Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Oregon State Professor Puts Biochemistry Lessons to Song

A while back, my former student Jenny Strovas brought to my attention Oregon State University biochemistry professor Kevin Ahern, who puts narratives of chemical-reaction sequences to popular song melodies. Here is an article about Ahearn's songs, whereas his collection of lyrics and MP3 recordings of the songs is available here. As you'll discover if you listen to the recordings, Ahern gets real singers to perform the songs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Boston U. Law Prof Croons Tunes with Student-Written Lyrics

One of my Texas Tech faculty colleagues showed me this article from the July 15 American Way magazine (from American Airlines) on Boston University law professor Mark Pettit, Jr.

Professor Pettit has gained national attention for -- you guessed it -- singing to his law classes. It appears from the article that Pettit's lyric material comes primarily from his students. Some students submit poems instead of song lyrics.

I've had a few students write their own lyrics and, when they do, they sing them, too. When students in a class are able to write a full set of course-relevant lyrics for a song, it suggests to me that they have great mental fluency with course concepts.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Photos from my Texas Tech Workshop

Following up on my previous posting below, here are a couple of photos from my pre-conference workshop presentation, "Teaching through Song… in Non-Musical Disciplines," at Texas Tech University's 4th Annual Advancing Teaching and Learning Conference.




The audience seemed to enjoy the presentation and, more importantly, the idea of using topic-specific song lyrics to consolidate concepts in students' minds. One audience member who teaches poetry noted that Alexander Pope's couplets may have had the effect of reinforcing the content of his poems through the sounds that were created (or at least that's how I understood her point).

A music professor in the audience noted that students are sometimes taught to memorize the composers of classical pieces via make-believe lyrics, such as "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Mozart" (see here for another reference to that mnemonic).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Upcoming Presentation at Texas Tech Workshop

Today I am giving a presentation entitled, "Teaching through Song… in Non-Musical Disciplines," as a pre-conference workshop at the 4th Annual Advancing Teaching and Learning Conference at my home institution, Texas Tech University. Below is the abstract of my presentation:

Over the past year, I have come up with a unique way to supplement traditional lecturing in my classes – writing my own subject-specific lyrics to existing popular songs and singing them in class. In my view, such musical performances (with the lyrics available on class web pages) may promote student learning in at least two ways:

First, the lyrics themselves convey key concepts from the course. To the extent students can memorize the lyrics (or key portions thereof), that could help them keep ideas salient in their minds.

Second, experiencing these sing-along activities tends to put students in happy moods. A major review article on the cognitive and behavioral consequences of being in a good mood (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005, “The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success?” Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 131) concludes that:

“…laboratory findings on induced positive moods suggest that pleasant emotions enhance performance on simple measures of flexible thinking and originality” (p. 838).

During my proposed session, I will exhibit some of my sets of lyrics, sing a little bit, and discuss the feasibility of having other instructors transfer the activity into their classes.


My thanks to everyone who attended and to the conference organizer who oversaw my participation. For the latter, I've written a little musical tribute!

Oh, Suzanne Tapp
Lyrics by Alan Reifman
(May be sung to the chorus of “Oh Susannah,” Stephen Foster)

Oh, Suzanne Tapp,
Of the TLTC,
She helps enhance the teaching,
Of Texas Tech’s faculty...

Friday, February 8, 2008

Introduction to the Blog

For roughly the past year, I have been writing new academic-type lyrics to established popular songs, as an unusual -- but perhaps effective -- teaching aid. I put these lyrics on the web and periodically sing them in my classes.

I am a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Texas Tech University, but my Ph.D. (University of Michigan, 1989) is in Social Psychology. I took a lot of social-science statistics courses in grad school, and teach statistics and research methods at Texas Tech.

Given all the academic disciplines involved, my lyrics are scattered over various class websites. On this "Teaching through Song" page, I make all the links to the lyric pages available in one location (see upper right-hand column). I will also use this forum to comment on general issues regarding teaching through song.

I am not claiming to be original with the idea of academically oriented song lyrics. Tom Lehrer, who wrote such lyrics in the 1950s through 1970s, is perhaps the best-known practitioner of the craft.

In terms of contemporary work, a fun-loving group at the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education (CAUSE) has been writing (and compiling) lyrics for number-crunchers, whereas Walter F. Smith maintains a compendium of physics songs. Smith's site also contains a component on how to use these songs in class.

Stepping outside traditional academia, but much in the same spirit, the politically satirical songs of the Capitol Steps and Mark Russell are also well known in many circles.