Cropped shot of a young woman wearing headphones against a blue background

Letting Music Shape You

Students reflect on an experience of music that elicited awe for them and connect with their peers through the sharing of awe-eliciting music.

Level: Upper Elementary, Middle School, High School
Duration: ≤ 15 minutes
My Notes: Add/Edit Notes

Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice

  • To foster a greater sense of community among students
  • To inspire students to grow and develop in meaningful ways
  • Any time during the school year when students need a boost of fun and connection


Time Required

  • ≤15 minutes



  • A piece of music that makes you feel awe that you can play for students (needed only once to introduce the practice)
  • Ability for students to share a piece of their own music
  • Paper, pencil/pen (Option #1)


Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Reflect on a time when an experience of music led them to feel awe.
  • Identify a song that they find awe-eliciting
  • Practice connecting with each other through the sharing of music


Additional Supports


Character Strengths

  • Awe
  • Purpose
  • Empathy


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Social Awareness


Mindfulness Components

  • Focused Attention
  • Open Awareness
  • Non-Judgment

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • Take a moment to reflect on a time when an experience of music led you to feel awe.
  • What was the context? Who was there? How did it make you feel? What did you learn about your sense of self and identity in that experience?


Explain to students:

  • Researchers have discovered that music can be a powerful source of awe—the feeling we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world at that moment. Awe can help us feel more connected to one another and the world, and can inspire us to be curious and creative.
  • Play for students a piece of music that inspires awe in you. Share your “story” behind the music. For example, where were you when you first heard it? What were you doing? How does this piece of music affect you physically and/or emotionally? What is it about this particular piece of music that makes you feel awe? What did you learn about yourself from this experience?
  • Next, choose one of the two options for inviting students to share music that makes them feel awe.
  • Note: Option #2 can be done multiple times throughout the school year.

Option #1:

  • Invite students to reflect on a time when an experience of music led them to feel awe.
  • Then, ask them to write a short reflection focusing on the following questions:
    • What was the context when you first heard this music? Who was there? How did it make you feel?
    • What did you learn about your sense of self and identity in that experience?
  • In pairs or small groups, have students spend a time listening to a song that each person finds awe-inspiring and sharing why they find that song awe-inspiring. (Note: Consider if all students have the ability to share a piece of music, whether through their own device, sharing their device with students who don’t have one, on class devices, or another way. If not all students have access to a device to play a piece of music, then you might try Option #2 below instead.)
  • Close by inviting students to share with the whole class what the experience of sharing music like this was like and/or what stood out to them.

Option #2:

  • Either this time or at a time in the near future, invite a student to share a piece of music that makes them feel awe and to tell their “story”: What was the context when you first heard this music? Who was there? How did it make you feel? What did you learn about your sense of self and identity in that experience?
  • Close by inviting other students to share what they learned and appreciated about the student’s piece of music and/or story.
  • Ask for a volunteer to share their music next time, until all students who want to share music have had a turn.


Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Reflection After the Practice

  • Do you notice any changes in the way students relate to each other after sharing music with each other?
  • Do any students report feeling a greater sense of connection or belonging?
  • Are students more energized and/or motivated in their academic work?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

In one study, 1,591 U.S. participants and 1,258 Chinese participants were presented with 2,168 music samples and asked to report the specific feelings that they experienced when listening to the music. The study found that music can elicit distinct types of emotions for people, including the experience of awe.

In another study, scientists had 17 right-handed participants (ages 19-27) with little or no musical training wear brain-recording caps while listening to a live band together in a club rented out for the study. They found that when people listen to music together, their brains synchronize in regions involved in attributing emotional meaning to the music (the amygdala, insula), experiencing delight (caudate nucleus), and language and cultural meaning processing (prefrontal cortex). The degree of shared brain activation also predicted how much the individuals felt both moved by the music and close to the others.

Another study with a diverse group of undergraduates from the U.S. found that listening to awe-eliciting music is related to increased positive emotions, greater inspiration, and more motivation to help others, seek meaning in life, and self-actualize.


Why Does It Matter?

Music can soothe us, lowering our levels of anxiety especially when we listen to music with other people. Music can also help us build strong social connections by fostering trust and cooperation. With students’ mental health challenges and levels of loneliness on the rise, music can play an essential role in helping students heal and connect to one another.

What’s more, awe-inspiring music may inspire students to put more effort into their school work, help them cultivate meaning in their lives, and encourage them to reach out to help others—all qualities that are essential to creating happier and more supportive schools and communities.

“How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?”
–Jane Swan
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