Music in the Writing Classroom

Techniques and resources for inspiring and instructing writers

Descriptive Writing

Students write how they feel when they listen to…

  • *PMA by George Winston
    • (*Pretty Much Anything)
  • Dynatron by Jeff Sinclair
  • Pimpf by Depeche Mode Pimpf by Depeche Mode
  • Drumbone by Blue Man Group
  • Stalin Malone by Elvis Costello
  • The National Anthem by Radiohead

…and then they record their descriptive writing with the music in the background.

e.g. Descriptive Paragraph Sample

Our students use Garageband to record their performances.

Expository Writing

Sing it! Students retell a story as a ballad, possibly inspired by –

  • The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot
  • Thirty Eight Years Old by The Tragically Hip
  • 50 Mission Cap by The Tragically Hip
  • Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton
  • The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down by Joan Baez
  • The Coming Rains by Bruce Cockburn
  • Dust and Diesel by Bruce Cockburn
  • Here’s to Charley Horse by Great Big Sea

e.g. The Boy Who Dared ballad by Hannah Klingberg (Independent Reading Project option)

6 Traits of Writing


The lyrics are the same, but how does the message change when the sounds are different?

  1. To introduce voice: What qualities separate these different song versions?
  2. For higher level discussions: Explain which version is more appropriately suited to the lyrics.
    • The Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr. and Cibo Matto
    • Crazy Train by Ozzie and Pat Boone
    • Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana and Paul Anka
    • Hey Ya! by Outkast and Obadiah Parker
    • Subdivisions by Rush and Jacob Moon
    • Just Like Heaven by the Cure and Katie Melua
    • Take on Me by A-Ha and A. C. Newman
    • Say My Name by Destiny’s Child and Superchunk
    • Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order and Frente!
    • Hurt by NIN and Johnny Cash
    • Tribute albums

Reading and analysis

Pay attention to the details, especially those last lines

  • Red Barchetta by Rush
    • Listen to the song, except for the last verse
    • Students imagine how the story ends and write their own final verse,
    • Sing or recite these, and then
    • Listen to the conclusion of the song (which is based on a short story, “A Lovely Day for a Drive”)
  • Romeo & Juliet: The Musical:
    As a pre-reading exercise to introduce action or characters

    • Act One, Scene 1: Come Out and Play by Offspring to introduce the Montague and Capulet feud
    • Love Stinks by The J. Geils Band to introduce Romeo, brokenhearted over Rosaline
    • Everybody Have Fun Tonight by Wang Chung to introduce the Capulet ball
    • (What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love, and Understanding by Elvis Costello to account for Friar Laurence’s decision to marry to the star-crossed lovers
    • Etc.

As an analytical exercise to recognize important action of a scene or draw conclusions

  • (Assign a scene to students, who match a song to the action, backed up with textual evidence)

Romeo and Juliet: The Symphony

  • Assign scenes to students, who then score the action and record it in Garageband


Topic: Love

Thesis: What do these songs say about love?

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2 thoughts on “Music in the Writing Classroom”

  1. Thanks for the SUMMIT conference workshop, your time and ideas about the connection between music and writing. I am a reading teacher turned music teacher and your presentation was ‘the missing link’

    All the best,

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