I love music. I belt out my favorite tunes in the car, I sing in the shower, and I hum when I’m nervous (or concentrating!) So, why not in the classroom? Today, I want to talk about how I use music in my classroom to help increase my student’s ability to focus.
In my first year of teaching, I was desperately searching for ways to cut down the chatter in my classroom and increase their ability to focus on the work in front of them. It was one of my biggest hurdles. I tried a class behavior plan, but I felt that I was publicly shaming kids into being quiet. (I’m not saying that all class behavior plans do this, but the few that I tried that first year felt that way.)
I also tried class rewards for working quietly. I tried stickers, token systems, and student coupons, but they all left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Why should students be rewarded for EXPECTED behavior? It just wasn’t for me. I had to keep thinking!
In the dead of winter that first year, we had quite a few days in a row of indoor recess. (Winter’s in New England can be pretty brutal!) I decided to let my students play some quiet games at their tables, and I thought I’d put on a little music. I used my classroom computer and quickly searched for a calming classical piece. I had been a serious pianist since I was five, so I had a few in my head that came to mind. I chose Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello: Prelude. I found it on YouTube, and played it on loop for the entire block. I was SHOCKED by how quietly my students were playing together. That was the first time I played music in my classroom, and I haven’t stopped since.
Over the years, I have upgraded my stereo and put together a variety of different playlists for my classroom. I will be honest… there were a few times when I played a song, and then realized a lyric or two that would probably have been better left out of the classroom. Picking a playlist is diligent work, especially when you have to account for lyrics, volume, tone, tempo and other things that can affect the mood you are trying to create in your classroom.
Tips to Picking Songs for Your Classroom Playlist:
- Make sure it is on the quiet side– ALL OF IT (a lot of songs fool you by starting off quiet, but then you are left with a loud clatter that can be very distracting for your students. Always listen to the whole song first!)
- Check the lyrics- Don’t only watch out for specific words, but also listen for phrases that you don’t want your kids going home and singing. For example, F.U.N.’s We Are Young contains the lyrics, “my friends are in the bathroom getting higher than the Empire State.” I love that song, but I don’t want my students singing that to their folks at home!
- Pick a slow tempo- It has been my experience that the slower the tempo, the calmer the class.
- Give a mix- Make sure that you give a mix of artists genres to engage all of your kiddos. It also helps keep the kids on their toes as they listen.
- Have different playlists for different times of your day! It helps you control the volume of your students, and it provides consistency for them. (for more info, see below)
Favorite Classroom Playlists:
After a few years of trying to perfect this system, I have created 4 main playlists that I use in my classroom: Classical, Instrumental, Wordless and Pop/Rock. I like to use them depending on the task that I am asking my students to complete.
For more quiet times during the day (Writer’s Workshop, Journal Writing…etc.) I typically use my Pop/Rock playlist. I find that it motivates students, and they write as their heads bob up and down to their favorite songs. I also think that they appreciate how the lyrics fill the silence while they are expected to work quietly. You can find my Classroom Pop Rock Playlist on Spotify HERE
During more collaborative learning periods of our day (literacy centers, math centers, science observations…etc.) my go-to tunes are found on my Wordless playlist. These songs still have a bit of funk to them that my students enjoy, but there aren’t words to distract them. It also means that these songs can be played at a lower volume because they don’t have to be able to make out the lyrics. I find that if you put the music on low, their volume lowers so they can hear the music better. It’s as good as magic! You can find my Classroom Wordless Playlist on Spotify HERE
We have all had those moments when your students get wound up, and it feels like NOTHING you say will calm them down. Well, a quick dose of my classical playlist is usually all I need to mellow them out and help them regroup. Some days I can tell when they walk in the door that it’s going to be a “Classical Playlist” kind of day. You can find my Classroom Classical Playlist on Spotify HERE and my Classroom Instrumental Playlist HERE
I love having my playlists grouped this way, because I really feel that it gives me power over the volume in my classroom. I can select the playlist that best meets our needs, and I can always change it if I feel we need it to be calmer, or if I feel we can handle a bit more. The best part? We get to listen to music ALL DAY! I’m not gonna lie… it’s pretty awesome! If you have any songs you think should make these lists, please let me know! I’m always looking!
You can follow our Classroom Spotify account HERE! It’s FREE!
Meredith-Teaching with a Twist
We listen to Kidz Bop CDs. They are popular songs with the words changed to be kid friendly. I call it "working music." The kids love it.
Teaching with a Twist
Ooooh! This sounds familiar, but I am going to have to take a look 🙂 Thank you so much! It's always fun to put a few new tracks on the playlist and see the kids ears perk up when they don't recognize it! Happy Teaching!
Thank you so much for posting this! I just spent 2 hours downloading and creating these playlists to try in my chattery class 🙂 Keep us updated!
do you use Pandora to create your playlist? If not, what do you use? Thank you!
Hi Denise! I use Spotify. I have a premium account so there are no ads played in between songs (I never know what they’ll be!)
So are these lists on Spotify or YouTube?
If you go to youtube.com you can put in calming music or another genre and they will have it. Some of them are 3 hours long. They are great for when students are working in a group because I always tell them if they can't hear the music they are too loud. It is also great music for when they arrive. Sets the mood of the day!
Paul, Donna, Ben & Emma Geils
Owl City is cute for low-key songs with fun lyrics. They use lots of puns and plays on words. Free streaming on Amazon Prime Music.
I love this! Thanks for sharing your lists with us. I also use music for transitions. I found short clips on iTunes and so when kids hear the Mission Impossible theme they know they have 2 minutes to clean up, or the Jeopardy theme tells them they have one minute to return to their seats. I just attached them to a power point slide and kept it minimized all day. It worked wonders!
Thank you. I have purchased many cd from Learning w/Music. It’s time to change things up. Thanks aagain.
I love this idea! I have a collection of CDs that I have played several times in my classroom, but would like to know how to create a playlist for school that I can just pull up on my computer and listen to it. I would like more advice on how to do this cheaply and the most organized way. Thanks for sharing!
Love the list! I play music a lot during the day!!!! Going to copy this one! I love Appalchian Spring for classical! Thank you!
I love rock a bye baby. They take rock and pop songs and turn them into lullabies.
Thanks for sharing these list! I love using music in my classroom and I’m always looking for new songs 🙂
Thanks so much for sharing your fabulous playlists. It will save me so much time. As my new P4 class are particularly challenging, I hope this will soothe and calm them during lessons. I would always play classical tunes, but I like the way you have justified using more up-beat tunes. Will give it a go in August when the new term starts.
I don’t know if they’re still up, but 8tracks.com has great playlists!
I love this article and your playlist suggestions! Last year was my first year of teaching, and I wanted to bring music into my classroom. I remember how much it helped me during college, so I knew it would help my kids too! I used the app 8tracks which allows you to find playlists based on artists, genre, and even mood! There are some awesome nature-based ones that are PERFECT for a rainy day 🙂 Typically, I tend to play classical music since it has no words. I had created a playlist during college with classical songs, and my kids loved it. It calmed them down and kept them focused. After a while it became boring to hear the same music all the time, so then we switched to instrumental Disney songs. They loved this! They knew the songs so they could hum along if they wanted to, but they weren’t distracted by the words. Over the year they also reallllly got into malt shop oldies! Lol! We ended the year with listening to popular songs with lyrics. I liked that my kids were exposed to so much different music and that it had such a wonderful impact on them. Thanks for this article! I’m going to have to give some of the songs a try! 🙂
Our reading groups start 10 minutes after school starts and the kids all go to different classrooms at that time. I’m busy in the morning and sometimes send the kids late to their groups. One evening I had a brilliant idea and I set an Alarm on my phone for a song to play. At 8:09 “zippity do da” comes on, my kids start singing and head out the door to their groups and they are on time. I never even have to say a word. Love using music!
I play music in my class a lot of the day! The kids love it! I make sure to have some noise cancelling headphones, or quiet time so kids who cannot concentrate with the noise aren’t distracted.
I also have music timers that go on throughout the day. Depending on the song, the kids know what they need to do (clean up and get in line or clean up and get to their seats, etc). It keeps me on time, and I don’t even have to say anything!
My kindergarten students loved “Happy Trails” being played during dismissal. As soon as they heard the opening track they would walk like cowboys/cowgirls, over to their respective lines, waiting for dismissal. I also played “Mission Impossible” for clean up. Classical music in the background all day.
Such a great idea! I like this much better than a verbal warning every time!
Firstly thank you for the lists. I create play lists on YouTube. Then again we have WiFi throughout the school.
Thank you for posting this! I LOVE playing The Piano Guys and 2 Cellos. They both take popular songs and turn them into awesome instrumental pieces. It’s the best of both worlds.
Working Music…I like that.
If you haven’t heard of them, there is a playlist that I use called vitamin string quartet. They are a classical quartet who plays modern music without lyrics. I usually play it on Pandora. My other popular option is Youtube and I type in “instrumental guitar for studying.” This one is great and very calming. I tend to use the guitar one in the AM and pandora during groups.
Your playlists are AMAZING. Thank you for sharing!
I also love music in the classroom! One I use often is Chillhop on YouTube. It is wordless, so I played it while they were working. There are versions. Thank you for including your playlist.
Have a great year.
Love this! Added lots of these to playlists for school this year. What about adding the LaLa Soundtrack songs to wordless and classical too? Lots of good ones! Thanks for this post!
Thank you for blogging this! I went on Spotify and found playlists already created using your suggestions. My thanks to those that did that too!
That’s grest!!! use to play músic for “working” and they know how to behave… Then músic for “coloring”… And music to clean – up to let them know class is over.
My students use music for all class stages. Also.for praying when they arrive.
Thanks for sharing more themes!!.
” A gift for you” (you tube) is great for the little one to say thank you for a new day.
These are great! Thank you! I love that you included which activities work with the specific genres.
I taught a grade 6/7 split class and did a couple movie soundtracks based on their interests,
They LOVED the Harry Potter sound tracks during the art and language periods!
I love rockabye baby! I teach pre k and use it all the time. Amazon prime is a godsend since I can access lots of it for free.
What do you put your playlist in? I have them all on youtube but then I have to walk back and forth they don’t just play…
Love your lists (and all of the comments!). I used to work at Barnes and Noble during my first few years teaching and loved a cd that was played a lot that year. 20 years later, kids still like it. It’s available here: (the group is tough to find in a search). https://www.amazon.com/Mox/dp/B0000067XX
I also LOVE guitarist Billy McLaughlin. He has an impressive back story and I usually reward kiddos with a video if they enjoy his work. (When I first saw him in college I’d never seen anyone play a guitar that way!) Helms Place is my favorite – it’s the sounds of the Santa Monica Freeway.
I agree with the Pandora ads, but I haven’t come across anything inappropriate luckily 🙂 I love Pandora’s film soundtracks. My kids love hearing Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Harry Potter instrumental pieces!
Rock a lullaby has covers of tons of popular songs at a calm lullaby tempo without any words. Great variety and always a go to.
I was so glad to read this post. I have been using music for the last 4 years and I have found it to be great crowd control. Looking at your list we only have a few songs in common, so I am looking forward to checking out some of the different songs. I really like using songs that have positive messages and a growth mindset. Every year I let the kids add to the list, but like you I am extremely anal about what goes on it. Especially those phrases that refer to sex or drugs that don’t have swear words. I really like the idea of a wordless list for calmer times.
Thank you so very much for these lists! I love having music in the background but am always worried about the lyrics. I’ve added an instrumental pop list to my Spotify, but your lists are usually my go to ones. Every time my principal walked in to my room he commented about how he loved that I always had music playing. I could also use this for a sound check in our room (“if you can’t hear the music, then voices are too loud”). I have added some Jackson 5 and other oldies to my list as well. Again….THANK YOU!
How do you do the music timers? Is it an app you use?
Hi There! They’re on Spotify. The links are included above 🙂
Hi Sarah! I have them all uploaded into Spotify Playlists. I have the links included above 🙂
Music research has shown that students heart rate will match the music they are listening to. So, what you have said is 100% on target. Some music educators suggest watching the students as they come into your music class and matching the first song to their activity level. Then, you can move up or down depending on the pace of your lesson and what you are trying to accomplish during the day. It’s interesting to watch their change in mood, as you have suggested, as the tempo of the music changes.
I have a high schooler who always looks for instrumental music while she studies. I don’t have Spotify but I’m taking your suggestions to my iTunes account I share with her! I thank you so much.
I love your lists. I have some “social butterflies ” this year. I’m going to try it out. Thanks very much.
I just have to say that I love your pop rock playlist. I clicked on it and thought I did something wrong and was on one of my own playlists. 🙂
2Cellos is another good wordless one. I will play them in the classroom a lot!
Thanks for your lists. I will be adding them!
Love these. I use an instrumental cover playlist already but cannot wait to try adding in classical music and your instrumental playlist too. Also, check out The Piano Guys, they do amazing instrumental/piano covers of pop songs, theme songs and etc. They are amazing – plus no lyrics to filter 🙂