Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Teaching With Music Videos

There's nothing like a great music video. It's a unique artform, constantly redefined, perfected, and then redefined again. Little movies set to music that sometimes have nothing at all to do with the song, and sometimes follow literally every single thing that happens in the song. There's no doubt that the first person everyone should think of when they think of perfect music videos is Michael Jackson. Everyone has their favorite MJ video, and I'm gonna go #onbrand and say the exceedingly weird ten minute claymation mindtrip that is Speed Demon is up there. And there's this video by Journey, which is the Greatest Music Video Of All Time. I will fight you. Air instruments. Creepy mustaches. Uncomfortably tight jeans. A great freaking song. ACTING! It's the best.

But using videos in class is different. How can we connect out love of music and the visual art that springs from the music to what we're doing in class?

It's not that hard, once you get your head around it.

My favorite Compare and Contrast lesson in the whole world uses music videos.

First I show "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. I tell my kids to look and listen for clues telling them what the song is about, what the emotion of the song is.

Then we talk about what we see. They start slowly at first. "She sounds sad." As with everything else, my best tool is "Why? Tell me more." Make them dig into the song. The hardest part for me is not going into everything I see happening in the song. Because I want to talk for ten minutes about it. How she sings the song always looking up and away from where she is and what that tells us. That it's sepia-tone adds to the already melancholy feeling. It's a song about a rainbow, and yet there's no color to be found. She never smiles. Her tone of voice is deeper, somber. The tempo is slow. This is a sad song, full of longing.

Then we watch "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Brother Iz.

Same song. Same lyrics, with very few changes. But it's a completely different song. How is that possible? What does this song express? It's so happy. It's full of love. I have to give my students context about Hawaii, telling them that it's the Rainbow State. Iz is over the rainbow already. His voice is high, his uke sings happily. It's vividly colorful. There's a party at the end!* This is a song about what's over the rainbow. He took a sad song and made it better.

* Ok, it's a party, but it's also a funeral. This is a posthumous video, made after Iz died. That's how Hawaii celebrated his life. This little glimpse into another culture blows student minds and adds to the lesson.

This is a compare and contrast lesson, but suddenly it's also a lesson on tone and intent. It's a lesson on making inferences and meanings both hidden and clear. There's so much!

And you can do it with any original and cover, assuming it's a well done cover. Think comparing the Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash versions of "Hurt". Bring music into your classroom. Expose your students to songs and artists they might not learn about for years yet. Help them think critically about all media, not just the stories in their books.

There's also Music Videos As Inspiration. I'm gonna bang the drum about OkGo forever, because I love having my kids make stuff and OkGo videos make them want to make.

They're the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie of music videos. If you show a student this video, they're gonna want to make a Rube Goldberg machine. And you're gonna let them because the learning is amazing. And when they finish remind them that it needs to be set exactly to music.

Or this one

This lesson goes, "Watch this video. Now tell me how it was done without looking it up. Guess." Then I let them look it up. Then we get to talk about gravity and parabolas and planning and timing and editing and practice.

Speaking of practice, and these are the last two I'll do, check out Walk Off the Earth.

Hi, yes. I'd like to teach my students about rehearsal and planning in a fun, engaging way. Oh, I could show them this, point out that there's zero edits in it, and then have them discuss how it's possible to have that many people doing that many things in time, and how everything that happens is dependent on everyone doing their job? And we could tie that to group work or projects? Sweet.

I could also use this one

No, seriously folks. Complain to me about working in small groups and needing everyone to do their thing after watching that.

There's a million million music videos out there. Find some to bring to your kids. Expose them to music you like while also whipping some education on them.

I'll close this post with a video I open many of the professional developments and sessions I run with.

If you're not with me after that, my session probably won't work for you.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

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