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Music: Introduction 

Music is a wonderful tool for peace education, as music has the power to transcendborders of all kinds.  Listeners do not always need to understand the words to feel the song's rythem and feel a connection to the message. Teachers should work to harness the power of music in their classrooms as part of a curriculum to teach peace.


How to Incorporate Music

One way to use music is to incorporate music from a variety of cultures for performance and/or practice by the students.  Music can be a great tool to foster students' interest in other cultures, and can be used as an introduction to deeper cultural explorations, such as by examining the cultural values that are portrayed in a song's lyrics.


Another important activity is to allow students to be creators of their own music.  This can mean that students make their own instruments or they can create their own rhythms, lyrics or entire songs.  In the creation of their own songs students can talk about songs that they know and what they like about these songs.  Students specifically should discuss the role of music in their personal lives as well as their society.  Beyond talking about themes of songs students should consider emotions to be as important as lyrics when discussing music.


One exciting way to incorporate music into the classroom is to create collective music. Working together on a musical enterprise also allows students to learn important skills of cooperation and teamwork that are important to the general concept of peace.  Making music should rarely be a solo activity in music classes.


An example of the power of music in creating peace can be seen in the Punk Cabaret movement.  This movement is recently taken hold in many nations around the world.  The movement uses punk style music to present satire and social commentary on the nature of war and in support of peace.  Punk cabarets have been an excellent outlet for youth who may not have many options besides joining an army. The movement brings students together, allowing them to voice their opinions and to develop a sense of belonging that does not depend on the violence of the status quo. In the classroom, students can be influenced by this movement and write their own plays that involve music, singing and dancing.


One type of music that can be particularly useful but also potentially controversial is hip-hop. Around the world hip-hop music represents a political movement for equality and self-determination and a life free from structural violence from those who live in marginalized communities.  While we may associate hip-hop with its roots in the United States, hip-hop has become an important form of expression in many cultures.  Hip-hop can be used in many similar ways that other types of music can be.  What is important to take away from the experience with teaching hip-hop is the value of "marginalized" music and music that students listen to.  For instance, many teachers choose music that is meaningful to them from their generation, but is not necessarily meaningful to their students. Additionally, marginalized music often has a connotation of being against mainstream society and therefore a negative influence for students.  However, teachers should not shy away from music that may be different or confrontational since this is likely the music that students will be able to relate to.  Confrontational messages can provide a form for conversation. 


An example of confrontational music is the Mexican hip-hop/rap group known as Cartel de Santa (meaning Saint's Cartel).  This group sings about the reality of living in Mexico and being poor.  Their lyrics frequently involve drugs and violence as well as themes of corruption, poverty and life on the streets.  Due to some of these themes many teachers wold stray away from utilizing these songs.  However, by presenting important messages that represent how many people are thinking, they provide an incredibly powerful tool for discussion.  Popular music is likely to be heard by all students, regardless of whether or not it is presented in the classroom.  Therefore, by presenting it in the classroom teachers provide students with a forum to talk about the social issues that manifest in the music and to tie these themes to peace.  For example, students can recognize that the complaints lodged in Cartel's songs have a legitimate base but then they could push the discussion further by discussing how these issues could be resolved without using violence and how these issues relate to structural violence. 



Gerstle, D. J. (2010, June 17). Punk Cabaret on War, Peace and Social Justice . In Human Rights.

     Retrieved from change.org website: http://humanrights.change.org/blog/view/



The Sounds of Change . (n.d.). Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from The Southern Poverty Law Center

     website: http://www.tolerance.org/activity/sounds-change  


Kane, M. (n.d.). Beat for Peace. In Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from The Southern Poverty Law

     Center website: http://www.tolerance.org/activity/beat-peace  


Kane, M. (n.d.). Beat for Peace. In Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from The Southern Poverty Law

     Center website: http://www.tolerance.org/activity/evolution-hip-hop


Additional Resources

Playing for Change: Peace Through Music - http://www.playingforchange.com/

     This project started as a documentary film to show the universal language of music as it transcends cultural

     and national borders. The filmmakers traveled the world getting footage of street musicians in various countries

     performing the same songs, and layered the musicians over one another, creating a global concert. The      

     documentary is a great resource for showing the power of music for peace. The organization's non-profit wing      

     (www.playingforchange.org) promotes music education and has started music schools in underserved areas

     around the world.

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