Falling in love with the earth through music

“We are constantly being touched…by nature, and it’s only our imaginations that can help us know that. I’ve been interested in environmental problems for a long time, and I just don’t see economics solving it or politics solving it, because they’re all bandages, and it seems to me that if we are going to have a new connection to the environment it will have to happen in individual hearts and souls…the [musician] can help us fall in love with the earth again.”

Paulus Berensohn, artist (2002)


It has been found that teachers who showed enthusiasm towards the course materials and students can affect a positive learning experience towards the course materials and tend to transfer their passion to receptive students (Baker, 1997).  We as humans are inspired by the melody of our surroundings – the morning calls of songbirds, a salmon splash in a creek, and crickets in the moonlit night.  If music is truly transformational and omnipresent, there is indubitably a place for it in environmental education.   But how?  And for what reason?

First, teachers must acknowledge that environmental issues are complex and cannot be understood through a single discipline.  Music can play a role in conservation education because of its ability to attract the attention of an audience and to foster a positive attitude toward the environment (Lenton, 2002).  Second, experience in the natural world is both an essential part of understanding the environment and conducive to good thinking.  Music can invoke emotional responses.  Incorporating music into educational curriculum can be a powerful technique to illustrate or describe environmental problems in ways that arouse emotions (Sylwester, 1994).  And lastly, in a true liberal arts education, wholeness requires the integration of the personhood of the student:   a balance between the analytical mind with feelings, the intellect with manual competence.  A genuinely liberal education will connect the head and the hands, the songwriting with the instrument.

Below are four songs with an environmental theme ripe with educational value.  Each song title is a link to the guitar chords for your enjoyment in outdoor settings.

Down By The Bay, by Raffi

A traditional children’s song with a simple chord progression. Great song to have students write their own lyrics to as well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2lg_HJXPAE

Big Yellow Taxi, by Joni Mitchell

The song is known for its environmental concern (from the lyrics “They paved paradise to put up a parking lot”, “Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now”) and sentimental sound.  Teachers can also draw connections to lyrics with current and past environmental issues, such as agroindustry, urbanization, and consumption. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94bdMSCdw20

Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Harry McClintock

 This song was written the song in 1895 based on tales hoboing through the United States.   Great imagery and symbolism that transports listeners back to how life was in the 19th century. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSGuBNopzBw

After the Gold Rush, by Neil Young

The song contains lyrics associated with the environment in the form of a dream vision.  The three verses are often categorized as a movement from past, present and future. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e3m_T-NMOs


  • Baker, J. A., Terry, T., Bridger, R., & Winsor, A. (1997). Schools as caring communities: A relational approach to school reform. School Psychology Review, 26, 576-588.
  • Lenton, P. 2002.  Tapping music to encourage environmental literacy (or why we do what we do!). Connections: The Newsletter of the Global, Environmental and Outdoor Education Council of Alberta, 26 (1) 1-5
  • Sylwester, R. 1994.  How emotions affect learning. Educational Leadership, 52(2), 60-66.

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