Music in the classroom ideas: Your class will ‘rock’.

Walking across Abbey Road

I’ve always liked rock music.  Ever since hearing the ‘Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night’ album at my Aunt Shirley’s house when I was a pre-teen, I was hooked. If I remember correctly, the first album I ever ‘bought’ was by the rock group, ‘Deep Purple’, called ‘Who do we think we are’ (it still rocks!). I had the coolest looking record player than anyone I knew. It had a dark green dome with a silver base. I wore out the stylus quite a few times, as a result from playing my records over and over again until they snap, crackled, and popped, just like that sound when you pour milk onto ‘Rice Krispies’ cereal. Looking back, even then I was an ‘early adopter’ of products and I was on top of the trends; not much has changed. I was the only kid in my grade that knew all about ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Grand Funk’ and ‘David Bowie’. I remember explaining to a kid that ‘Alice’ Cooper was a guy (by the way, that ‘Marilyn Manson’ dude…Baby Boomers know he’s just copied Alice’s ‘schtick’).

I even remember playing records over the P.A. system during the recess period during public school along with a fellow member of the ‘Kiss Army’; he wore the big platform boots; I wasn’t allowed. Years later, I worked in and managed ‘record’ stores (most are now bankrupt- I saw that coming) and gradually built up an extensive knowledge of songs and formed an appreciation of all kinds of music, even ‘old country’ (sort of).


So, it is no surprise that up to this day, I incorporate music into my classes if I can. At the start of a class, I have found it brings immediate energy into the room, especially during those early morning classes where some students are still waking up. The trick is not to play just any song, but to play a song that ties in with the theme of what you’ll be discussing in class that day. For example, if I teach ‘time management’, I’ll play the song, ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd, before we start class. If you want to know what songs that are current that you could play, just ask some students for suggestions. Ask a few days prior to the class to allow you time to conduct a search. One important tip: make sure to listen to the lyrics of the song before you use it in order to avoid offending someone…you don’t need any ‘F-bombs’ being dropped during the song.

Here are a few examples of songs that I have used in the past:

Topic: Law

  • Gowan: ‘A criminal mind’
  • Joe Jackson: ‘The verdict’
  • Bobby Fuller, The Clash, or Green Day: ‘I fought the law’

Topic: Memory

  • Weezer: ‘Memories’
  • Bon Jovi: ‘You want to make a memory’
  • Mary Poppins Soundtrack:  ‘Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious’ or Kid Rock: ‘Bawadiba’ (to explain the concept of ‘Chunking’ in the brain).

Topic: Entrepreneurship

  • O’Jays: ‘For the love of money’
  • The Beatles: ‘Money, that’s what I want’
  • Pink Floyd: ‘Money’ (this is a good one, especially with the register sounds at the start).
  • Bachman Turner Overdrive: ‘Takin’ care of business’

Topic: Science-related

  • Thomas Dolby: ‘She blinded me with science’
  • The Who: ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ (this song is the opener for the hit TV series, ‘CSI’)
  • Oingo Boingo: ‘Weird Science’

On a humourous note, I played Mozart’s, ‘Eine Klein Nachtmusic’ at the start of a class when I was teaching students about ‘learning and study strategies’. I briefly talked about ‘The Mozart Effect’ during a class and the concept that listening to ‘Mozart’ can help increase brain function (the jury is still out on this one if it is a proven fact).  Proven or not, I decided to put a bonus (multiple choice) question about this on a mid-term. The multiple choice options were:

  1. Beethoven
  2. Mozart
  3. Metallica (yes, some did circle this one- obviously didn’t come to class that day).
  4. Handel
  5. Bach

A student raised his hand during the exam and I went over to him. I leaned in and he quietly asked, “Sir, who’s ‘Batch’?”


Several sites offer music published under Creative Commons’ flexible copyright licenses. You can check these out:


Lastly, a word on copyright. It is always a good idea to check the copyright laws in your country.

Here is an example from my country’s laws (Canada) from the Department of Justice:

29.5 It is not an infringement of copyright for an educational institution or a person acting under its authority to do the following acts if they are done on the premises of an educational institution for educational or training purposes and not for profit, before an audience consisting primarily of students of the educational institution, instructors acting under the authority of the educational institution or any person who is directly responsible for setting a curriculum for the educational institution:

(a) the live performance in public, primarily by students of the educational institution, of a work;

(b) the performance in public of a sound recording or of a work or performer’s performance that is embodied in a sound recording; and

(c) the performance in public of a work or other subject-matter at the time of its communication to the public by telecommunication.

1997, c. 24, s. 18.


I checked out itunes and their terms and conditions:
Apple is the provider of the iTunes Service, which permits you to purchase or rent digital content (“iTunes Products”) for end user use only under the terms and conditions set forth in this Agreement.

It looks like music purchased from itunes is only for personal use, however, check with your college to see if it falls under use ‘for educational purposes only’.

I also found this great link that summarizes the use of music in the classroom:

In summary, look up songs that link to your subject of expertise, and inject some great tunes into your lectures. Pump up the volume and you’ll pump up your students! ‘Rock on’ fellow professors!

If you have any songs that you would like to suggest that could be used for a specific course, feel free to send them to me.



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