Developing Reading Comprehension in the Vocal Music Classroom

The John F. Kennedy School Choir helps students with special needs improve comprehension skills through singing. 

On July 16, 2015, the United States Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, reinstating the arts, along with music, as Core Academic Subjects as determined by the State or Local educational agency. The ECAA Act of 2015 further cited “music and the arts as a tool to promote constructive student engagement, problem solving, and conflict resolution”.  (Every Child Achieves Act of 2015)

According to the NAEP, or the Nation’s Report Card, the reading skills of today’s students fall well below their scores in math.  In order to help students achieve greater success reading in all subjects, many states have instituted a requirement for teachers to learn strategies for implementing reading strategies within their content area.  The implications for how music, and specifically, vocal music can develop reading comprehension, is well documented.  This website aims to help vocal music teachers incorporate strategies which will help students improve their reading comprehension during vocal music instruction. 

In order to apply reading strategies in the area of music, we must understand that the study of music reading complements and aids the study of reading a language.  The spirit of the Common Core State Standards Initiative lists these qualities of “What a College and Career Ready Student Looks Like” ("English Language Arts Standards » Introduction » Students Who are College and Career Ready in Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, & Language | Common Core State Standards Initiative," n.d.)All of the traits of a “College and Career Ready Student” can be developed in ensemble music classes.

In a typical American music class, students are not only required to read text in English, but also learn how to read music notation.  Not only do struggling readers face potential obstacles reading the text, but they also must learn new symbols that represent musical meaning. Music teachers have one tremendous advantage over other content areas: research from numerous sources reveals that using music to teach reading comprehension can be more efficient and in some ways better than teaching without music.  

The Common Core Standards that music study can enhance the most directly are:


Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.

Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 herefor specific expectations.)


Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.

Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

References and Resources:

English Language Arts Standards | Common Core State Standards Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2015, from

English Language Arts Standards » Introduction » Students Who are College and Career Ready in Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, & Language | Common Core State Standards Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2015

Ewer, M. (n.d.). I Have to Read and Write in Music? [PDF]. Retrieved from

Hachmeister, J. (2010, July). Music as a Teaching Tool | Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center | AGBell. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from

McIntire, J. M. (2007). Developing Literacy through Music. Teaching Music, 15(1), 44-48. Retrieved from

Meiners, A. (2013, February 14). Teaching Comprehension in the Music Classroom - California State University, Long Beach [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Musical training 'can improve language and reading' - BBC News. (2014, August 9). Retrieved July 19, 2015, from

Senate Passes Every Child Achieves Act, with Music and Arts as Core Subjects, Intact – National Association for Music Education (NAfME). (2015, July 16). Retrieved July 19, 2015, from

Trehearne, M. P., & Doctorow, R. (2006). Reading Comprehension: Strategies That Work. In Comprehensive literacy resource for grades 3-6 teachers (pp. 97-187). Vernon Hills, IL: ETA Cuisenaire.