Learning Through Song – by Tayler Boelk. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Learning Through Song – by Tayler Boelk. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports


[Source of image, see: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edmund_Fitzgerald,_1971,_3_of_4_(restored).jpg]

Everything I learned about the Edmund Fitzgerald, a famous Great Lakes shipwreck, I learned through song. I can tell you how many tons of iron ore was on the ship—about 26,000. I can tell you where they were coming from—Wisconsin,- and where they were going—Cleveland. I can even tell you how many people died when it sank to the bottom of Lake Superior—29.

Song has been, and continues to be, a great method of learning. An excellent example of this is the children’s song “The ABC’s.” In the United States, this is how children learn the basic units of communication. Through song, they learn the letters used to build words for both speaking and writing. Language is an interactive and social process, and music is a natural way for children to experience this process in a pleasurable way. As schooling continues, learning through song remains present. School House Rock and Animaniacs were popular educational television shows that taught the continents, presidents, states and their capitals, parts of speech, and even more universal things such as countries of the world. Some songs are used to encourage cooperation and problem solving. The “Clean-Up Song,” for instance, was a popular one from kindergarten, teaching children that the best way to get work done quickly is to work together. While these are dominantly western examples, the great thing about music is that it spans across the globe.

Music exists in every culture. It varies in style, language, and message, but it is one of the most powerful ways of understanding the differences and similarities of others. It is universal in that music always speaks to the human experience. Even when we listen to music in languages we cannot understand, we receive a lasting impression of the challenges, sorrows, and joys of that culture. It is this emotional experience that really connects a listener with the music. This connection breaks language barriers allowing us to learn about other cultures and from others’ experiences. In addition, the rhythm and patterns of song can help us learn language easier. In a choral setting, I have much experience singing in foreign languages. Most of the learning was done through the active singing of the song. Sure, we learn things via lecture or reading but by simultaneously reading lyrics, hearing them, and actively singing them, we are processing the information in several ways rather than one at a time.

This applies to music in familiar languages by allowing us to quickly memorize the information through use of familiar patterns. You don’t have to be a music prodigy to recognize rhyming schemes or the difference between the chorus and verse. In our everyday experiences of listening to music on the radio, in movies, commercial jingles, or music classes we become familiar with these patterns. Singers and song writers take advantage of these patterns to tell stories or teach lessons. As I mentioned before, everything I know about the Edmund Fitzgerald I learned through song. Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is arguably the source of the ships fame. His song follows many traditional methods of storytelling including foreshadowing, similes, and contains a beginning, middle, and end. While this story could easily be told verbally, by putting it to song and adding additional literary techniques, such as rhyming and alliteration, it becomes instantly more memorable.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a famous German writer, once stated that music is “the language of the heart.” While this is beautiful, I would argue that music is the language of the world. It brings people together from across the globe and helps them understand and enjoy each other’s culture.

Tayler Boelk serves as assistant editor for The North Star Reports.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (http://theMiddleGroundJournal.org).

For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Tayler Boelk

45 responses to “Learning Through Song – by Tayler Boelk. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Elisabeth Bergstedt

    Reading your article sparked a lot of memories– making me think about all the songs I knew that helped me learn something growing up. Like you said, it started with the ABC’s or the “clean up” song, but it even stayed with me when I started school. For example, I remember creating songs or chants when I was young to memorize something for a quiz. Even more important to me, I still remember all the songs my grandma would sing that I still know to this day. And honestly, I don’t think I could ever forget them.

  2. Jenna Algoo

    Wonderful article! I fully agree with you, music is a language of the world and will continue to be such for generations to come. Music works in fascinating ways; calming people down, getting people fired up, being a source of love, inspiration, wonder, etc. I would argue to even say non-lyrical music tell a story, too. Just in different ways, and to each and every person differently. This is a strange phenomenon in itself. Thanks for your article!

  3. Emily Ciernia

    I think that this is a wonderful example of the power of music. i think that music is something that connects us, and like you said, brings people from all over the world together to enjoy each other’s cultures. I think that is why music is so powerful because it transcends language and evokes emotion. I used to be in concert band up until a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. I think one of the main reasons why I enjoyed playing music is because all the instruments come together to make something beautiful. I like how you said, “music is the language of the world” – I completely agree. Thank you for sharing, Tayler!

  4. Holly Kampa

    Tayler, thank you for sharing! I agree completely that music plays a bigger role in our lives than we realize. It is a great way to convey emotion or even a means of teaching. I often view music a a positive thing, however we do have those songs that may portray negative stories. Overall it is part of our everyday lives or at least it is part of mine. I don’t think I can remember the last time I went a day without hearing some sort of music. In the car, on the radio, on TV, the list goes on. It’s a wonderful yet simple thing. Thanks again for sharing!


  5. Sara Desrocher

    I like this post a lot because I can relate to it. I also know everything that I know about the Edmund Fitzgerald because of the song. I like how the idea of song being used in a learning manner is expanded on. It makes sense that the patterns and melodies of songs make them easier to remember; I admit that it seems easier for me to memorize a new song on the radio than it is for me to memorize facts for a class.

  6. Sarah Burton

    Since I was a little girl, I have always considered music to be an emotional experience. I have learned so much about the world through music, but I feel that I have learned a lot about myself through music as well. The music that we listen to can be considered an extension of our personalities and can reflect the kind of person we are. It is interesting to take a look back on all of the songs I learned as a child to help me understand/memorize many different topics. I still find myself singing songs from grade school, which shows how much of an impact music has on someone. Music, to me, is one of the most powerful forms of art. I agree that music can be considered “the language of the world” but I strongly feel that it is the “language of the heart”. I have listened to music that has brought me to tears, put me in a great mood, made me angry, etc. Music has this really amazing way of helping people have the ability to express themselves in this completely vulnerable but beautiful way. Currently, music is becoming more popular as a non-pharmacological therapy. It is unbelievable that people connect to music on such a deep level, that is could be used as a therapy. It truly is an amazing form of art.

  7. Matt Breeze

    I never thought about it until reading this, but almost everything I know about the Edmund Fitzgerald is also from that song. Songs make it easy to remember things, much easier than trying to just memorize words or phrases. I wonder if there should be songs for learning not just for young students, but also older students? This could make the lives of high school or middle school students less stressful and maybe more full of learning.

  8. Sarah Fall

    Great writing! Since I was younger I have always been playing music or have had a song stuck in my head. I also catch myself making little songs in my head to memorize things for quizzes or to connect them with a memory. For example, when ever I hear a specific song by Edward McCain I think of a specific time in the book “Cirque de Freak” and I haven’t yet figured out why.. Great article!

  9. Love this article! Its strange how easily songs and riddles will stay with you for a long time. I can still remember the “states song” from middle school, and I remember the layers of the atmosphere because of a riddle taught to me by my 7th grade science teacher. I tend to still use songs, mostly riddles, to commit information to memory. When I am studying for a test, I will often say the words to a song and it is easier to recall the information. Music is a very powerful tool that is useful to convey messages as well. In my Music of the Caribbean class, we often talked about how music is a great way to reach a large audience to spread an idea. Thanks for sharing the great info!

  10. Connor

    I totally agree that music can be a universal language and, in addition, a powerful tool. Scary movies are considerably less scary when on mute. Many people have their “pump up” songs they like to listen to before playing sports or working out. Music can also be a powerful form of propaganda (Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue by Toby Kieth, for example). Personally, there are many songs that carry specific memories for me. Simply hearing the the song briefly can often prompt these memories.

  11. Catherine McConnell

    Great job Tayler! This article does a beautiful job on showing how connecting through music is a powerful information source as well as a connection to people around the world. Because I stood next to you in St. Scholastica’s Bella Voce I know first hand what you mean when you describe how you can learn to sing in a language you can not speak in. Choral music is infamous for this, learning songs in different languages because their sounds shape such beautiful music but this is also true in popular music. I know songs in Spanish, French and even Korean because they have played on the radio so many times, expanding my knowledge of languages and having connections to cultures across the globe.

  12. Roman Schnobrich

    First off, awesome writing– music is such a great example of expressing emotion through a practically universal medium. I appreciate that you identified most of the examples we can think of as primarily Western, as that’s important to take note of. It’s intriguing to think of how easily (or not) music can be interpreted. Even if we don’t understand the language, tones can represent such specific moods and feelings.

  13. Meghan Lozinski

    I agree that music can really help students learn, like the alphabet song in middle school Spanish classes, I think it is sometimes given too much credit, especially in little kids. With the ABC song, so many parents think their kids have mastered the alphabet at a record breaking young age but in reality they’re just repeating the tune and the words, they have no concept of which letter matches with the word they sing. I think, ultimately, that music is a great tool for rote memorization of things such as the order of the alphabet but doesn’t help people truly learn the information–especially when songs are filled with errors (Gordon Lightfoot’s song had quite a few itself).

  14. Kyle Dosan

    Music is such a powerful tool to convey messages, feelings and even information. The song about the Fitzgerald is such a great point to make about learning through song. It is very interesting that song is a tremendous way to communicate. Some people even make up their own songs to to help study for a test or a quiz. Thank you for sharing this article!

  15. Andrea Ramler

    This was a great article to read. It fills me with joy that songs played such an important role and is able to play such an educational role. It also shows the impact and connections through music that people have all around the world. Its a different way of communication that is very fun and something that we don’t really think about. I often listen to songs and try to figure out what the lyrics mean or the story they tell and its always very interesting. Music is a way to express how you are feeling and it is something that is actually veryb important in our world today. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Gina Palmi

    This is 100% relatable. I learn a lot better the through song. When I am struggling to learn something, sometimes I’ll try to make a song out of it and it’s crazy how fast it’ll come to me and how well I remember it. Music is so fundamental to learning and I think that is often overlooked.

  17. Sofia Pineda

    It is incredible to think about the amount of influence music has over us. Music without a doubt is a very powerful tool that works not just in the educational sphere but in many other such as the political one. When candidates are running for a position, in order to get their message across and increase popularity among the population, they use songs. Songs are catchy and fun to learn. Politicians use songs as another for of propaganda.

  18. Jessica Richart

    Your article made me think of my childhood a lot! As you mentioned, in a lot of my classes our teachers used songs to help us memorize everything from states to math equations. I have to agree that this helped a lot! Music is such a beautiful way to communicate and share your stories. I know through being in choir I have learned a lot about the other languages we have sang in. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Rachel Reicher

    It is very true that beginning at childhood, learning a song can stem off into much more that one learning element. I have a particular song that comes to mind that I listened to when I took a government class in high school. It was a song performed my School House Rock called “I’m Just a Bill.” This song allowed me to remember all the steps necessary for a bill to pass in legislation. Different songs stick in people’s mind throughout a lifetime and many of them contain knowledge they will demonstrate for the entire lifetime.

  20. Nichole DeBoom

    Music is one of the most powerful ways of communication. Feelings and emotions can be felt so much stronger through song, than just normal words. We use song for more things than we can remember, your example of the ABC’s made me remember when I learned the alphabet, but I never thought of it as a song. Songs are universal! Great article!

  21. Kyle Hellmann

    Awesome article, thanks for sharing! It is incredibly easy to memorize song lyrics with a catchy beat. One can memorize every line, just as you did. But trying to memorize vocabulary words for a test is on a whole different level! I have actually heard of people studying for tests using a tune to be able to recall certain definitions and processes for chemistry. I even remember the quadratic formula from high school, because it is in a song form! In my next test, I will try to remember this article and implement song and rhythm into studying!

  22. Nancy Thao

    I really enjoy reading your story! As many others have mentioned, I do agree that music plays a big role in our lives and it has been very beneficial in helping people with memorization. In all honesty though, even if I listen to a song a hundred times now, I would not be able to learn all the lyrics but I can go with the tune of it. I was watching a singer competition show and one of the judges always talked about how one should sing as if they were talking. My interpretation of this is even though they are singing, they should sound like they are in a conversation which can connect to its listener and to be able to express their feelings. What do you think about the standards for musicians today? Are there more expectations and have the standards increase?

  23. Courtney Banks

    This is absolutely amazing! I’m a major music geek and when it comes to local history, it’s outstanding! I’d love to hear more about the Edmund Fitzgerald someday, amung other local histories. It’s almost as if this ship was the Titanic of our area. Keep up the good work! I loved your article.

  24. Your point “by simultaneously reading lyrics, hearing them, and actively singing them, we are processing the information in several ways rather than one at a time,” really is true! From an education standpoint, the best way to learn something is by processing it through different mediums. Repetition is so important for information retention. Not only is music enjoyable but it teaches you all sorts of subject matter and opens up one’s eyes to new issues. Thanks for writing this piece!

  25. Thomas Landgren

    I remember learning that song through out elementary school and i feel like i will never forget it. I agree with you that music is just another form of storytelling and it even deepens the story by adding a rhythm. In World History II we are constantly learning about storytelling and the many different ways each culture goes about the process. The importance of music in story telling can go back to the Aborigines in Australia. Music is one of the most important forms of communication and we can see that through its resilience over time. Great Article!

  26. Jacob Carson

    I could not agree more with you that music is the language of the world. Something you notice when you travel abroad is that even if you don’t know anything about the culture and or language, in today’s age you probably will have listened to some of the same music. This creates an instant connection that breaks the ice so to speak. I think the power of music is far greater than many give it credit.

  27. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on music and language Tayler. I think that it is important to approach music the same way we learn verbal language, by embracing mistakes and playing as often as possible. Music and language are indeed both forms of expression. I also agree that teaching with song makes learning not only more fun, but more effective and long-lasting. Over the years I have seen how music is a powerful medium. It can help children in particular see themselves as who they are and who they can be.

  28. Jena O'Byrne

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It was a nice tribute to the impact that music has on us as whole. The rhythm I feel is a big factor that allows our mind to make long lasting connections. The mind is such an advanced tool and it is neat that music and rhythm help in the learning process. Even as young child I too can recall songs that helped me do a specific task. I can specifically recall in third grade my teacher had us say a rhyme to remember our vocab words. Even today when I am spelling that rhyme comes back to me. Overall great post and making connections, thank you for sharing!

  29. I totally agree with you that music can be so helpful in helping students learn. I still remember learning all the capitals in fifth grade by memorizing a song. I like how you said that music differs from culture to culture. Being in choir, especially during high school, I have learned a lot about different styles of music among different cultures. It’s also amazing how music has evolved over time and continues to change our lives. Overall, great article!

  30. Martti Maunula

    This reminds me a lot of my own parents. The earliest song I remember my father ever singing to me was on about the sauna’s in Finland. I’m not sure how much educational benefit this had, but up until today, I still picture saunas as being synonymous with Finland. Likewise, my mother always had us listen to songs when we were driving anywhere that included all of the provinces in Canada, all of the States in America and similarly all the countries in Europe, and so forth and so on for Asia and Africa. I can’t remember them all today but I remember at one point being able to sing along with all the songs and so somewhere I am more familiar with world geography as a result of my mother having me listen to those songs.

  31. Isabella Williams

    I really appreciated this article because music is something everyone is able to relate to. All of my days in pre-k and kinder are linked to songs literally superglued into my memory, such as the Clean up song, but other ones as well for math, english, all kinds of subjects. The best thing about instrumental music in general is it is a language nearly everyone can speak, and I think that’s something beautiful.

  32. Fascinating! Isn’t it wonderful that song is yet another media and means of oral communication (in some cases, in others it would be auditory) for people to transfer stories through? I think song is also a wonderful way to understand different concepts and metaphors expressed through different languages that may not be easily translatable from language to language. I even remember when I was beginning to learn Spanish in middle school, our teacher would have us students march around the room and sing the songs out loud…(how humiliating for all of us angsty pre teens). However, I could still sing the songs word for word today and translate every line for you.

  33. Jodi Moran

    How fascinating it is that a simple melody can stick with a person for a lifetime. Like you mentioned, learning the ABCs is so much easier with a tune attached to it. When I took Spanish in high school, my teacher would teach us through song and I would catch myself humming the Spanish song weeks after the class was over. Music is manipulated for various purposes like learning, focusing, motivation, and memory. Nice article!

  34. Bryce Gadke

    The phenomenon of song being able to be relatable and carry a strong message has allowed people for centuries to carry messages about life throughout time. Many songs have a timeless quality that plays on human emotion. When hearing a song a few times it speaks about the capacity of the human mind to listen, associate, and remember. Some songs get stuck in your head because you’re so familiar with the tune. This ability to remember can be manipulated to help learning occur, like you discussed. Thanks for sharing!

  35. Nick Campbell

    I enjoyed this article and the idea that music can be used more than it is for educational purposes. In middle school, I had multiple teachers use songs to try to teach us a variety of subjects. Not all of them stuck but certain ones I still remember to this day. For example, in math, every time I need to use the quadratic formula, I will sing the song in my head that my seventh grade teacher taught me.

  36. Sandy Davidson-Hunt

    I have always heard the saying that music is the worlds universal language. I never really believed it until i spent a significant amount of time in Mexico when I was younger. The Mexicans absolutely loved their song and dance, and although I didn’t always know what the lyrics were saying, there is so much more that goes into music than words. No matter what the lyrics, you can understand feeling of happiness, sadness, guilt, shame, etc., this alternative way of communicating I have always found fascinating and it is an incredible thing that we are able to appreciate.

  37. Samantha Wollin

    Great article!! This did bring back memories of the songs I would hear as a child. I feel like we learn and remember things better when they’re in songs. I remember in 8th grade my teacher would play this song about the capitals of South America and I still remember it today! Very interesting article!

  38. Mike Zupfer

    It is great to hear that music is still helping in many ways that we may not think. I remember in history class we learned all the states to a song and i can still (for the most part) remember all the states in alphabetical order. I also have heard quite a few stories lately of how music helps people such as the dancing barista who has autism but dances to music to help control his movements. Music is able to do so many things if we just put our minds to it. Great piece this week!

  39. That’s an excellent point about music being the language of the heart. When touring with a choir last summer, our first host family put a post-it on a package of brownies they sent with me that said “Music is the language of God,” which happened to be the topic of the scholarship essay I wrote that enabled me to participate in the choir. It’s fascinating how so much of our lives revolves around this thing that makes next to no evolutionary sense. Yes it has aspects of learning and storytelling, but most of the bottom line is we listen to music for pleasure, or for immersion into another dimension alongside our current experience. And the fact that it’s as universal as laughter makes it that much more magical. Thankyou for this.

  40. Carley Nadeau

    Music is a great way to universally spread a message, and I feel you really captured and displayed that beautifully here. When I think of music, I usually think of something positive, but the song of the Fitzgerald is a great reminder that sometimes music can show a darker side. Even with this dark side, the song still falls under the theme that music can spread a message.
    I really liked how you brought in the quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to emphasize the message more. It was also a very nice way to wrap up everything. Nice job!

  41. Breena Alfredson

    “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is one of my absolute favorite songs; something about the way he tells the story in song is so haunting, just as the sinking of the Fitz was. Music can invoke such an emotional response in people because of the sounds and message that there isn’t anything that really compares. I thought about how some people really dislike certain kind of music and love others and I think a lot of that has to do with our own experiences, what would you say?

  42. Megan Bingham

    This article brought me right back to kindergarten. I still, to this day, remember the song we used to have to sing before walking down the hallway. Music is apart my my everyday rituals. I don’t go a single day with out listening to music and this causes it to be a huge impact on my life and what i view as “normal”. I even listen to songs by Shakira when she sings in Spanish. This is still fun and influential to me. Thanks you for posting this out and making me think twice about what I am listening to because my brain is retaining more than I may be noticing.

  43. Shelby Olson

    I really appreciate your insights on music. I had also learned about the Edmund Fitzgerald when I was probably in elementary school through Gordon Lightfoot’s song and even used it as a source for a college paper I wrote. Despite having learned about it so long ago, it surprisingly had stuck with me. I suppose that is just one of the unique effects that music can have on people. Something I find interesting is that colleges such as St. Scholastica have classes based around music and songs themselves to teach a specific class. For example, I took Music as Environmental Activism last semester to learn about various environmental situations that have previously / are currently taking place. Overall I really enjoyed your article! Thanks for sharing!

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