Using Disney songs in the classroom

When Disney’s Frozen was released in theatres, children in my music classes were excited to sing Let it go during music time. For whatever reason, the children really connected with this song and it became a favourite overnight. Every week, I would have to remind them that we would finish music time with Let it go, but we had to get through the rest of the lesson first! If you haven’t heard the song, have a look at the clip below.

Songs from Disney movies have always been popular, and so I started to think of how to incorporate this song into our music time in a way that would be authentically educational. These songs from Disney soundtracks often have elaborate melodies with fantastic dance scenes during the movies, however, they are particularly challenging to sing. This was definitely the case for Let it go.

Although Let it go has a beautiful message for children to embrace their gifts and to ‘let go’ what others think of them, in terms of singing to it, children simply do not stand a chance. It was specifically written for Idina Menzel, the actress who voices Queen Elsa.  Menzel has a long career on stage in Broadway productions so it is no wonder the song is challenging. The vocal range from the song spans almost two octaves (F3 to Eb5) with a complex key change after the bridge. (Anderson-Lopez & Lopez, 2013) With each verse, the melody rises higher, making it less achievable for little voices to reach. Then in the final bars of the song, Elsa sings ‘…let the storm rage on!’ hitting that high Eb for two bars (almost ten seconds when sung at the correct tempo). What I found was that when children attempt to sing this, it inevitably ends in screaming at the end of the song.

Disney songs in general also often have fantastic instrumentation with full orchestras accompanying the lyrics. This makes for a beautiful sound but can be difficult to decipher for children who have limited auditory processing skills.

But why were the children I was working with asking for this songs over and over?

Children request songs for a reason. This might be to calm or excite them, or to learn something new. When repeating a song, educators are allowing children to create connections within their growing brains. For example, after listening to a song a few times, a child’s brain is connecting the lyrics (language) to the melody (auditory processing). When educators repeat this activity, the connection between these two parts of the brain become more efficient and more creative. The connection in the brain is like going from a small pathway to a road, to a highway, each time the neural ‘pathway’ is used, it becomes more efficient. This increases a child’s problem-solving skills and their ability to apply knowledge to various new environments.

How to utilise Disney songs in a way that is educational

For Let it go I created a movement activity with scarves. Children were to dance with their scarves during each verse, then when it comes to the chorus, scrunch up the scarves and throw them in the air when Elsa sang ‘Let it go’. This encourages children to notice the form of the song (when the chorus was coming up, how long until each chorus), it gives creative freedom with dancing, working on gross motor skills in throwing and in anticipating the chorus and the children are beginning to understand a sequence of events.

So instead of screaming the song to finish our music lesson, we would finish it with our scarves being thrown in the air and some creative movement. This was much better for both me as a teacher and the children, as we left the room in a calmer more regulated state, and wouldn’t hurt our voices!

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