Using Music Class as an Instrument for Academic and Behavioral Excellence

Let Your Students Shine:

Using Music Class as an Instrument for Academic and Behavioral Excellence

By NAfME Member Audrey Rome
National Board Certified Music Teacher, Mount Vernon City School District

Last fall, I found myself worrying about a familiar situation: Will each one of my essential performers be able to attend our Winter Show and rehearsals? At least one performance per school year since I started teaching, I’ve had the stress of empty parts and chairs on our stage due to students being suspended or being pulled out of rehearsals for special services and meetings.

The Difference Music Has Made

While our schools assign students to these alternative placements to attempt an increase in success, are these actions actually doing a disservice to students who clearly excel in at least one “encore” subject area such as music? I’m never as worried or upset about my missing bass line or djembe solo as I am about my missing students who might feel unfulfilled and lost without the music rehearsals and performance that they have worked so hard for.

Behavioral Excellence
Photo by Matt Janson Photography

Speaking from my own experience, before reading IEPs or receiving a notification from a colleague or administrator, I sometimes don’t even know which of my students are the “troublemakers” or students with disabilities. To me, this shows that these students DO have specific educational needs that they are meeting independently in my music classroom.

In my 7th grade general music classes, I give every student the opportunity to play an instrument (I am very fortunate that my district has provided us with djembes, guitars, midi keyboards, an electric bass, and more). Students have varying prerequisite experience, but I find that this is the perfect opportunity to pair some students up with peers they haven’t gotten to know so that they can exchange expertise and help one another. Additionally, all students are constantly busy in my classroom since they are fulfilling important roles in our ensemble, which keeps them out of trouble. They take pride in the musical instruments they learn, and they love making their own adaptations to meet their own needs. For example, we created our own guitar straps out of duct tape in a “Music Makerspace” for students who were uncomfortable holding the guitar because of their physical needs. This helps students celebrate their differences and learn how to problem solve for themselves, which is a necessary trait to help them through life!

A Place for Students to Express Themselves

Instead of using deprivation of the arts as punishment, there are so many ways to use these classes as an incentive. For my students who have excellent behavior records, I write out a song of their choice from our classroom “Listen List” where students can request their favorite songs to learn in our class. I also have a “Pick Punch” to make guitar picks, and top participants get to make and take their own colorful guitar picks that they show off with pride.

Musical Excellence
Photo by Matt Janson Photography

This same concept applies to English Language Learners, who are sometimes pulled from the arts and physical education for extra help. Contrary to this practice, the arts and physical education are usually the first places that English Language Learners can express themselves comfortably because they are all using the common language of music, drawing, and running, in addition to learning about multicultural repertoire, artwork, and sports that make students feel both secure and proud of their roots.

To all general education teachers, special education teachers, administrators, parents, and school community members – please remember that our “extra” and “ancillary” classes are often the most memorable and meaningful experience for many of our students. I’ll even go as far as to say that I’m confident my class has kept students in school throughout my past eight years as a public school teacher, and I only know that because students have told me so!

Let’s support our students by letting them shine as individuals with the arts!

About the author:


NAfME member Audrey Rome currently teaches music at A.B. Davis Middle School in Mount Vernon City School District, NY. She is a National Board Certified Teacher and NYSSMA piano adjudicator with a tireless passion to make every student feel successful and confident through the multiple approaches, apps, and adaptations. 

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