Audio Literacy


    Why We Should Utilize Song and Lyrics in Our Classrooms.


    Studying and analyzing songs, specifically the lyrics, with students is a way to engage learners in our ever expanding world of CDs, iPods, ring tones, computers, video games and future technology.  Barry A. Farber, PhD a professor of psychology at Columbia University maintains that the study of song lyrics with younger learners has the potential for a much broader reach than the printed word.  He has authored Rock ‘n’ Roll Wisdom, a book about the power of the written word in song.


    Farber states, “The better lyricists within the rock tradition tell stories about life and use creative phrases and imagery to do so.  Like other artists, great songwriters offer the virtue of a more palatable way of learning than through the often-tedious pages of textbooks.”

    Farber agrees that the writings of great authors go far deeper than rock lyrics. He also admits that many rock ‘n’ roll listeners don’t always specifically listen to lyrics. Still, he would like to see the lyrics given more attention and serious consideration.


    Farber states, “The best lyrics reflect universal truths and put life in perspective.  They motivate us to process our own feelings and think creatively.”


    Think about it!  Aren’t we trying to get our students to read and then “think creatively” and “process” and “put life in perspective”? 


    What does Coldplay have to do with a Newbery winning novelist?  Chris Martin and Sharon Creech write about the same themes.  Martin is an author just like Creech.  He writes or co-writes the powerful songs of the band Coldplay.  His stirring “Swallowed in the Sea” has many themes, among them the power of writing and the notion of slowing down and appreciating the small things in life.  Martin writes: “Not loving all you see.  Oh the streets you're walking on.  A thousand houses long.  Well that's where I belong.”

    Likewise, Creech’s award-winning novel Heartbeat has similar themes.  The main character, twelve year old Annie, loves to run, but not to compete.  Instead, she loves to run for the sheer pleasure of running.  When she runs, she notices the world around her.   Having students discover these like themes is a fine example of incorporating song lyrics and traditional literature into language arts. 


    Both Creech and Martin are authors.  Making students aware that songs have writers too is important.  (Use the term “lyricist”!)  Just like we do author studies about Cynthia Rylant, Jerry Spinelli, Lois Lowry, Karen Hesse and Mark Twain; we can also study Chris Martin, Elvis Presley, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin and Patsy Cline.


    When you are selecting songs, just ensure that you use songs that do not have explicit lyrics.  Coldplay, Five for Fighting and U2 are good examples of bands that have songs that are easy to use and explicit-free.  Share songs that you enjoy listening to – it is another way to build community in your classroom.  Sharing parts of yourself with your students will activate them to share their interests too – through writing and expression. 
    Audio literacy!  Try it!