Music is playing in my class all day; the only exception being when I am talking with students. I believe music to be a calming, comforting tool used in my class.
Many times, my students can tell what mood I am in upon walking into class and hearing either the deceptively soft melodies of Elliot Smith or thespeed and intensity of Anthrax.
I had a professor in college who played concert videos of Yanni, John Tesh, and Celine Dion in between classes. At first, we laughed and mocked her. There was something really odd about watching one of these videos prior to an English 101 class.
One day a friend of mine borrowed one of his mom’s Yanni concert t-shirts and wore it to class, hoping the professor noticed; she did. After the first two weeks of the semester, I began to notice that all of us students were in the lecture hall, sitting in our chairs watching Celine Dion rock out with her electric violinist, at least five minutes before class officially started. (HERE it is, if interested!)
In my iTunes I have a folder called “Instrurock”. Technically, the contents are mostly “Post Rock” (link to wiki). But the great thing about these bands is that, ninety-five percent of the time, there is nsinging.
I generalize this music as being modern versions of Rush‘s “La Villa Strangiato”.rrA key aspect of these bands, in addition to having little to no singing, is that the music is hip enough for the students to not have a Pavlovian negative response to Classical music. I frequently see students tapping their foot with the beat.
Another way in which I use music in my class is as volume control. I point out to my students that there is music playing in Target, yet the workers are still doing their job and people can still talk. My students know that their volume should not go above the volume of the music (of course, there are times when we are louder, much louder; but, that is circumstantial.).
Here is a nice song by Godspeed You! Black Emperor that is representative of the soundtrack in my class while students are writing or working in groups. I particularly like how the song slowly builds to a crescendo, adding subtle layers of nuance: a nice metaphor for writing and creating.