History - Play it again, Sir

29th March 2013 at 00:00
A musical time machine will bring the past to life

Music can instantly evoke any period of human history. As soon as you hear the first guitar twang of A Hard Day's Night you are transported to Carnaby Street in the 1960s. The gentle strum of court music takes you to a Tudor banquet, and Vera Lynn singing The White Cliffs of Dover carries us overseas to Allied soldiers missing home during the Second World War.

Famous historical people, paintings and photographs create a vision of periods in history, but add the soundtrack and you're transported through time. Children respond strongly to the world through their senses and playing music as an entree to the classroom topic sets the scene and can speed up learning.

I have always thought that, where possible, history is best taught through experience rather reading out a list of dry facts. Linking it to other areas of the curriculum such as music and dance makes it cohesive, seamless and experiential.

As part of our unit of work on Britain since 1945, we focused on the changes taking place - and the youth culture born - during the 1960s. Teenagers of the 1960s weren't completely unique: the term teenager was used a decade earlier with the rise of rock 'n' roll. But it was a period defined by its music.

Music from the 1960s is iconic. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who screamed of the changes taking place and their music spoke to teenagers all over the world. Rebellion was in the air and a growing sense of power was being felt by a generation born into a politically unstable world still reeling after the war.

Plenty of video clips are available online that show teenagers dancing throughout the 1960s, and I use a collection of these to help students emulate them as part of our lessons. I also invited some real-life baby boomers into school to show us how it was done. My class learned moves such as the monkey, the mashed potato and the twist, as well as some more eccentric variations. It was all about tying together the threads of 1960s history - its events, its people and their revolutionary ideas.

Children, visitors and staff all thoroughly enjoyed the music and at the end of our learning we held a class assembly. It was clear that the students had identified what it might have been like to be part of an inimitable period of world history.

Chris Fenton is an associate headteacher, author and publisher.


Have a go at s_mcsweeney's cut-and-paste music history puzzle, which can be tailored to your class.


Use pwilloughby3's ancient Egypt PowerPoint with embedded sound files to help students make connections between music then and now.


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