Using Popular Music to Teach

As both a musician and a teacher, I’ve seen how powerful music can be as a learning tool.  The tricky part is knowing how to effectively mix the two.  Educational music needs to have educational content, but kids can tune out if it is something they don’t relate to or something they see as too corny.

Engaging Middle and High Schools Students With Music

It’s especially common for middle school or high school students to see many educational songs as childish.  Most kids prefer the hits they hear on the radio, by artists like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, or Bruno Mars.  It’s tough to go pound for pound with these superstars, but I say a teacher can!  I have had lots of success in leveraging this interest in popular songs.  How?  Educational parody songs!

The melody of the song remains, but the words are changed to teach an educational concept.   It does take some time and some creative songwriting, but if done well, this can cement a concept in a student’s mind for good.  Also, if you are not confident enough in your songwriting abilities, some careful online searching can uncover some well done educational parodies by teachers and students.  Recently, I wrote a song to the tune of the uber-popular song “Despacito” and posted to my YouTube channel of educational songs and parodies.

despacito parody


I think it works so well because students are instantly hooked.  They already know the song, and are intrigued that it’s being brought into the classroom.  It also helps that they are familiar with the melody, which makes learning the song easier.

If my experience is telling, students will show excitement and give their attention when a parody to a popular song is introduced, and they will retain the information in the song incredibly well.  As a bonus, they will also be having fun!  Don’t believe me?  As proof, here’s a video uploaded by a classroom teacher who found my Lady Gaga parody song about prepositions:

Working at Genius Plaza

Today, I am out of the classroom and making songs for Genius Plaza.  Teachers across the world use these songs in their classrooms.  I always make sure not to “sing down” to young learners with nursery rhyme-type songs.  Any music I create for them should sound something like the kind of music they would hear on the radio.  Below are two examples.  We have not yet released any pop song parodies, but one is in the works.

music to teach

Do keep in mind, however, that an educational song is not a lesson.

music to teach


They are best suited to complement and reinforce a lesson.  Also, don’t try to do too much with a song.  It should teach something finite, like a formula, process or something that requires memorization.  Lastly, don’t be surprised if you see students humming or bobbing their heads while taking a test!