In general, music may be the most versatile teaching tool for children that is available. There is a great need in our current educational system to incorporate background music in the classroom. I truly believe that just about anything and everything could be taught through music within the classroom. Whether it be learning meter in poetry, assessing and directing music lyrics, playing classical music in the background of a math class, reciting music from memory, or looking at historical music, music in and of itself is an integral part of education. Without it, education would lose much. Before delving into how to use background music in the classroom, it is important to understand some of the elements that make it so very important. You can play it to various cognitive benefits to integrate music into your lessons.
Can I Play Music in My Classroom?
Suppose the question here is if there are any legal prohibitions for playing music within the classroom for the sake of listening while working, there aren’t. Now, finding out whether or not you are even allowed to play music in your classroom may certainly be beneficial to know before getting the materials that you need to play music in the first place. If your school allows you to play music in your class, then go right ahead and buy some good classroom speakers! A ton of scientific research shows that playing music in the classroom activates different brain receptors during study time. Or how about using music for transitions or part of a lesson? For any reason, music has many benefits that have a positive impact on the minds of children.
What Are the Benefits of Background Music in the Class?
When children are small, music is often used in developing language, social and emotional, and numerical skills. For some reason, at a certain point, we stop using music as the primary delivery of educational principles and instead resort to PowerPoint presentations and taking notes. However, the same things that helped the brain form those skills in the early childhood stages do not stop being a primary cognitive development source in later years. Many of my students often ask if they can listen to background music while working during independent study time. Let’s take a look here and evaluate the positive benefits for students to listing to background music.
1 . Music Can Have a Positive Impact on Stress
It is no surprise that today’s students are over the top stressed. The effect of that stress has led to increasing psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. According to an article from the American Psychological Association, “…researchers found that listening to and playing music increase the body’s production of the antibody immunoglobulin. A and natural killer cells — the cells that attack invading viruses and boost the immune system’s effectiveness. Music also reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” If this truly the case, background music, and appropriate songs within the classroom become a need for students rather than a want. If music can promote healthier, happy, and less stressed children, that one thing seems like a good reason to play on!
2 . Music Can Decrease Depression Symptoms in Children
According to research done in 2009 by The Cochrane Collaboration stated that “Findings from individually randomized trials suggest that music therapy is accepted by people with depression and is associated with improvements in mood.” The alarming and increasing rate of students coming into the classroom is not learning because of depression. According to the CDC, children “’…having been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression among children aged 6–17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and 8.4% in 2011–2012.4.”
On this same note, studies are now being conducted on students’ mood and increasing depression and anxiety. Students suffering from depression or anxiety are likely not in a good place to work on any given class day. Most of the students are looking forward to a new school year, but for some, the first day back at school is scary. Music can help to make the first day back at school a little bit easier.
If something as simple as allowing background music during a task can improve the mood of children, then it is our obligation in the role as a teacher to explore ways to incorporate background music within the classroom.
3 . Music Makes Learning and Memorization Stronger
Much of the research studies that have been done on music concerning strengthening memory and solidifying learning have been done on those with degenerative brain disorders. However, if someone with Alzheimer’s can have their memory activated by music, why wouldn’t hearing music have the same effect on children? According to an article by Psychology Today, musicians have an increased ability to memorize and auditory processing. Further stating, “Music training confers the ability to assess the relevance and predictability of information-bearing elements in an auditory signal. So, even in non-musical contexts, such as listening to a speech, lecture, or soundtrack in a movie, for example, musicians should learn and remember more of the content than non-musicians.”
This is a concept that we all know but have forgotten along the way. These little ditties that we utilize to teach small children their numbers and their alphabets are still very impactful. Now, I am not saying to sing the alphabet with a bunch of 10th graders. Parodies are fantastic, and often, a funny way and clever to promote education. Further, these parodies can solidify what has been taught in class (there’s that memory piece!).
What is the Main Purpose of Background Music?
First, let’s consider what kinds of music either can positively or negatively impact students. Some argue classical music is better for studying while others enjoy a variety of music while they work. You can find some studies concerning various types of classical background music, while you can also find a few studies showing that music with lyrics can be distracting to study. In either case, here are some types of music and why you should use them!
The Mozart Effect
An article done by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine reported the effect of instrumental ballads on the brain found that Mozart sonata K448 increased brain activity in all parts of the brain. Further, this states, “…long-term effects of music were studied in groups of pre-school children aged 3-4 years who were given keyboard music lessons for six months, during which time they studied pitch intervals, fingering techniques, sight-reading, music notation, and playing from memory. At the end of the training, all the children could perform simple melodies by Beethoven and Mozart.”
The YouTube video above is the sonata that they used during this experiment. When you play this type of classical music in your classroom background, you may help children retain new details from the lesson, reading activity and improve memorization.
The Vivaldi Effect
The Vivaldi effect is much like the Mozart one. These two composers created a classical playlist to boost brain activity, and they didn’t even know it! Hearing instrumental music from Vivaldi, such as the largely studied “Four Seasons,” will improve children’s reading skills and positively influence their learning. Further, this type of background music will create a relaxing and calm learning environment. While we have already placed a couple of awesome examples of brain tunes, much more can be found on YouTube. Search and choose one that you feel is best.
How Will You Use Music in Your Classroom?
Aside from simply playing music in the background, which, as mentioned above, has many benefits when studying, there is a myriad of ways to incorporate music into the actual learning process. So much of what we do in the classroom stems from music and can have a lasting influence on your students.
In an English or History
Choose songs that can be studied! Choose various songs that may present a certain point of view that has been presented within a text read. One example of this that I use during a poetry unit is using Tupac raps in teaching meter and rhyme. The lesson begins with evaluating some classic Shakespeare poetry, then follows with students learning how to dissect that first.
On day two, the lesson continues by assessing meter and rhyme with the raps. Lastly, they get to find a song they like to use what they just learned. While meter and rhyme aren’t the most exciting thing, students who get to assess the music with lyrics they like within classrooms allow genuine learning. Students can complete this activity within a group or individually. Songs playing in the classroom background as students enter can set the tone for your lesson.
For example, let’s say you are teaching a history lesson on Elizabethan England; use background music from that era. This way gives students a better overall understanding of the period they are learning by incorporating background music. Who knows, a student may even discover that they might like that kind of music! Or let’s say you are teaching children a unit on the different versions of Christmas worldwide? Allow the children to listen to the different versions of Christmas music in the background as they work on some fun projects based on the text read.
In Math or Science
When choosing music for the classroom during a science lesson, instrumental music is better than music with words. This type of background music within the classroom introduces students to different music when studying. While different studies show symphonic type music could be best for math and science, some students find that listening to the music of their choice helps to get in the right mindset for studying. Either way, allowing a child the freedom they need and introducing a different type of studying environment introduces them to styles to retain the material.
Research shows a positive result when people play various types of music during physical activity. Different upbeat songs are better for high-intensity activities such as long-distance running or weight lifting. Whereas a student who is learning how to waltz needs songs with a slower time. On that same note, group physical activities likely also need upbeat songs with a faster time.
There is a reason why music has been the lifeblood and soul of every culture globally since the beginning of time. Music resonates within the soul of every being differently. Music can make us laugh, cry, and remember the forgotten for those who cannot remember their names. With this said, why not use the powerful tool of music to make lessons more engaging?
The role of the school is to promote student learning both inside and outside of classrooms. Coincidentally, children will listen, learn, and be happy with what they are learning when hearing music at school. Whether the music is instrumental or various songs from different musicians, children will enjoy their lesson more. They may even find something they like that they otherwise very well may have never heard. Time, time, and time again, fact-finding shows listening to music truly needs children and their development. So let’s utilize music within the classroom to help our kids in all of the best ways!