music |ˈmyoōzik|
1 the art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion: he devoted his life to music.
the vocal or instrumental sound produced in this way : couples were dancing to the music | baroque music.
a sound perceived as pleasingly harmonious : the background music of softly lapping water.
2 the written or printed signs representing such sound : Tony learned to read music.
the score or scores of a musical composition or compositions : the music was open on a stand.

We all have experienced the effect of music upon our lives. Some mark their lives by the song that was playing at the time. Music, we have the definition, but is it really? I believe it is art and science. They are not mutually exclusive. Without one I believe you would not have the other. Music speaks to the rhythm of each individual’s heart, but also is the tie that binds us all together. There is no language barrier when it comes to music. There is no economic barrier when it comes to appreciating music. It matches each person’s heartbeat and ear.

So I began to ask the question, what sort of influence would music have upon writing? Specifically, I want to see how jazz music affects writing and show it’s influence in other examples of literature. I want to show that music is an integral part of education. I will give examples of how it has influenced poets, writers, and filmmakers.
I would propose a question to the students, after showing them the examples. “What influence could music have upon your writing?”

My classroom will be a writer’s workshop environment. I believe this unit would work best at the beginning of the school year. Students have had time off and need to get the writing “juices” flowing. I would like to release the students from the restrictions of just essay or research projects. The beginning of this unit should help the student to relax their mind and begin to explore their own ideas in writing. Initially, structure and mechanics will not be stressed. However, personal opinion, details and description will be important. This is a way to narrow their personal ideas. We will explore different areas of inspiration for writing creatively.

This lesson would work with the middle school age to high school student (7th – 12thgrade). I will announce to the students that the goal for the next few weeks is to explore how music influences writing. Each day at the beginning of class they will have a 5-minute writing workout. Using Jazz music as the medium, or inspiration, I will play a jazz single in the background while they write.

I’ve chosen jazz because I feel that it is a medium that the students are unfamiliar with. However, it is a medium that influenced writers such as Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Spike Lee. Plus, I believe the syncopated rhythms are unusual for students to hear this day and age. Also, it is a style of music that a majority of the time has no lyrics. Music without lyrics is less distracting to the student. I want to see the reactions to the disjointed beat or the frenzied saxophone. The first time I will not give any specific instruction except that they must keep the pen moving the whole time. When they are finished students will have the opportunity to read aloud what they have written. (Two to three students should read aloud)

Once free writes are read I will pose a question to the students. “What did you think of the music?” This question will open the door to my unit plan - the effect of music upon a writer. We will explore music used as the theme of a story, influence of a story and essential to a story.

In order not to bombard the students with a long difficult story, I will introduce the poet Langston Hughes. First, giving the biography of Langston Hughes life. Second, introduce the poetry of Hughes. Two simple examples to begin with, “Dream Variations” and “Hope”. These are to be read aloud in class without music playing, and then read again with music playing in the background. Picking specific songs that would work with Hughes’ poetry and study how the rhyme and rhythm of Hughes’ words match that of a melody.

1. Did the poem change when the music was added?
2. Did it take on a different meaning?
3. Was there a pattern of rhythm?
Once these questions are discussed, I will ask the students to explore a deeper question.

Discussion Question
  1. “Did the poetry influence music, or does music influence the poem?”

I would then introduce the “Weary Blues” and have students read aloud with Duke Ellington's "Moon Mist" playing in the background. Emphasis would be on matching the words to the rhythm.

Take “Weary Blues” and read aloud to the rhythm of a modern day song, and see how the words or meaning changes with the new music.
  1. How does changing to modern music change the poem?
  2. Does it alter the meaning?

Once we have covered Langston Hughes, I would ask the students to create their own short poem. Here is the opportunity to use technology in the classroom. The students may use their IPods or MP3 Players picking their own favorite song. Once finished, each student would stand before the class and read their poems allowed with the music playing in the background.
Materials needed
Copies of “Weary Blues”, “Hope” and “Dream Variation” by Langston Hughes
MP3 or IPod player
Writer’s notebook


The students should begin to see how music influences writing and how writing influences music. The two genres are not mutually exclusive, they can work together side by side influencing each other.

Delve deeper
After our musical free write warm up, I would hand out copies of James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues. I would give a mini-lesson about the Harlem renaissance and the influence of jazz upon the culture. Then we would begin to deconstruct the story. Beginning with character analysis, and then moving on to the last passage of the story and significance of this part to the story.
Discussion Questions
  1. Why do you think Baldwin chose Blues music as the type of music Sonny should play?
  2. How important is the music to the theme of the story?
  3. How does Baldwin us music as part of his story?

In conjunction with “Sonny’s Blues”, I would show clips from Spike Lee’s film, Mo’Better Blues. Scenes where the main character is playing in the club would give the students a visual context to Baldwin’s story. Additionally, by showing the clips, it shows how music is essential to a story.

Discussion Questions
  1. How does Spike Lee use Jazz music with this story?
  2. How does he use it to frame a scene?
  3. Notice where the jump cuts are placed and how the music changes.

Overall hopeful conclusion
By exploring this theme, I hope to show students the correlation between music and writing. I would like them to see how words are just as lyrical as musical notes. This should begin to help them to focus on word choice, structure and creativity. My end goal is to have the students create a music themed short story, or short film that expresses their personality or poses questions that they would like answers to, but all based on a lyric or sound which they have heard.

Hughes, Langston. (1959). Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York, NY. Vintage Classics. Vintage Books. A Division of Random House, Inc.

Martin, W., Hinrichs, D., Becker, S. (2006). The Art of the Short Story. New York, NY. Houghton Mifflin Company. 488-511.

Lee, S. (Producer), Lee, S. (Director). (1990) Mo’Better Blues (Motion Picture). United States: Universal Pictures.