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Lyrics, Melody and Memory

While observing a student teacher in a first grade music class recently, I was struck by the phenomenon of students chanting a poem and then asking if they could add a melody to the poem. When the teacher asked comprehension questions about the poem prior to adding the melody, student responses were general. When the same questions were asked after adding a melody to the poem and singing it, student responses were more specific. They often sang their responses. Adding the melody to the words seemed to help ingrain in their memories the meaning of the poem. Perhaps it was the simultaneous action of the right and left sides of the brain which helped the students to recall additional information from the poem after a melody was added.

This observation reminded me of my own music teaching at the elementary level and the frequency with which I would add melodies to poems, chants, and stories to help students remember key educational themes. Many times, classroom teachers would tell me that because students sang songs about the fifty states, math concepts, historical facts, rhyming words, etc., their students were more successful in remembering and recalling this information. The students seemed to more readily grasp and retain information when learned through the enjoyable medium of music.

It is common for my former music students to see me in the grocery store or at a restaurant and tell me that they still remember, many years later, the lyrics from the educational songs they had learned in their elementary music classes. Many students could still remember lyrics that we added to classical melodies and have instant recall of both the lyrics and the melody even 20 years later.

Clearly, combining music and lyrics has great merit and enhances the academic achievement of students. Educational, singable lyrics paired with appealing melodies can stimulate the child's memory and aid retention of the song content. Such is the main goal of Silly Bus and the educational songs they write and record for children. For preschool and kindergarten children, songs are a fun way to teach children basic concepts such as colors, numbers, the alphabet, months of the year, etc.

How can we determine if the child has learned a concept presented in a song? After the child has listened to the song several times, play the song again and invite him or her to listen carefully for the key phrases and repeated sections of a song. Have the child tell the story described in a song and share any information they recall from the song. Parents and teachers can then assess what the child has learned and involve the child in discovering and exploring the relationship between the new learning experience and his or her current knowledge. Movement also assesses and reinforces the learning experience of adding lyrics to a melody. Kinesthetic learning through movement is a natural way to heighten the child's understanding of music and the information conveyed in the lyrics. Through the child's movement, parents and teachers can see and assess the child's understanding and knowledge gained from a song.

Author: Judy Henneberger - Silly Bus Educational Team Member -


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