Music and Social Studies: A Dynamic Connection

By Fennell, Anne | Social Studies Review, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Music and Social Studies: A Dynamic Connection


Fennell, Anne, Social Studies Review


Quality teaching is a multi-modality enterprise that must stimulate individuals through sight, sound, touch, movement-and social, emotional and cognitive thought. As a music teacher working in a visual and performing arts magnet school, I see firsthand the depth of learning that takes place when music, visual arts, dance and theater are integrated into other subjects. As educators, we are aware of our ever-changing, shrinking world and are witness to the amazing speed in which change occurs. We therefore must prepare our students to enter a world that asks us to connect to and understand one another, as well as to transform thought into action in a multitude of ways. Imaginative pedagogical approaches allow us to make connections to the surrounding world and enable young people to do the same with ease. I strongly believe that arts integration is one of the most effective roads into this creative educational process.

The Visual and Performing Arts Framework for California is a wonderful tool to begin the path of music integration into other curricular subjects. The arts content standards are divided into five component strands that contribute to a complete arts education:

1. Artistic Perception

2. Creative Expression

3. Historical and Cultural Context

4. Aesthetic Valuing

5. Connections, Relationships and Applications

The third strand, Historical and Cultural Context, can most easily connect to the history-social science curriculum. This strand asks the students to, "Analyze the role of music in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting cultural diversity as it relates to music, musicians, and composers."

Cultures cannot be separated from the peoples of the world. The arts are an essential part of culture and are also a definitive way of understanding how individuals make meaning in their world. The arts also reflect the views, attitudes and values of people in a given time and are considered concrete evidence of a given culture's unique characteristics. Classroom teachers can make the study of various cultures more significant by integrating music into their lessons. The key to quality integration, however, is ensuring that standards from both curricular subjects serve as the foundation upon which lessons are designed.

Integrating Music with Social Studies

Prior to creating an integrated music lesson, the teacher must begin with standards in both subjects, in this case, music and history-social science. In the figure (1) below an example of this is illustrated. Standards from the California Visual and Performing Arts Framework and the California History-Social Science Framework can be woven together to promote a greater understanding within a unit of study. In this case, the seventh grade standards will be enhanced through the study of the music of Africa, an entirely new dimension and added value to the cultural study of the people.

Choosing the Music

Choose a recording of a piece of music from a culture or civilization/time period that your students are studying. Putumayo World Music collections and National Geographic both have world music CD's, and use authentic instruments that give the listener a true example of the culture presented. These are two wonderful resources that will allow students to gain a deeper understanding of the historical-cultural contexts of world civilizations. A quick way to access the music of different cultures is to examine a selection of representative music to uncover the musical elements. Music standards along with historical study and research can be woven together by using music of a given culture and then asking questions such as:

"What type of musical instruments did or does this culture use?"

"What arts accomplishment happened in a given time frame of a culture or civilization?"

Such questions can spur research while addressing curricular mandates in both subjects.

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Music and Social Studies: A Dynamic Connection
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