Now Spinning v.2.0

An update

Adrian Neibauer
9 min readDec 16, 2023
Now Spinning 2.0 poster

A year ago, I had an idea for a listening learning experience. I wanted students to understand where their music comes from and what it means for something to be called a “Classic Album.” I wanted students to learn the political, economic, socio-cultural factors that influence the songs and artists they listen to. I wanted to provide students with a context as to why certain songs and artists last throughout history.

I wrote about my experiences in a blog post Now Spinning in my Classroom.

Overall, it was an incredible experience! I learned a ton about my students, musically, and a lot about integrating music into our school day. I’ve been working on version 2.0. Before I get to that, here are a few lessons I learned from Now Spinning Classic Albums with my fifth-graders.

Too much music. Not enough time.

Any time I stray from the standardized curriculum, I’m battling minutes. Literacy: 120 minutes. Math: 90 minutes. Social Studies and Science: 60 minutes. If I am to squeeze in something that is not a traditional content area, I either have to cut from one subject or get creative in integrating it into another content area. For Now Spinning, I started the first ten minutes of each day having students listen to a song, journal, and discuss. Our discussions NEVER lasted only ten minutes and I often cut into Mathematics instruction.

Mid-year, I moved Now Spinning to our Literacy block of time. This gave me back my time for Math, but forced me to take minutes from Literacy. There is just too much good music and not enough time in the school day!

Listening is hard!

You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.

— Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia

I have always loved this quote, laughing at Dr. Watson for his inability to understand how Sherlock Holmes is able to deduce that Watson has lost seven and a half pounds. In The Whitechapel Horrors, Edward B. Hanna expands this quote to include the ear as well as the eye.

“Your problem, dear chap, as I have had occasion to remind you, is that you see but you do not observe; you hear but you do not listen.

The implication is that seeing and hearing are passive, while observing and listening are active.

I was surprised at how difficult it was to keep my students quiet enough to actively listen to a 3:30 song. I would often pause a song and encourage them to focus on a particular melody or lyric. Otherwise, most students would only half-listen and would miss the point I was trying to make.

I ran into this problem early in the year, so I did some research on active listening to music. There a ton of music analysis guides with guiding reflection questions. There are frameworks such as SQUILT (Super Quiet Uninterrupted Listening Time). However, listening frameworks are only helpful if students are engaged in the music.

Analyzing music requires more concrete materials.

If I want students to study political, economic, or socio-cultural factors that influence songs and artists, I need to give them more than just a ten-minute factoid. Early in the school year, I observed students jotting down the song/artist factoid without deeper reflection. If I wanted students to focus on a lyric, I displayed them during the song. However, if I want students to really analyze music, they will need more resources than facts and displayed lyrics.

Listening journal needs more.

I wanted students to create a Now Spinning Journal where they could record all of their observations, reflections, analyses. I wanted it to be a record of our year listening to Classic Albums together.

Sample journal prompts for Now Spinning Journal
Pages from Now Spinning Listening Journal v1.0

These journal prompts and reflection questions worked as a focus, but I observed that students wrote shallow responses. Instead of answering in complete sentences or journaling their thoughts, many students gave simple answers to the prompts. Next year’s journals need more scaffolding.

Now Spinning v2.0

I am excited to introduce students to Now Spinning 2.0! I realize that this learning experience will continue to evolve as I learn more from my students and music theory, synthesize that information, and continue to intentionally build and craft a better listening learning experience.

I designed these listening note catchers for students.

Now that I have reflected and synthesized all that I have learned, here is what I have planned for my next iteration.


I recently discovered that there is a name for the type of music study I’m looking to engage in with my students: Ethnomusicology.

Ethnomusicology is the study of music in its social and cultural contexts. Ethnomusicologists examine “music as a social process in order to understand what music is and what it means to its practitioners and audiences” (Society for Ethnomusicology, 2023)

The methods that I am most interested in sharing with my students are:

1) Employing a global perspective on music (encompassing all geographic areas and types of music).

2) Understanding music as social practice (viewing music as a human activity that is interrelated with its social and cultural contexts).

New Now Spinning journal format

While I don’t think there was anything inherently wrong with the first iteration of our Now Spinning journal, I do believe that it needs to be tweaked. These journals need to be structured enough so that students understand how to use them, while open so that they can personalize their listening experience.

Although I’m envisioning something as amazing as Henry Jones’s Grail Diary from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as long as students personalize their Now Spinning Journal with their own deep thinking, I’ll be happy.

Sample page from Now Spinning Journal

Focus on lyrics and primary sources

If I want students to focus on a song’s lyrics, I need to provide them with the lyrics. I realize this seems obvious. Last year, I didn’t take the time to print out lyrics for students to read, underline/highlight, and paste into their journals. This year, students will do close readings of specific lyrics in order to help them analyze a particular song.

Since I want to focus on political, economic, or socio-cultural factors, I plan to include primary resources for each song/artists. For example, students will analyze lyrics, photographs, music videos, interviews, etc… in order to help them understand why particular songs were relevant or controversial, and why they may or may not continue to be important today.

John Coltrane’s Circle of Fifths

Added genres and albums

I intentionally did not include country music in our year-long listening experience. Country music has its own long history and I couldn’t figure out how to fit it in during the week. At the end of the year, I shared a country music retrospective, which was nice, but did not do the genre justice.

This year, I have revamped our schedule to include one day a week for one decade of country music from 1920–2020. I am using resources from the incredible Ken Burns documentary, Country Music.

Integrate into content areas

It is impossible to accomplish all that I want to with my students given the time and academic constraints of our school year. I am not a music teacher. However, I do think it is possible to integrate Now Spinning better into our content areas. For example, when discussing political, economic, or socio-cultural factors, I can tie this into our Social Studies discussions of US History. Since fifth-grade curriculum is American History from 1754–1789, I anticipate that there will still be times when I have to choose between studying the protest songs of the Civil Rights Era and the Declaration of Independence. But, maybe not?

I want Now Spinning 2.0 to have a larger literacy component, so I plan to have my students reading and writing more. Version 1.0 consisted of quick 10–15 minute listening and fact learning moments in our day. I want Version 2.0 to be better integrated into critical thinking and analysis.

Using brain science

I read the coolest book last year about why we like certain music and how we each possess a unique “listener profile” based on our brain’s reaction to seven key dimensions of any record: authenticity, realism, novelty, melody, lyrics, rhythm, and timbre. This Is What It Sounds Like: What the Music You Love Says About You by Dr. Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas is an incredible exploration of brain science that deepened my connection to music.

Since personality and musical preferences are heavily context- and culture-dependent, I plan to use Dr. Rogers’ book as a resource for helping my students understand their listener profile. I want them to appreciate the key dimensions of music and understand that our musical needs change as we change.
I created this matrix for students to include in their Now Spinning journals.

Types of listening

Now that I better understand how listening works in our brain, I want to share this with my students. Instead of just telling them to listen, really listen! I want them to see how there are different tiers of listening: affective listening, structural listening, and dialogic listening.

Affective listening is the most basic. What instruments do you hear? What genre of music is this? What emotions does this evoke? How fast or slow is it?

Structural listening is more focused on a particular element of a song. How does the artist or composer move from one idea to another? Why? What underlying questions does the piece pose and how does it answer these questions, if at all? How does the lyrics relate to the sounds?

Dialogic listening is the most complex and time-consuming. Here, students are analyzing what they are hearing with other primary and secondary sources. For example, I might ask students to compare one song to different song by the same artist. I could have students listen to a song and then read a newspaper article or review from the same era.

TeachRock has amazing educator resources to use with students. I’ve already used many of their Trace It Back lessons with students. They may be geared toward middle and high school students, my fifth-graders love learning about where their music comes from. If only I could get Steven Van Zandt to come and be a guest speaker for my class!

Now Spinning Classic Albums After-School Club

“It has given voice to individuals & groups denied access to other platforms for expression, so much so that, in many times & places, freedom of song has been as important as freedom of speech, & far more controversial.” — Ted Gioia

Last year, I worked with about 15 students after school, giving them space to share their love of music. I helped them learn about other musical genres and we attempted to create a student music magazine resembling Rolling Stone Magazine. We never were able to produce a music magazine, but I do believe that I learned a ton about what I want this listening learning experience to look and feel like.

In order to beta test some of these new features, I’ve decided this year, to simultaneously run an afterschool club with ten students. I’m teaching them the principles of ethnomusicology, brain science and types of listening. I introduced them to Dr. Rogers’ Listener Profile Dimensions and they loved it. They learned something about their own musical tastes.

Our Listener Profile Dimensions. What do you notice?

Who knows how this year’s Now Spinning will turn out? We may or may not try to create a music magazine. If you have any suggestions or resources, please comment and let me know. Stay tuned as I document this next iteration of Now Spinning Classic Albums!



Adrian Neibauer

I am a learning experience designer. I’m an intellectual thinker. I push the boundaries of what’s possible. I have lots stories to tell and change to make.