Music Appreciation in Literature

Introduction | Background Knowledge | Activities | Extensions | Standards


Did you know that the tune for "The Alphabet Song," "Baa, Baa Black Sheep," and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" are the same? Try singing each song. If you have someone close, sing one song while they sing another. You are singing the same tune with different words.

Maybe you have watched a marching band march in a parade playing a song you are sure you have heard before. It is probably a march by John Philip Sousa. It may even be "Stars and Stripes Forever," the official march of the United States.

Music has a way of bringing back memories. We often turn to music in times of joy, sorrow, or many other emotions. Many listeners like music for reasons they cannot always put into words, but there are common elements of music that are relatable.

The name for this is Music Appreciation.

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Background Knowledge

Music Appreciation can have several different meanings. In its very literal sense, music appreciation is the enjoyment of music. You can achieve enjoyment through knowledge and understanding.

Formal courses in Music Appreciation often include historical background. Knowing the historical context and trends of the period can help listeners appreciate the short, detached sound of the Baroque period and how and why that is different from the rich, connected sounds of the Romantic Period. This background also explains why there was no electric guitar in the medieval Gregorian Chant.

Music Appreciation also focuses on the composition and form of a piece. Listeners learn to hear a piece's melody or main tune and how that compares with the harmony or complementary tune. Each musical form has specific characteristics, and listeners learn to hear and identify those characteristics. This awareness allows listeners to hear the motif, or smallest recognizable section of music, of a fugue and notice how it changes throughout the piece.

A final focus of Music Appreciation is on composers. As listeners learn about different composers and their styles, they can begin to see similarities among pieces. In popular music, this focus can be on individual artists and their styles.

Music is a common thread around the world. It transcends language and can tell the story of a culture. Mothers and fathers around the world sing to their children. Throughout history, instruments evolved alongside tools as cultures developed. Music is the basis of many faith groups around the world.

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  • Selected List of Picture Books
    • My Family Plays Music by Judy Cox (ISBN 978-0823440399) - A young girl shares how her family plays music, introducing readers to various music genres and instruments.
    • Allegro: A Musical Journey Through 11 Musical Masterpieces by David W. Miles (ISBN 978-1641700382) - While practicing the piano, young Allegro takes a journey through 11 of the most famous musical selections. For an added experience that includes the music, share this video of the book.
    • Music Is by Brandon Stosuy (ISBN 978-1481477024) - This book gives many different descriptions of music for the youngest readers and listeners.
    • Violet's Music by Angela Johnson (ISBN 978-0803727403) - Violet loves music and cannot find anyone to play music with her. She tries different instruments and different locations and finally finds her band.
    • Find more literature ideas on this TeachersFirst CurriConnect.
  • Find resources to incorporate music into other disciplines with this collection from PBS. This site includes lesson plans, documentaries, audio clips, and galleries.
  • Pair the music of America with its history. Ballad of America has a resource called the Story of the United States in 12 Songs to match music with history.
  • Integrate a study of sound with conservation and music by making homemade musical instruments from recycled materials. Play them together in a class band.
  • Use music during transitions. Play classical music in the mornings to set the tone for the day. Play popular instrumental music during independent work. Find a song for clean-up transitions or use different songs as nonverbal cues for what students need to do in the classroom. Have a class celebration song to celebrate accomplishments throughout the year.
  • Children's programming often incorporates classical music. Show students this clip from Tom and Jerry.
  • Teach children what to listen for in music. Extend this activity by creating a bulletin board with a list of music elements, then ask students to add the name of songs when they hear the element. Another option is to create a digital bulletin board using Padlet (TeachersFirst review). Create columns in your Padlet for each music element then add examples with links to songs as you and your students find them.
  • Draw what you hear with this idea from the Denver Philharmonic. Use the pictures to write a story. Try using Google Arts and Culture: Paint with Music (TeachersFirst review). Check out this TeachersFirst blog post for tips on using it.
  • Explore the Music Appreciation resources from TeachersFirst.

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  • Soundtrack of Our Lives
    • Students can curate 3-5 songs (depending on their age) that they believe represent their lives. They can link audio clips to Google Slides (TeachersFirst review) and share their soundtrack with classmates. An example of this project can be found here.
  • Create Your Own Fantasia Clip
  • Incorporate music podcasts into learning centers or choice boards. NPR's Music Blocks podcast is one example of a podcast created with students in mind. Although these short (5-6 minute) episodes are designed for middle and high school students, they are also suitable for upper elementary-age students. These podcasts focus on the use of music to express emotions. Use this podcast and others as a model for creating podcasts from your classroom. Learn more about Podcasting in the Classroom by watching this archive of an OK2Ask webinar from January 2023.
  • Share Blob Opera (TeachersFirst review) with students to experiment with creating music using different types of pitch or listen to the Blobs on tour around the world. As a final project, ask students to create, record and share a Blob Opera. Share finished products using the link provided or share directly into Google Classroom. Learn more about Blob Opera and additional resources for celebrating music in the classroom by visiting this recent TeachersFirst blog post.

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  • AASL National School Library Standards
    • Inquire Shared Foundation, Think Domain - Learners display curiosity and initiative by: 1. Formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular topic. 2. Recalling prior and background knowledge as context for new meaning
    • Inquire Shared Foundation, Share Domain - Learners adapt, communicate, and exchange learning products with others in a cycle that includes: 1. Interacting with content presented by others. 2. Providing constructive feedback. 3. Acting on feedback to improve. 4. Sharing products with an authentic audience.
    • Include Shared Foundation, Share Domain - Learners exhibit empathy with and tolerance for diverse ideas by: 1. Engaging in informed conversation and active debate. 2. Contributing to discussions in which multiple viewpoints on a topic are expressed.
    • Include Shared Foundation, Grow Domain - Learners demonstrate empathy and equity in knowledge building within the global learning community by: 1. Seeking interactions with a range of learners.
    • Collaborate Shared Foundation, Think Domain - Learners identify collaborative opportunities by: 1. Demonstrating their desire to broaden and deepen understandings. 2. Developing new understandings through engagement in a learning group. 3. Deciding to solve problems informed by group interaction.
    • Collaborate Shared Foundation, Create Domain - s Learners participate in personal, social, and intellectual networks by: 1. Using a variety of communication tools and resources. 2. Establishing connections with other learners to build on their own prior knowledge and create new knowledge.
    • Collaborate Shared Foundation, Grow Domain - Learners actively participate with others in learning situations by: 2. Recognizing learning as a social responsibility.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Think Domain - Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by: 1. Reading widely and deeply in multiple formats and writing and creating for a variety of purposes.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Create Domain - Learners construct new knowledge by: 1. Problem solving through cycles of design, implementation, and reflection.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Share Domain - Learners engage with the learning community by: 3. Collaboratively identifying innovative solutions to a challenge or problem.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Grow Domain - Learners develop through experience and reflection by: 1. Iteratively responding to challenges. 2. Recognizing capabilities and skills that can be developed, improved, and expanded. 3. Open-mindedly accepting feedback for positive and constructive growth.
  • ISTE Standards for Students
    • Empowered Learner - 1b. Students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process. 1c. Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.
    • Knowledge Constructor - 3d. Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories, and pursuing answers and solutions.
    • Innovative Designer - 4d. Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
    • Global Collaborator - 7c. Students contribute constructively to project teams, assuming various roles and responsibilities to work effectively toward a common goal.

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