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!

It starts with ‘Hello’

‘Hello, hello hello. It’s music time today!
Hello, hello, hello, who is here today?’

When children first arrive in your room, do you sing hello? Singing a hello song is a great way to start any music session. Not only is it a great way to warm up your vocal chords but it also builds a sense of community and belonging amongst children. Creating a space children feel they ‘belong’ to is essential in an Early Education and Care setting, as the Early Years Learning Framework states

Experiencing belonging – knowing where and with whom you belong – is integral to human existence.

The Early Years Learning Framework

The play therapy technique of acknowledging children where they are at (emotionally or otherwise) allows them to feel seen and understood. Singing hello adds the layer of communal music-making, giving children the opportunity to be a part of a team, working together to achieve a common goal.

So, let’s start the day on the right foot and sing hello!

What hello song do you use?

Recorder Memes

Yes, we’ve all seen them on our Facebook pages, and even had a little giggle, but I am officially over it. Recorder memes poke fun at the hard work music teachers do!

I understand better than anyone that learning a new instrument is difficult. When I was in year ten I decided I wanted to try learning the oboe. As a flautist of four years, this was quite the challenge as an oboe has a double reed. I was determined to learn it specifically for an upcoming eisteddfod, however, when I started practicing at home, my family promptly told me that I sounded like an injured goose.

Learning a new instrument is no easy feat. Not to mention having the courage to actually perform that skill infront of peers and an audience! When we teach children how to play the recorder, we are actually teaching them:

  • fine motor skills of holding their fingers over the holes so as to make the best sound
  • breath control to play their recorder soft or loud
  • how to read music (which is a huge challenge in itself)
  • how to work in a group to achieve a collective goal when playing in ensembles
  • timing when playing a piece of music with others
  • multitasking while watching a conductor and also following along with the music their playing
  • listening skills as they tune-in to the sound of their recorder amongst a group of peers
  • determination and tenacity as they practice
  • and a lot more!

So next time you hear the high pitched screech of a wrong note, think of how much your child is learning. And thank their music teacher!

Songs with Sami

COVID 19 has not been easy. With parents adding the role of teacher to their already busy lives, we have a thought of a way to make things a little easier.

‘Songs with Sami’ is a closed Facebook group designed to help parents with musical activities to do with their children during the isolation period. Each video involves a short activity that is easily achievable for parents, even if you have no experience with music!

Musical play is a fantastic way for children to feel connected to their families, regulate their emotions and express their feelings throughout this tricky time.

As adults, we have the responsibility to provide PERMISSION, TIME and SPACE for our children to play freely every day, so they can make sense of the world in their own way, at their own pace. 

Barb Champion, Executive Director – Play Australia

If you would like to join ‘Songs with Sami!’ click here.