10 Things Teachers Should Know about Spotify

Noah Geisel
Dec 30, 2015 · 8 min read

Spotify is so much more than a tool for listening to music. It does more than help you discover and organize music. Napster was doing that 15 years ago and the reason why nobody describes Spotify as “a guilt-free Napster” is because Spotify goes way beyond what Napster ever did. Beyond providing users with a friendly interface for discovering and sharing music, and curating and publishing playlists, Spotify’s greatest power and future potential is in its inherently social nature.

With Spotify, nobody is relegated to the exclusive role of consumer (though we may self-elect it); rather, we are all empowered to be creators, producers and tastemakers and we are encouraged every step of the way to be collaborative in our processes.

This post aims to be helpful and encouraging to educators. It does not aim to be comprehensive, so please do post responses to supplement any amazingness I neglect to cover!

1. Accessing Spotify

There’s an app for that! It can be downloaded to most phones and tablets. There is also a desktop player as well as a web player, so as long as there’s an internet connection, there’s a Spotify connection.

2. Spotify is freemium, though offers #Techquity

You and your students can use Spotify for free. All of the features described in this post will be functional with free accounts. Premium accounts run about $10/month, however, and carry a few big features with noticeable impact:

  • Premium accounts listen ad-free whereas free accounts have listening interrupted by commercials (because free isn’t ever really free).
  • Premium accounts have unlimited, on-demand listening. Free accounts have limits on skipping tracks and going to a specific place in a song.
  • Off-line listening is a perk for premium accounts. This means that paying users can select songs, albums and playlists to be downloaded to their devices and therefore accessed without an internet connection or using costly data on your cell plan. It comes in handy when flying and if your school has frequent bandwidth issues, you won’t be a part of the collective action problem slowing down everyone’s internet.

Ultimately, the premium features are a classic teacher’s case of nice to have though not a need to have. From an equity and access perspective, the free accounts should not present major hurdles in meeting teaching and learning needs.

3. Getting comfortable with your player

Once you’ve created an account and installed the Spotify player, it’s time to get to know your surroundings. For the most part, it is familiar and intuitive. Nonetheless, here are some brief explanations just in case:

Shoutout to Chris Moore, with whom I first presented on Spotify and who created the original version of this graphic!

4. The ellipsis thingy is your friend

Depending on your device and player, this helpful tool may be horizontal or vertical. Anywhere you see it, clicking it will empower you with lots of options, such as getting a shareable link to the song’s url that you can post on other social media. From this menu you can also add songs to a new or existing playlist as well as discover similar tunes by launching a new radio station based on a particular song, album or artist. And then some (we’ll get there!).

5. Dynamic discovery through worldwide crowdsourcing

Spotify offers a diverse pool of options for music discovery. If you have a friend with great taste, you can follow her playlists as well as anonymously creep on her activity feed. If you lack that friend, you can still follow playlists from others’ friends, critics and even artists themselves. The aforementioned song radio (and artist radio and album radio) will help you find music similar to what you already like. Additionally, Spotify offers each user a personalized Discover Weekly playlist of 30 songs you’ve never played yet will mostly like. The Browse button perpetually threatens to pull you down a musical rabbit hole with dozens of featured playlists categorized by moods, activities and genres.

As a language educator, my favorite discovery tools are the country-specific charts. They can help teachers stay current with popular music while offering students rich opportunities for cultural comparisons. As worldly educators, we’re (likely) not shocked by listening habits in other countries. Not so for students. In my experience, several are in jaw-dropping awe to learn that in Chile, for example, Justin Bieber is also a chart-topper (he occupies 3 of the top 10 spots on the Chilean chart at the time of this writing).

I believe this feature could be valuable in other classes besides language classes. In Literature courses, it could aid in connecting with the setting of a text based in another country. Because art consumption is a reflection of culture, Social Studies classes could employ country charts in order to better comprehend and connect with the cultures of places being studied. (Please note that while Spotify currently offers charts for over three dozen countries, it lacks charts for many more, including the entire African continent, Russia and China.)

6. Access real-time lyrics to the current song

Caveat: not a feature currently available on the mobile app

One underutilized feature of Spotify is the LYRICS button that is located on the bottom-right of the desktop player, next to the end time of the current song. After clicking this, the lyrics for the song being played will fill your screen, even advancing in synch with the song. It’s like karaoke with the song’s vocals intact. Language teachers are appreciative of this functionality’s utility in teaching the words to a song (and the Environmental Club sponsor celebrates the lack of photocopies filling trash bins).

There is potential for this to be a helpful tool in Early Childhood Literacy classes and perhaps Literature classes doing poetry analysis with songs. Further, as spoken-word recordings and podcasts (and dare I suggest audiobooks?) make their way onto Spotify, this could be a powerful adaptive tech tool to meet some learners’ needs with audio texts.

7. Search all of Spotify by lyrics

OK, this is where I start to get REALLY EXCITED and run the risk of typing in all caps. Once you’ve opened the lyrics feature described in the previous section, a SEARCH BY LYRICS field will now appear in the top-right of your screen. This may be used to search all of Spotify for specific lyrics.

The lyrics search function offers educators in all content areas some intriguing possibilities. Early grades, ELL and World Languages teachers can use this to find songs that utilize new vocabulary words in context (after vetting them for school-appropriateness, of course!). Social Studies and History instructors might use this to find protest songs or tracks that address specific historical events, like the Civil War:

There are also great applications of the lyrics search for personalizing learning in Math and Science classes. For example, students could use it to gather data that is meaningful to them and then analyze and graph it. If data geeks really want to geek out, Spotify had an analytics tool in beta. [To get an idea of the cool places it can take you and your students, check out this essay analyzing whether Drake or Nicki Minaj has a bigger effect on hit making.] While that analytics tool is no longer accessible, the Year in Music tool for both artists and fans offers some intriguing and personalized data points that may serve as worthy alternatives.

8. Embed songs, albums and playlists

When you click on the ellipsis thingy (see #4 above), one of the options is to Copy Embed Code. You can then paste it on your website, blog, or even class networks like Edmodo and Schoology. If the embed code doesn’t work, try using the Copy Link option. Here on Medium, for example, that is all that is needed to embed the Spotify player like the Civil War playlist above. If embedding doesn’t work or meet your needs, you can also use the Copy Link option to get a link that you can then share by text message, email, social media or just posting to your students on your class site like any other link.

9. Work smarter, not harder by following others’ playlists

If someone else has created a playlist that you find useful, click the FOLLOW oval. The playlist will now be added to your own music library in the PLAYLISTS section under YOUR MUSIC.

10. Work smarter, not harder with Collaborative Playlists

One of my favorite Spotify features is the option (again, by clicking the ellipsis thingy) to make a playlist collaborative. This will allow other users to add their own tracks to your playlist. Use this to save yourself time and effort while also empowering students to control their educational listening by tasking them with adding songs to a thematic class playlist, like this one of songs containing similes:

Add to this collaborative playlist! Follow it, then find a song containing similes you want to include.

From classroom management and accountability perspectives, a bonus aspect of this feature is that the playlist identifies the Spotify user who adds each song as well as the date they added it. This means students cannot anonymously add a song to your class list that contains inappropriate content like profanity or racial slurs. As the owner of the playlist, you may also remove any songs from the playlist. Additionally, this can be a helpful defense against unauthorized users who may add to your playlist (because there is not yet a way — of which I’m aware — to restrict who is able to add songs to a collaborative playlist).

Adding songs to a collaborative playlist is simple. Please feel free to practice on my similes playlist above! Once you have created an account and are logged in, you first have to click to follow the playlist. Then, find a song you want to add to it. Click on the ellipsis thingy for that song, select Add to Playlist, and then select the playlist to which you’d like to add from the list of your playlists.

How have you used/plan to use Spotify in your classes? What awesome functions, strategies and ideas have I failed to describe? Please do share by posting a response. And, if you like this post, please click the heart to recommend it so that others can discover it as well! And don’t forget to follow The Synapse for more authentic voices in Education!

The Synapse

Authentic voices in education

Noah Geisel

Written by

Singing along with the chorus is the easy part. The meat and potatoes are in the Verses. Educator, speaker, connector and risk-taker. @SenorG on the Twitter

The Synapse

Authentic voices in education.

Noah Geisel

Written by

Singing along with the chorus is the easy part. The meat and potatoes are in the Verses. Educator, speaker, connector and risk-taker. @SenorG on the Twitter

The Synapse

Authentic voices in education.

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