Music Can Help Teach Student Actors to Move

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Why Teach Movement?

Theater teachers know that the emotional and social development that theater offers students is unbeatable, but when dealing with secondary students, the awkwardness of the teenage years can often get in the way of fully expressing the emotions of a young actor. How can we teach better physical movement without treading on the fragile egos of high school students? Asking actors to participate in physical activities like running or swimming can help them prepare for the rigors of performing, but teaching the more fluid, emotional movement of the stage can be tough. One easy way of introducing your cast or class to movement is through the use of music.

Music Gets You Moving

When you walk through the halls of the typical high school today, iPods and MP3 players are everywhere. Music is an essential part of our lives today, and with the widespread use of Internet radio and digital files, most songs are accessible from anywhere in the world 24/7.

Kids are used to seeing commercials with people dancing to their iPods, and in the halls, you can see kids rocking out to their own playlists. Exposing them to music in the theater classroom builds on this love of music by asking them to “rock out” to a playlist you select for class. By using a wide range of pieces, students can discover not only the evocative quality of different genres of music, but they’ll learn to identify how their movement changes with the pieces as well.

A Sample Lesson

1. Pick a playlist of at least five different pieces of music. Consider how the music evokes a mood and choose music that taps into different emotions. A great resource for highly charged, emotional music is film scores. It works best when students are unfamiliar with the music that they will be experimenting with to avoid any preconceived notions of what the music is supposed to be about.

2. Explain to the class that the goal for the day is to move to the music in a way that matches the way the music feels. Depending on the critical thinking skills of your students, you may find a need to demonstrate with a couple of pieces, playing the music and then asking students to identify what emotion they hear in the notes.

3. Be sure that students understand that the day’s exercises are individual activities. Many students feel the need to seek comfort from friends when they feel self-conscious, and this exercise can make even the most secure performer feel exposed. Being by yourself during the movement is helpful. If your class struggles with self-consciousness, consider asking them to move with their eyes closed for the first song or so.

4. Play through your playlist, stopping after each song to allow the students a chance to rest and reflect on their movement. What movements worked? What pace and rhythm best fit the mood?

5. At the end of the lesson, ask students to prepare a short, 15-second series of movements for the next class period. The goal is to get the class to correctly guess the emotion behind the movement!

Going Beyond the Classroom

Music is a terrific way of getting young performers to explore new ways of moving in theater class and onstage. Not only can music get your actors up and moving in class, it can also be a great introduction for a cast. When directing a show, consider using this exercise to get your cast closer to an understanding of the emotional environment of the play and how they move inside that world. It will give your productions and your classroom a new burst of energy!


  • Pearson, Jenny. Discovering the Self Through Drama and Movement. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1996.