Music As A Social And Functional Art:
A Simple and Practical Way to Integrate Music into the Elementary and Pre-School Classroom

A Simple and Practical Way to Integrate Music into the Elementary and Pre-School Classroom
by Brent Hugh
brent [at]
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Cultures around the world rarely use music for abstract listening. Almost always, music serves some social function. For instance, there may be songs you sing when you wake up and other songs when it is time to go to bed (these we call "lullabies"). You might sing certain songs before meals, other songs while you are working in the field, yet other songs when preparing a meal. You might sing certain songs while you are waiting for something and others while you are walking or marching. Certain songs may be used to get in a spiritual mood, others to get in a mood for fighting, others to celebrate a marriage, birth, or birthday, and yet others to mourn the passing of a loved one.

In other words, music is not just there being beautiful, it is doing something. It is performing a social function.

You will find that music works better in your classroom, is accepted better by your students, and does more for you, if you let it perform a function for you.

Using music in a socially functional way in your classroom

Socially functional music: When you might use music

Just to get you thinking about how music can be used in a "socially functional" way, here are just a few ideas of activities or times of day that can be associated with a song or a listening activity:

Welcome to school

Time for recess

Walking down the hall together

Just before eating

Clean-up time

End of the school day

Play time

Nap time/rest time

Before, during, or after "work time" when students are working individually on assignments

Lining up at the door to go somewhere

When starting/ending any activity such as math time, reading time, story time . . .

Before library time

When it's time to quiet down and listen

When it's time to pay attention to the teacher

Whenever you're waiting for something


Using music as a background activity helps you in these ways:

Naturally some activities are better suited to background music and some music is better suited to be played in the background. You might try Baroque- or classical-period music for background music (Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart).

Socially functional music: How to put it into action

Quiet time after recess

Track 3

Cleanup time

Track 7

Music listening time

Track 9

Lining up for lunch

Track 13

Cleanup desks at end of day

Track 2

Socially functional music: Where you can find songs to sing

    1. Folk songs
    2. Folk song melodies with your own words
    3. New songs that you or someone else makes (I have written some songs that can be used as functional music; several can be downloaded for free at

Let's get ready
Let's get set
To listen to the teacher.

This month is February, February, February,
This month is February, it is my favorite month.

Or, you could ask students, "What month is it?" "March!" "What is March like?" "Windy!". Then sing (again to the tune of "Mary had a little lamb":

This month is March March March, March March March, March March March.
This month is March March March, it is a windy month.

Another simple fill-in-the-blank song (to "Twinkle, twinkle little star"):

We just love to watch the news,
We find out what's going on,
Today we saw ____________
Then we saw _____________
We just love to watch the news,
We find out what's going on.

Of course, these song examples are not "great art". They are simple; they work for you; they involve students; they help the class work and think together as a group. They serve the function that music has always served--a function that we, with our technology and sophisticated theories of art, seem to have largely forgotten.

Sing well together and you will work well together.

--Brent Hugh

These ideas are based on my research into music preference over the lifespan. More ideas, information and references relating to this research can be found at Some songs I have written to us with young people are available for free download at Email: