Using Repertoire to Enhance Life-Long Learning

Making Connections: Using Music to Make Artistic, Interdisciplinary, and Lifelong Connections for Special Learners

By NAfME Member Brian Wagner-Yeung


Did you know that repertoire can be used to teach your students skills that can be incorporated outside of the classroom? The music that you choose can have way more value than just academic and musical purpose. You can use music to further develop: social, life, interpersonal, and interdisciplinary skills for our students. These are skills that they can take away into the real world. This can easily benefit our special learners, however this can be an important skill for all of our students.


Making Connections with High Quality Repertoire

First of all, when we choose music to teach, we choose repertoire that will challenge and further develop their musical skills. We want our students to be exposed to such skills as: rhythm, tone, form, melodic contour, articulation, dynamics, etc. We choose music that builds upon skills our students have learned in the past (scaffolding) while developing new skills and techniques.

However, the music we choose can have a dual purpose. We can use music to develop skills that they will be able to take away into the real world. For example, we can use the text/lyrics to teach them something they might not already know. We can use the historical content/themes to connect to something important in our students’ own personal lives.

When we are teaching new skills to our students, it all begins with processes happening in their brain. Neurons in the brain connect with other neurons creating synaptic connections, which will strengthen over time with practice at the new skill. A simpler way of thinking of it is comparing it to sonata form.


Sonata Form
Copyright 2016 – NYSSMA


Connecting to Social and Lifelong Skills

Many students enter our classroom lacking appropriate social skills. Such basic skills as: saying hello, shaking hands, waiting, and turn-taking can be developed through carefully planned repertoire choice. Below are several repertoire examples, and ways they can be used to teach social and life skills.

  • Hello, Dolly! from the musical Hello, Dolly!
    • Can be used as an introductory “hello song” to each class.
    • You can change to words to add student names, and encourage students to use appropriate gestures when greeting a friend (ex: shaking hand, high five, waving).


fig 2
Copyright 2016 – NYSSMA


  • Home (from the 2013 album The World From the Side of the Moon) by Phillip Phillips.
    • Can be used to teach students about the concept of what home means to you (can be your actual home, school, family, culture, etc.).
    • Can easily connect melodic instruments such as Boomwhackers ®, Resonator Bells, and/or Handbell/Deskbells to play the refrain using a color-coded system devised from the rainbow spectrum.


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Copyright 2016 – NYSSMA


  • Roar (from the 2013 album PRISM) by Katy Perry.
    • Can be used to teach students about what they are proud of, and what they hope to do.
    • You can have students set goals, which they can monitor throughout the unit/year.


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Copyright 2016 – NYSSMA


Here is a suggested repertoire list that can be utilized for elementary and secondary classrooms (click to enlarge):


Copyright 2019 – NYSSMA

Connecting to Other Academic Disciplines

We already know that music can be connected to other subject areas such as: visual art, dance, ELA, Social Studies/History, Mathematics, and Science. Nevertheless, we can still make these important interdisciplinary connections, while teaching new and important skills that our students can incorporate in their lives. Below are some interdisciplinary repertoire examples, and how they can be utilized in the classroom.

  • Land of the Silver Birch
    • Can be connected to the Social Studies curriculum (Native American segment).
    • Students can learn about what the land was like for Native Americans through text analysis, and how they felt about the land.
    • Students can then share about how they feel about where they live, and re-create the text to showcase their feelings.


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Copyright 2016 – NYSSMA


  • Green Eggs and Ham from the musical Seussical
    • Students can compare/contrast the events of the song from the book Green Eggs and Ham.
    • Students can share what they would not want to eat green eggs and ham with, and compose a new version to the song with their opinions and ideas


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Copyright 2016 – NYSSMA


  • Sakura (traditional song from Japan)
    • Students can learn about Japanese culture and instruments through this song.
    • Have students create a documentary podcast about Japanese instruments, where they compare/contrast them to western instruments.


  • Goin’ to the Zoo by Tom Paxton
    • Students can use this song to learn about different types of animals.
    • Students can use this song to focus on vocalization by making animal sounds (can be good for a non-verbal population).
    • Students can add new animals to the song, and create new sounds and movements to showcase the new animals.
    • Students can recreate a zoo using visual art materials to represent what happens in the song.


As you are choosing your repertoire, think about all the possibilities the repertoire can have for your students. First and foremost, is the music of the highest-quality which will further develop musical skill? But also think about how it can benefit your students socially, academically, and teach them skills that they can incorporate into real-life settings.


Visit Brian’s website to learn more and connect with him on LinkedIn


About the Author

Brian Wagner

Brian Wagner-Yeung is a music educator, clinician, and a performer. He received his BA and MSED in Music Education from CUNY Queens College. He is currently split between two schools in Brooklyn, NYC, where he teaches students with severe special needs, in addition to students who are gifted and talented. Mr. Wagner has taught K-7 general music, string orchestra, musical theatre, and performing arts. He has presented, and co-presented for: NYSSMA, NYCDOE, SCMEA, OMEA, NJMEA, CMEA, NAfME Biennial Eastern Division Conference, and an online webinar professional development for NAfME. He presented at the NAfME 2016 National Conference. He has also had articles published in School Music News and Tempo magazines. He is a classically trained cellist, and currently plays regularly in the NYC area.

Brian Wagner-Yeung presented on his topic “Making Connections: Using Music to Make Artistic, Interdisciplinary, and Lifelong Connections for Special Learners” at the 2016 NAfME National Conference in Dallas, TX. Proposals for the 2019 NAfME National Conference are being accepted through February 3, 2020.


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