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Using Music to Inspire Young Writers

by Kathleen Hunter, MS
 | Aug 14, 2012
Music is often the catalyst I need to jump start my own writing for the day. I choose my playlists based on subject matter. For example, when I’m working on my young adult manuscript, I listen to the edgier contemporary artists. I add a layer to my listening criteria depending on my protagonist; if it’s a male character, I’ll choose male vocalists, and if it’s a female, I’ll pick female artists. The music provides a rhythm and a flow by which my words form their own rhythm and make music on the page, only in words.

Music can trigger a memory that will in turn add authentic realism to the words on the page. Music can also inspire a certain mood. For example, upbeat tunes will likely bring pep to your writing. The opposite is also true. Listening to melancholy songs brings out the sadness in my characters’ lives.

As a classroom teacher and now as a private tutor, I’m always striving for ways to help my students find inspiration to write. The blank page is especially daunting for young writers learning the writing process. The page gets bigger and whiter the longer it goes without words. When I’m stuck behind my writer’s block and inspiration to write is lacking, I turn on my music and watch the words dance onto my paper. I do the same for my students when they’re faced with writer’s block, too.

Bringing music into your writing lessons is simple to do and doesn’t cost anything extra. The following are a few ideas to help get you started:

Lower Elementary Students

For the younger students, I suggest selecting music for the whole class to listen to. Classical or New Age music—basically anything without lyrics—provides a good place to start. The students can focus on the sounds the instruments are creating and, in turn, the mood of the music.

One of my favorites is the FANTASIA soundtrack. The music is generally recognized by the students and sounds lively and adventurous. On a piece of poster paper, you and your students can brainstorm adjectives and adverbs to describe the mood of the music. They can then use that list of words in their stories. This is a simple lesson but one that will jump-start your students’ writing on a positive note.

For Middle Grade Students and Older

I like to give my students choices in what they want to write about so with that comes choosing the music they want to listen to while they write. As long as the lyrics are kid-friendly, I’m game. When I taught in the classroom my school didn’t have fancy audio visual equipment. I only had my good ol’ boom box that played CDs and cassette tapes. I was limited to choosing one particular artist and then switching CDs and tapes. Today, teachers have more options with playlists on iPods and MP3 players. You can even create your playlists to reflect and inspire the genre of writing you want your students to write.

Just yesterday I was working with a student who wanted to write a story about how she convinced her parents to get her a cell phone. She brought a favorite mix of artists on a CD—her mother told me she was getting the phone but not an iPod (yet). I cued the mix up on my computer and my student went right to work on a realistic fiction story. This is a student who is not fond of putting pencil to paper. Still, throughout the session she wrote nonstop, except to look up words in a dictionary to check her spelling. She told me the music helped to keep her motivated on her writing.

For Musician Students

Using music to inspire writing also works in the reverse. I have a student entering third grade. He is a very accomplished pianist and writes his own music, but he’s not too fond of writing words on paper. My student enjoys reading Shel Silverstein poems, so I asked him to pick a favorite and then write the music to go along with the poem. No problem! A week later, at our next session, he had a wonderful melody that perfectly matched the story in the poem.

Next, I asked him to play one of his favorite songs. Then I asked him to tell me the story that the music was telling. He verbally explained a beginning, middle, and end. Onward to our next assignment, which achieved my ultimate goal: to get him to write a story. I gave him the option of writing about an original song or to use one he already studies in his music lessons. He chose “Jazzy Toccatina” for his story. Here is what he wrote:

As you can see, my student outlined the plot into a beginning, middle, and end, as well as noting the location and characters. Without realizing it, he had written a story with words!

Music is a universal language. No matter what the mood you are feeling or trying to create, there is a melody to be heard and transposed into words.

Kathleen A. Hunter, MS is a literacy tutor and aspiring children's book author. You can visit her online at

© 2012 Kathleen Hunter. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.

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