Music Soothes the Savage Math Class Music education is on the decline nationwide as schools struggle to meet the requirements of basic math and English literacy. But some teachers find using music to teach other subjects is effective.
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Music Soothes the Savage Math Class

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Music Soothes the Savage Math Class

Music Soothes the Savage Math Class

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(Singing) A-B-C-D-E-F-G.

(Speaking) Chances are this is how you learned the alphabet, but hopefully from someone who could sing it a little better than I. These days, teachers are using music to teach more advanced lessons. Julie Bierach from member station KUAZ in Tucson has more.

JULIE BIERACH: In a makeshift music room on the northeast side of Tucson, about two dozen people sit in a half circle. They're diligently tuning their guitars to make sure the note isn't sharp or flat. They've only been playing for a few short weeks.

Mr. DOUG BOWERS(ph) (Guitars in the Classroom): Here we go. Let's just start strumming the G like this. A one and a two, here we go.

(Singing) This land is your land...

BIERACH: Well, they're not learning how to play Led Zeppelin songs, that's for sure. Doug Bowers is the southwest regional director of Guitars in the Classroom. Over the past year, he's taught about 200 teachers how to strum songs using just a few simple chords. He's a retired teacher. He used the guitar daily in his classes to teach his students everything from their multiplication tables to the preamble of the Constitution.

Mr. BOWERS: So it went like this.

(Singing) We, the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility.

(Speaking) And literally every kid, including kids who were on every low end of every scale we could measure, were able to do that, even to the extent of standing in front of the superintendent when he visited one time and reciting it, not even having to sing it.

BIERACH: Guitars in the Classroom is the brainchild of Jessica Barron. She started the program in San Jose, California in 1998. As a music teacher, she noticed her colleagues were envious of her ability to sing with the kids, so she started the program to teach them how to play and sing. But she says they're training teachers to be musical facilitators, not music educators.

Ms. JESSICA BARRON (Guitars in the Classroom): We believe in music education, we support music education advocacy. But what we're doing is creating something different, which is enabling the general classroom teacher to be a musical song leader in service of children's academic excellence.

BIERACH: It's not a new idea. Dr. Dawn Corso was a clinical assistant professor in a department of teaching and teacher education at the University of Arizona. She says music can be a powerful pneumonic device, or memory tool.

Dr. DAWN CORSO: Typically people will have a memory for music more as a whole. So if you're pairing that up with, let's say, song lyrics about multiplication tables, they're going to remember it because they have that sort of gestalt of what that whole song is.

BIERACH: The teachers in this class have already introduced music in their classrooms, and they're finding that the guitar is magic to kids. Striking it just feels good. And for Doug Bowers, he discovered that the students respected him more because he was willing to get on their level and have a good time, even while he taught or sung the daily grammar lesson on nouns.

Mr. BOWERS: (Singing) A noun's a special kind of word. It's any name you ever heard. I find it quite interesting, a noun's a person, place or thing.

(Speaking) It's crazy time, but crazy time is how kids learn stuff. It sneaks in when they're not thinking about it and the kids would literally fight to get their hand up the quickest to come up and literally act like an idiot in front of the class. In a few weeks they could identify a prepositional phrase in any sentence because they had the pattern.

BIERACH: Thousands of teachers in 26 states are taking part in the Guitars in the Classroom program. And while it's not a replacement for music education, these teachers think it's a fun way to learn and a fun way to teach. And maybe they're also creating a new generation of music makers.

For NPR News, I'm Julie Bierach in Tucson.

Mr. BOWERS: (Singing) This land was made for you and me.

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