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How to Use Music in the German Classroom

Updated on June 22, 2016
gmarquardt profile image

gmarquardt has an M.A. in history and German from SWTSU and has over 25 years teaching experience at public high schools.

Today’s students are much more technological inclined and love multi-media presentations. From Powerpoints and flipped classrooms to Smartboards and I-pads, more and more students are becoming tech savvy. However, that does not mean that they are necessarily better language learners than their predecessors. In fact, due to some dependence on technology, they often have some serious gaps in their abilities to learn independently. As a result, teachers must be prepared to bring in outside sources to compete with this electronic stimuli. Instead of fighting the inevitable surge of computerized offerings, embrace them by bringing music to stimulate learning in the classroom. Merging instruction with independent learning and technology is a win-win in the classroom. And although many students are easily bored with traditional pedagogical methods, interspersing music into the classroom is an excellent way of counteracting their seemingly lack of attention. By playing music, the teacher is adding modern and authentic language with something that most students enjoy. Moreover, many students take home the name of the songs or artists they have learned about in the classroom and continue listening and discovering new music and lyrics at home.

In any foreign language classroom music is an important aspect of the curriculum. Much of that music has historical or folk background, much of which can be excruciatingly boring for the modern student. Nevertheless, playing traditional polka or folk songs are important reminders of the historical influx on German music, especially in Hispanic regions of the United States. Explaining to students that the accordion that is prevalent in Tejano music is due to German immigration to Mexico helps create social, historical and cultural threads for a co-curricular classroom. Simply getting students to think globally is always a plus. However, most young people have little tolerance toward traditional music. Polka after polka will probably only bore them to tears, so in addition to traditional songs, play lots of newer music, and vary genres between Rock, Hip-Hop, Pop, and classical.

By following a few hints and tips, there are many uses for music in the German classroom. Music can supplement any teaching style to focus on pronunciation, grammar, culture, current events and history.

Basic rules in the classroom:

01. No making fun of any style of music.

02. All genres of music will be played.

03. Students can like or dislike any song, but are not allowed to say anything derogatory.

01. Focus on pronunciation.

Every unit has a unique song made for just for that lesson. Whatever is being taught has a song that will help explain or clarify some portion of the main point. Even on the very first weeks of school in German 1 when teaching the alphabet, there is an applicable song. No, it’s not singing the alphabet song, it’s a rap song by Die Fantastischen Vier, called "MfG," as seen in the clip below. Using acronyms throughout the song, it is an excellent way to get students to start destroying their stereotypes of Germany and creating new ideas in their head. Students are to circle all the acronyms they know, underline any they might know, and highlight any they want to know. The refrain and opening lyrics are also a great way to introduce methods used throughout their German learning. Using context clues and cognates helps to gain meaning as well as perfecting listening and pronunciation skills. In addition, asking them why one might be able to learn about a culture just from acronyms, as well as a song continues the conversation. Discussions about the definition of culture, tolerance toward music and how to study German last only a few minutes in the classroom but a lifetime when they leave. All in the first week of German I.

Die Fantastische Vier, "MfG."

02. Focus on vocabulary.

Every unit in a foreign language class has a vocabulary list, and these are very important. A song is an excellent method to reinforce those words in student's minds, as they hear, say and often repeat them in their own minds. During a weather unit, there is lots of new vocabulary that can be tricky to learn. Using the song below, students always enjoy the song Ab in den Süden, by an artist known as Buddy. Using lots of vocabulary words (sun: Sonne, sunshine: Sonnenschein, rain: Regen, beach: Strand, etc.), students read and hear them repeatedly. However, this song also adds an excellent opportunity to talk about German weather patterns and their love for vacationing somewhere south of Germany!

Ab in den Süden

03. Focus on grammar.

Another method while playing music is to focus on one particular concept of grammar. In the song, "Heute ziehst du aus," by Ulla Meinecke, the song is about a boyfriend who is moving and the girlfriend is extremely happy to get rid of such a loser! However, the song is composed of many separable prefix verbs. These types of verbs use a prefix that is removed from the front of the verb and placed at the end of the sentence. For example, the verb to move out is ausziehen, but in saying, "today you are moving out," the sentence becomes, Heute ziehst du aus. For many American students, these verbs represent the nightmare that is German grammar prevalent in upper level classes. However, this song uses approximately eight different separable prefix verbs and helps students not only learn those verbs in a fun and interesting way, but also allows them to have concrete examples they can hear and use over and over, especially on their own time and leisure.

In the next clip, Yvonne Catterfeld's, "Du hast mein Herz gebrochen," the conversational past tense is used throughout the song. Past tense can be difficult for students as well, as they must use two different verbs in the sentence. By listening to the song and working with the lyrics, students have only a few workable, uncomplicated examples of past tense verbs and they are repeated often which helps students put them in their long term memory. During exams or other work, I often see students write lyrics on their tests or hum songs in their heads to help them remember certain words or grammatical structures.

Yvonne Catterfeld, "Du hast mein Herz gebrochen."

04. Focus on point of view and bias.

While teaching pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar is essential, higher level thinking skills are much more important and it is in many German songs where bias and differing points of views can be introduced. The Rammstein song, "Amerika," gives a unique view of American influence throughout the world, from one German band's perspective. These types of songs foment discussions and debates that will get many students thinking beyond their own prejudices and they continue the conversation outside the classroom.

Rammstein, "Amerika."

05. Focus on history.

Many songs have their biases and points of view, and none more than songs about one's own country. As a result, many patriotic songs as well as music that is critical of one's nation can be used to teach history, especially modern German history. A laundry list of post war history is on display with the following video, "Wir sind Wir," from Paul van Dyk and Peter Heppner. The end of the war, (Götterdämmerung), the women who cleaned up the destroyed rubble of the war, (Trümmerfrauen), the economic miracle of the 1950s, (Wirtschaftswunder), the 1954 World Cup, the Berlin Wall and the division of Germany are all mentioned in this four minute song. In fact, so much history is displayed, and so much can be done (and has been) with this song and video, that the Goethe Institute has published fabulous ancillary materials to assist any teacher. (Click here for the worksheet to this song). Many more songs, videos and worksheets are available at the website.

Paul van Dyk und Peter Heppner, "Wir Sind Wir."

06. Focus on current events.

History becomes especially important to culture, but current events are often much more important as students can relate more to them than to historical issues. For example, as English words have become more pervasive in the German language and culture, the inevitable push back has reached all corners of German society. Even the liberal pop group Die Prinzen sings a song that in its own unique way attacks Denglisch, the mix of German and English words. This type of song can introduce debates and discussions about immigration, cultural norms, the role of the United States in the world and a variety of other social and political topics as well as focusing on grammatical structures, pronunciation and vocabulary.

Die Prinzen, "Be Cool, Sprich Deutsch!"

Additional Websites

This website (Step into Music) by the Goethe Institute is a fabulous page dedicated to learning with music. They continue to add additional music often. Other sites include:

Deutsche Welle culture

Viva Television and Music

http://www.billboard.com/charts/germany-songs

A Google searche of "German Bands" can be beneficial as well.

Worksheets are used for many of the songs and videos: Normally every worksheet contains the lyrics and specific questions that concentrate on the theme that is being taught. If the focus is grammar, highlighting those specific sentences that best illustrate the structure in question helps students visualize the grammatical structure. A few practice sentences using the lyrics is a good tactic to allow students to see how the structure was used in the song. Often, difficult and complex vocabulary is simply translated into English to make sure lower level students do not become bogged down by a plethora of words they would not yet know. Often asking why students might like or dislike a particular song can add to a discussion or better yet, lead to students learning outside the classroom.

There are limitless amounts of songs that can be used, and the songs and videos mentioned above are only a small amount available on YouTube and elsewhere. As students enjoy the music, they will find the songs and listen at home, and then the best part of all is when they come back and have found another song that exemplifies that certain topic, and now you can use it for the rest of your career. Another win-win situation!

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    • profile image

      donarm 2 years ago

      Sehr cool! I wish I had all these videos decades ago. Seriously, why wouldn't it be fun to learn German while having a good time, listening to songs in well=made videos? Lucky students!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Music and lyrics are very useful in the classroom, whatever the subject. They've been used by enlightened teachers for a long time. For example, my class teacher when I was 10 would use music for discussion and for geography and history; that was in the late 50s! I have loved Prokofiev's 'Lieutenant Kije' ever since!

      The importance of music is not only for repetition and vocabulary but it has value for its rhythm - the rhythm makes it much easier to learn and more memorable. It's part of the multi-sensory way of learning that is so important for all learners.

      Great hub full of useful pointers.

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