Make your teaching memorable: just add music.

Music is an important part of all cultures. It is used in all sorts of aspects of everyday life, such as business and healthcare. Rich Allen, author of The Rock’n’Roll Classroom, reports that people spend more money and time on music than on books, movies, and sports and the most popular cultural icons are not statesmen or saints, but singers. Archaeological evidence suggests that humankind has been making music for at least 30,000 years and for much of that time music has been used to teach people things. Information has been embedded in songs to pass down to future generations.

There are many ways that music can be used effectively in the classroom. There has been a great deal of research in various fields which has indicated that music helps us feel less tired, can energise us, increase our concentration and deepen learning. When accompanied by music new information becomes easier to remember. Students can connect particular data to a rhythm, and then use their memory of musical elements to recall the information following their association. Research indicates that students consistently respond positively to music in your classroom.  However, despite the potential of music, it is not used as much as it could be in education, particularly higher education. 

How can we use music to improve our teaching practice?

There are a number of ways in which you can use music to help with knowledge retention. Many tutors play the same score of music when they cover certain points, which helps students make associations between the point and a particular score, which actually helps the point stick in their minds. Associations between the music and the concept leads to increased retention, disambiguates the topic from others and allows the topic to be recalled more easily.

Some teachers use music as a soundtrack for various activities. Music has been shown to increase the interest of students in the learning material and it is argued that it increases students’ ability to recall knowledge at the time it is needed so they can use it effectively. According to Elizabeth Petereson of The Inspired Classroom music activates learning material at an emotional, physical and mental level. 

Music can help build a connection between the students and the discipline and students and their peers. Some tutors play a tune when students are entering the classroom. This can help set  an inclusive atmosphere from the beginning and one which is conducive to learning. Other tutors read summaries of class topics with with appropriate music in the background. This can make it feel like a trailer to a movie and increase students’ concentration and anticipation of the lesson to come.

History is an obvious candidate for using music to  bring to life cultural traditions and historical events. Equally literature is set in different times and places and has particular music associated with it. Using music to contextualise literary texts has been shown to be useful for students’ empathy and framing of the setting.

Inclusivity issues when using music in your teaching

There are benefits to using music in terms of accessibility and inclusivity. For example, students suffering from stress can benefit from listening to music because it can help with concentration, focus and help build associations between concepts organically.

However, care should be used when using music. Some students will find it distracting and if overused it can cause some students to have headaches. Furthermore, cultural considerations should be considered. Ideally the source of the music chosen for a given module should stem from a range of cultures and backgrounds to avoid it only being relevant to a subset of the cohort.

Posted in Learning Design
2 comments on “Make your teaching memorable: just add music.
  1. Wendy Garnham says:

    I would love to use more music in my teaching but with thin walls in the teaching spaces, this is a limitation but totally agree that it is a valuable tool!

  2. Paolo Oprandi says:

    Hi Wendy,

    That is a consideration. Thanks!

    I guess lecture theatres are more isolated and better soundproofed, however, I do know of music being used in seminar rooms too. Just don’t have the volume so high with your drum’n’bass!

    Best wishes, Paolo

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