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Storytelling in the Music Classroom

“Tell me a story.”

It’s a familiar refrain that parents and teachers are likely to hear several times throughout the course of an ordinary day. In fact, storytelling is an essential part of life, just like music is.

As an art form, storytelling has been with us since practically the dawn of humanity. Through storytelling, it is possible to understand:

  • Nature
  • History
  • Humanity
  • The arts
  • The world in which we live

Many years ago, people would gather each evening around the campfire to tell their favorite stories and sing songs. Such customs have become rarer in the modern age when there are many other pastimes competing for out interest.

Nonetheless, some of these pastimes, like watching television shows and movies, are just storytelling through a modern, technological lens. It is even possible to tell stories through the use of social media and other apps.

The problem with these modern forms of storytelling is that they don’t offer the same kind of immediacy as occurs when a real, live storyteller practices her art. After all, there is a human element to telling a great story that just can’t be communicated through a screen.

This is why it is so important for music teachers to incorporate storytelling into their curriculum. You don’t always need technology to hold the attention of an audience of youngsters. Sometimes, all you need is a great story.

If you can tell that story with music, so much the better!

How to Start Storytelling in the Music Classroom

It absolutely does not have to be complicated to start weaving storytelling with music. Perhaps you could start by introducing your class to folk music storytellers like Pete Seeger, who was a lifelong activist and folk music legend. Related artists that you might explore include:

  • Woody Guthrie
  • Burl Ives
  • Peter, Paul and Mary
  • Theodore Bikel
  • Judy Collins
  • Arlo Guthrie

The more familiar you are with the work of these artists and others like them, the easier it will be to introduce musical storytelling to your students.

Before long, you may find that you are even creating your own stories that could include subject matter like echo songs, pitch exploration, circle games, beat keeping and action songs. The more creative you are, the better the outcomes you can expect.

In classes where your students are older, you can go even further. Help them to develop their storytelling skills so that they can entertain younger siblings and neighbors. Additionally, select a book that is appropriate for a younger age group, and ask your class to use Garageband to create a soundtrack to the book. Explore what sorts of musical sounds might fit in with that book too. Then, have the student read the story with their musical accompaniment for a storytelling grand finale.

Introduce Folk Song and Nursery Rhyme Storybooks

Browse through the children’s section at any bookstore and you will quickly discover that many of the most well-known folk songs and nursery rhymes have been adapted into picture storybooks. Those illustrations can be priceless for music students. As they sing, they can view the pictures, which helps them to visualize the lyrics.

To make the lesson even more interesting and memorable, do some research into the folk song or nursery rhyme. Why was the piece written? What is it really talking about? Are significant historical events tied up in the words? This can be a wonderful opportunity to illustrate how storytelling, music and real-life events all intersect.

Storytelling through Songbooks

Songbooks are stories and music built into one! Encouraging students to read through the lyrics of songs will peak their interest to learn more. Making use of a songbook will take the guess work out of your lesson planning, and give students a guide for their performance.

Find a song that means something to you out of a songbook and ask your class what the song means to them and what stands out. Let them see the notes on the page and how lyrics & measures flow from one line to the next. This method will resonate more with students than diving straight into a music lesson. After reviewing the lyrics to the song and the song’s meaning, it is time to perform!

Prodigies has several Songbooks that you can lean on for your lesson planning. Check them out below:
https://shop.prodigies.com/collections/books/Songbook


Tell a Story with Singing and Instruments

Here is a fun idea that your students will want to do again and again. Tell a favorite story like The Three Little Pigs using familiar songs and musical instruments that you have around the classroom. Use puppets of the pigs and wolf to add some extra visual fun, and assign specific instruments for each house that the kids can play.

Of course, this can be done with absolutely any familiar story. Let your imagination run wild.

It’s also possible to keep this activity super simple. There’s no need to make puppets or compose a song to go with your storytelling. All that you really need is a beloved story to tell. Before you begin to read or tell the story, give each of the kids in your class a musical instrument. Instruct them to play their instrument each time a certain word, sound or idea is mentioned in the story. However, when you put your hand up, they have to stop playing their instrument so that they can hear what comes next in the story.

It is amazing how a rambunctious group of small kids suddenly becomes quiet and attentive when you mix music and storytelling.

How Else Do Stories Help in the Classroom?

Some teachers are shocked to discover it, but your students actually would love to know more about you. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to share really personal information with them, but it may mean telling a few anecdotes that foster a better connection with the kids you’re teaching.

For example, you might tell your students some amusing stories about your struggles with becoming a musician and vocalist. What parts of your education were particularly difficult for you? Was there a part of your education that was especially challenging? If so, how did you overcome it?

It can be really helpful for your students to get to know and understand you better. They also probably will appreciate that not everything in the enormous world of music came easily to you. If you have students who are struggling with a particular musical concept, try telling them a story about your own hard work to understand the subject matter. Emphasize that although you did not understand the concept at first, you eventually caught on, and be certain to share as many details as you can about how that happened. You never know what you may inspire in the young minds around you.

Better Classroom Management

Do you ever have one of those days where your class just doesn’t want to settle down and learn? Those days come to all educators. Fortunately, one of the easiest ways to turn things around is to utter the magical phrase, “Once upon a time …”.

It is amazing to see how quickly little kids come to attention whenever they hear these words. They know that a story is coming, and that means that their ears will perk up. Of course, it helps to have a story to follow up on your great opening, so be certain to always have a few ideas at hand to pull out whenever you need them.

Make Difficult Concepts More Approachable

Concepts like rhythm & solfege can be really difficult to grasp in the beginning. It’s not unusual for kids to struggle with these and other music-related subjects, but you may be able to make these topics more approachable when you attach them to a story.

Examples of such lesson plans abound on the Internet, and some of them can even be picked up for free. Of course, you also might exercise your own imagination to create a brand-new story that introduces foundational music concepts.

It also is possible to take inspiration from existing stories. As an example, why not adapt solfege to the story of Snow White? Do, Re, Mi and so forth are all re-cast as dwarfs. What would each of their characteristics be?

Storytelling and Prodigies

When storytelling is woven into learning, it improves students’ memories. In fact, the human brain appears to be hardwired to better remember things when they are told in narrative form. Perhaps it is simply because stories are interesting, but it may be more than that. When someone tells you a story, you automatically form pictures in your mind, and this actually can make you feel like you’re experiencing the story yourself. No wonder stories can create such indelible memories.

At Prodigies, we are firm believers in the connection between music and storytelling. Help your students explore this connection by introducing them to some of our fun online lessons and supporting materials.

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