Rockin’ to the beat — Teacher utilizes music talent to maximize student learning
April 8, 2011
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Music has always been a big part of world history teacher Matt Beat’s life.
He learned to play the piano when he was 8 years old and played the guitar and trumpet in high school. He started writing his own songs by age 14. By the time he was in college, he was a professional DJ.
“I always loved listening to music,” he said. “I bought a lot of CDs — I know a lot of people don’t buy CDs anymore, but I still do. Right now I have 21,000 songs on my iPod.”
In 2005, he created a band with his brother, Steve. They decided to call it the Electric Needle Room, inspired by an episode of The Simpsons. In this particular episode, Bart and Homer think they have leprosy and are sent to a place called the Electric Needle Room for treatment.
“It is kind of weird because most bands are single when they are playing a lot of shows and touring,” he said. “We didn’t start playing shows until I got married.”
After several years of working as a DJ, Beat began exploring other interests.
“I always thought about teaching, too, and I finally got around to doing it,” he said. “I’m a first-year teacher, but I’m 29 years old, so this isn’t my first career. That kind of confuses some students. It is because I have many passions, and, to be honest, music doesn’t pay the bills — unless you are Lady Gaga.”
Beat said he quickly realized he could use music in the classroom to help students remember content and began to play background music each day in class.
“What I have done this year is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “I anticipate [using music] a lot more in the future. I will try to incorporate music into my class whenever I can to mix it up and help the students learn.”
He went a step further and wrote 15 songs about individual presidents — whose lives, he said, fascinate him.
“There are so many opportunities for songs about people,” he said. “There are really interesting people throughout history, so I’ll probably do more of that.”
History teacher Mark Klopfenstein attended an Electric Needle Room show at Homer’s Coffee Shop in downtown Overland Park.
Klopfenstein said the band’s music is fun and the James Madison song is particularly catchy.
“I think, musically, it tends to be fairly simple,” he said. “It is just the two of them — he and his brother. But his lyrics are pretty clever and usually kind of funny or satirical.”
History is not the only topic Beat sings and writes about.
“Most people will sing about love and relationships, but I sing about stuff I see everyday — even if it is the most mundane thing,” he said. “I have a song about flossing and how much I hate flossing.”
He said his favorite song he has written is “If You Are Happy, I’m Happy,” — a song about his wife.
“She gets mad when I keep writing songs not about her, so I have to write a song about her every once in a while,” he said.
Beat has written more than 300 songs since he was 14.
“It is quirky, pop music,” he said. “We get compared to the band They Might Be Giants a lot, but also The Beach Boys and Ben Folds. It is catchy music, but at the same time we do a lot of things Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber don’t do.”
Beat said he tries to keep his school and private lives separate.
“I don’t tell my students about my shows because I think that is a little weird,” he said. “But I have had other students see me.”
Klopfenstein gave extra credit to his students who went to an Electric Needle Room show.
“It was the CD release of the Presidents,” he said. “I thought that was kind of fun. And Mr. Beat had said that he would give copies of the CD to students who came.”
To download the The Presidents of the United States of America (Volume 1) for free, check out electricneedleroom.net.