies that you can use in your own classroom at any time. And I really think that these are going to help you make music more accessible for you and your students and they really are very low risk. So let’s dive in.


[00:02:12] The first one I’m going to share with you is something I actually learned from a wonderful educator named Marcia Daft. She works with the Kennedy Center quite a bit and she actually shared this at one of our online conferences. And I thought it was absolutely phenomenal. This works a lot of rhythm pieces in. But you can connect it to fractions and multiplication groups and there’s so many ways that you can use this. It’s called meter against meter.

[00:02:40] So a lot of times if we’re looking at equivalent fractions in class, students really struggle with the idea of groupings. It’s hard for them to understand that a 12 could be grouped in groups of four, and in groups of three or six or two. So to use this strategy you would use a number line that has hashmarks for each grouping. So you would start from zero and go to 12 and then if you wanted to do a group of 4 you would have an additional hashmarks so that you had a group of 1 4 8 12 and then we would do another member line. Well that again 0-12 but this time, group it in threes. So…a three hashmark, a 6 hashmark, and a 9 hashmark. The students can visually see that you’re getting to the same destination. But we’re doing so in a different way with a different set of groups. Then you have students create a beat pattern for each of those groupings that you have. So maybe for a group of four, it would be one to four.

[00:03:52] So let’s switch that 1, 2, 3, 4. That way we have a clap or something across the way. You can have them do a variety of different beat patterns. But where we want to get them to end up at is that the last one has their hands coming up like this, so it can be 1-2-3-4 or whatever you like. But they have that beat pattern that their hands are up on the four.

[00:04:20] So keep working with them on that. 1 2 3 4. 1 2 3 4. Then, get them to do it to the count of 12. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12. So you have them counted up to 12. Once they get that, then they get to come up with a beat pattern for the other group: a pair of three. And for this one as well, you want them to end up with their hands up at the end. OK so you might have 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12.

[00:04:58] Once they have that, then you go and have half the class perform group A, or the 4 pattern group. And the other half, B, or the three pattern group performs as well. Have them practice that individually. So you’re a four – you’re going to do the original four pattern of 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4. And if you’re the three you’ll do 1 2 3 4 5 6. So you practice your own individual pattern while the other one is happening on the other side of the room. You pair students together a four group and a three group as a partner and they count to 12 using their own pattern.

[00:05:34] This is going to be a challenge for them but once they do it a couple of times are going to end up together on that 12 and that’s when they finally are going to be able to get together. You can do this with ten. We can do this with any number that you can divide into different groupings.

[00:05:54] So I love this strategy because, first of all, it’s a challenge with students. Second, it requires you to really understand the patterns and meter. So you’re really making sure that you’re teaching them the music concept with integrity and you’re teaching the math concept with integrity and that is the secret to really great integration and STEAM. It’s that both subject areas are working simultaneously and with equity. So one is not in service of the other.

[00:06:22] Now an extension of this is that around grade 4 or so we’ll start teaching students conducting patterns. So a four pattern or maybe one two three four in your hands come up. And a three pattern would be one two three – in a triangle. So you can extend this from just a regular beat pattern to actual conducting patterns and you can see how those patterns will match up.

[00:06:49] And you can get more and more complex. So since we know that the 12 can be divided by two and six as well you can even have them do a six beat pattern or a two beat pattern.

[00:07:10] Now obviously as a conductor you’re not necessarily going to have your hands come up that way. You transfer the idea across to each other from the beat pattern over to the conducting pattern. It’s a nice extension piece as well. And also because, when you’re conducting it is a kinesthetic understanding of the concept. You have to have that in your body in order to conduct. Its really good to bring in that kinesthetic piece for those learners who need that piece. So that is strategy number one- onto strategy number two.


[00:07:43] This one is called micro versus macro. So understanding how things are divided. So we start with a macro beat. You’re going to start one two three four. This is your macro beat. Now this can be a challenge for a lot of students. You know, when you’re at a concert and people start clapping along and suddenly getting faster instead of really with the music itself. That’s because people sometimes struggle with an internal beat.

[00:08:12] So keeping that in mind you have a big beat that you can see. If you put your hand in between where the micro piece is going to be. So if your hand is right in the center you can see that you can split that big beat into micro, micro. Two sounds for every one of the beat.

[00:08:42] Lots of times students need this visual, but once you do that visual of the micro to the macro you can have them start using their words. Or use a sound so that they can hear a syllable that fits within the patterns of your beat.

[00:08:58] You can actually start using your sound micro, micro, micro. So you can hear how many sounds are in that main beat. You can continue to subdivide that. So instead of just micro, micro, you can start having the tik-a-tik-a. That’s four sounds – you’ve got a four syllable sound. Now this is tying in with two distinct areas. First of all, definitely fractions. So understanding the whole and the parts and how every time you divide the parts equally you get twice as many. So that understanding is really just a great understanding of the mathematics concept. But there’s also an interesting piece here that I hope you’re beginning to see in terms of syllables.

[00:09:46] So you can see how many syllables there are and you can start counting that. And what’s great is that if it’s coming up on a holiday, like let’s say Thanksgiving. You can actually assign words to this whole kind of beat structure. So if you want to start out with words you could start out with something like Corn, Corn, Corn, Corn. Turkey, Turkey, Turkey. Granny Apples, Granny Apples. And you can see how there’s multiple syllables that you can do at one time so you can actually have students use those and create their own compositions. It’s their own rhythm compositions based on the syllables that they’re using to create a story around what they would eat at Thanksgiving dinner. So it is a really interesting way to use that concept of micro and macro, but also connecting it with math and with literacy at the same time. All right moving on stop number three.


[00:10:48] OK, strategy number three is something that a lot of folks like to start with, actually, in music because it’s a little bit more passive instead of active in terms of musical instruction. And this is called responding to sound. So it’s very similar to visual art when we start integrating art by looking at a piece of artwork and visually seeing that breaking down that – what’s inside of that piece of artwork. You’re not asking the students to directly create that work. Instead, you’re asking them to analyze and for a lot of us as classroom teachers, that’s more comfortable in an artistic medium where we might be a little bit more nervous.

[00:11:32] Now that’s not to say that it’s not highly vigorous for our students. It really is. It is working those analytical muscles. So this is an important component as well. So in terms of responding to sound there is a great connection that you can use actually with your visual art partner. It’s called Synesthesia – lots of people have this. It’s a not an anomaly but it’s wonderful. A famous artist who had this was Kandinsky. When you hear a specific musical tone or note it actually triggers a color in your mind. So you know an “A” musical note could trigger the color yellow in your mind. And so people and artists like him can listen to music and then paint what they hear. Literally the colors that they are hearing and seeing in their mind and then transfer that onto a painting.

[00:12:35] So you can do an exercise around this where you have students listen to the music and identify what kind of colors would this bring to mind. Why would those colors come to mind with that kind of music. And you can associate those colors. So something like green with envy, blue with sadness. Why do we connect those kinds of things? That is a literacy concept that many students struggle with because it is a little bit more abstract. And so tying into music and being able to listen to something. How does that make you feel? What colors would you see?

[00:13:11] How that then transfers to language is really important for students. You could do an activity where they listen to a specific piece of music and then they come up with the colors that they hear and then would paint to that piece of music. It’s a great response piece or even designing a story around what you’re hearing based on the music itself. So the dynamics, the instruments used, the timbre that’s being used, the tone color. that kind of thing. You can utilize that in response to a piece of music. You can also get a nice dance as a response to sound. So as you’re listening to different pieces of music – and you’re going to want to select pieces that have highlighted this like very short or very long drawn out phrases you’re going to want to pick music that highlights those kinds of experiences – and then have students move the way that the music sounds. It sounds hokey. It sounds like, well that’s really really easy. And it is really really easy, except here’s the thing. When you tie it back into using vocabulary words you want students to work on. It can be a very meaningful activity at the same time. So for example if you know you have students that are struggling with a set of vocabulary terms in your content area like a social studies unit or math, one way you could approach that is by identifying ways that you can move to a specific set of musical examples and use that vocabulary in your movement. So if I’m playing a piece of music, maybe something that is very calming, because the words that were identified happened to be very calm words like gentle or soothing.

[00:14:59] And what that means is I’m going to choose a piece of music that is gentle and soothing if I’m hearing something that’s a little more aggressive. So words like volcanic ash or I mean something that is a higher level words that students really struggle with and that is more aggressive, you’re going to pick a more aggressive piece of music. Then, you would ask students how would you move to demonstrate to me what volcanic ash is or how would you move to the word soothing. What would that look like with your body? Then turn on the music and when you turn it off, call out one of the vocabulary words like soothing and they have to then move the way that they identified for that vocabulary word.

[00:15:47] This does a couple of things. First of all, it’s tying the music with dance in an incredibly beautiful way. Number two, it’s also connecting those vocabulary terms and internalizing that both with auditory skills and with kinesthetic skills. So you’re combining the two of them which automatically brings up the vigor for your students. And it’s really in a way that they’re going to use to remember what those terms mean. It’s a much more meaningful way for them than just simply memorizing a new set of vocabulary terms. So I really love the idea of response to music. All right let’s move on to strategy number four.


[00:16:28] So this one is based on predicates and cadences. And I actually have a lesson that is developed that you can use for free on the site. It’s all about how to do this with a predicate and cadences so I link that in the show notes. You can download that as well.

[00:16:46] These are really natural elegant bit because a cadence in music is really how you close a musical phrase. Very often it comes down, so it naturally feels like the the close of a phrase. It doesn’t always – there’s sometimes some surprises – but most times it does kind of fall down in terms of tone and I’ll give you an example in a minute. A predicate in terms of sentence structure is a way to close a sentence. It’s how you know that the sentence is done. Now sometimes when we’re looking at standards to connect, the language standards -those Conventions standards – are very challenging because they’re kind of dry. We’re thinking about this you know, nouns and predicates and verbs and understanding what each of those are. It’s pretty straightforward. So connecting with integration can sometimes be a challenge. Predicates really do lend themselves very naturally because cadences do the exact same thing in music and it’s very fun to be able to put the two of them together.

[00:17:54] So I used a song like “to stop the train in cases of emergency, pull on the chain, pull on the chain. Penalty for improper use, five pound. You hear how that sounds “penalty for improper use, five pounds” makes sure that the phrase is done. You wouldn’t stop at “to stop the train” because that does not sound finished. So the cadence is what finishes that phrase.

[00:18:24] The same is true in a sentence. The way you would connect these two is by providing students with specific instruction on sentence structure and identifying those predicates. So you’d give them several sentences and determine what the predicate part of the sentence is. Then you can do the exact same thing with a song like “to stop the train in cases of emergency” and have them raise their hand when they hear the cadence. And then we talk about the similarity between a cadence and a predicate. Then the activity would be that you could break apart the sentences and have students look at what part is the predicate and what is the beginning and how do they match. Match them up. So kind of like a shuffle and they match up the predicate to the remainder of the sentence and then you do the same thing with the music.

[00:19:15] This one is a listening part. So you don’t have to have them be reading the music unless that’s something that was covered in their music class. It can be a great opportunity to reinforce that. Not necessary though, you can definitely do it with the listening component.

[00:19:32] You can play phrases and then have them match them together or match the sounds together. That’s very easily done in something like a garageband or audacity, both of which are free software tools that you can use so that you can put these together. You could also have them create compositions. So have them create a composition with words that they can sing or perform of do whatever they want with. Then have them perform in front of the classroom. Everyone in the audience has to raise their hand when they hear the cadence and predicate come along. So again a really fun way to expand that and you will find that lesson in today’s show notes. All right – off to strategy number five. We’re on a roll! Here we go.


[00:20:19] Strategy number five is about exploring music. And this is something that we don’t necessarily consider all the time and it’s really important. One of the things our students don’t get enough experience is with listening skills and in being a good audience. They honestly don’t know how to be a good audience and how to actively listen to something.

[00:20:40] Listening is an incredibly difficult skill for students and for all of us quite honestly. So students need practice in doing that. What I would recommend is actually playing the piece several times and the first time you listen to it as a whole. You give your general impression. The second time you listen to it, you’re listening for something specific like an instrument that comes in or a volume change, which we call a dynamic change, or something that’s interesting that comes along that’s different from the rest of the piece or maybe a surprise.

[00:21:16] Haydn’s Surprise Symphony is a great example of this that you could use. So have students listen for something that’s surprising or in-depth that you’re looking for specifically the second time that they listen to it.

[00:21:31] The third time that they listen to it and they know what is coming. I want them to think about what would you change as a composer, if anything. If this was your piece would you change when that came in or what instrument plays there or would you keep it exactly the same. So this way they’re really starting to think about it in terms of their own piece and then you can then move into “I want us to practice that skill”.

[00:21:58] Let’s say it is looking at surprising an audience using Haydn’s the Surprise Symphony. How would you write a phrase or a composition a piece of music? And it can be short. I mean it can be like, you know, four measures long – it doesn’t have to be long. How would you insert a surprise somewhere in there? Would it be at the end? Would it be at the middle? Where would you put it? What would it sound like? And then give them the opportunity to do that.

[00:22:24] So they’re moving from a passive listening experience to something that’s very active. Something that is creative and compositional and allows them to synthesize their learning and really make it their own. That is a wonderful way to practice experience in music and then to tie it into being able to be a good audience is to have students listen to those performances and to offer feedback. So being able to quietly listen and not come out picking on each other.

[00:22:56] You know how students can do that sometimes. But to also offer feedback, whether that’s applause, or if it’s after the piece is over, providing what we like. Then what you thought could be different. Students need to practice that. So giving them that opportunity is also very helpful.

[00:23:14] I hope that these five strategies have made it a little easier for you to use music as an integration point in your classroom. And if you’re a music educator I hope that this has spurred some new fresh ideas for how you can take these concepts to the next level in your classroom. For more ideas like this, please tune into Teaching with Creativity, right here on EducationCloset. And if this is something that your friends and colleagues would benefit from, do be sure to share it. Don’t forget to leave us a review on iTunes as it really does help others find how to bring more creativity into their own classrooms. Thanks again so much for joining us and I’ll see you next time right here on Teaching with Creativity.