Music is an important component of our everyday lives, and nearly everyone enjoys listening to it. Aside from being enjoyable, music can enhance our creativity, soothe or energize us, and enrich our lives. However, as Chris Brewer explains in his book Music and Learning, it can also be used as a powerful teaching tool and enhance students’ learning and retention. While there are many basic benefits to music in the classroom, including increased attention, improved memory, and a fun atmosphere, there are 3 valuable skills that can be built using music as a learning tool.
Maurice J. Elias, a professor of Psychology at Rutgers, delved into how music can be used as an emotional tool in the classroom. Speaking with Don McMannis, a children’s music expert, McMannis explains why music can improve information retention in the classroom:
“Music has positive effects on people's emotions and creativity. When we sing together, we synchronize our breathing and feel more connected… By inducing emotions, it [music] also creates a heightened condition of awareness and mental acuity. Words paired with music are far easier to retain. As an example, most of us can remember the words and meanings of songs we haven't heard for years. Isn't it interesting how you still remember your ABCs?”
Many educators are using songs to teach facts and skills like history or conflict resolution. According to an infographic by Kent State, songs like Talk it Out, which emphasizes positive communication for conflict resolution, can increase social cohesion, social adjustment, and self-reliance, while improving the attitude of the class overall. These benefits are especially noticeable in low ability, disaffected students, and can help students deal with bullying, teasing, and negative thoughts. Improving emotions of children through music has also been shown to correlate with better academic performance and cognitive abilities overall.
In an increasingly global society, students who are bilingual and understand language well are at a distinct advantage. Children tend to find learning language easier than adults do, but it is still a difficult skill to master, particularly when learning multiple languages. Music has been shown to be a powerful tool to assist with language learning.
Kent State notes that perceptual ability with music correlates to early reading and language skills in young children (pre-readers and kindergarten), but there is now even more compelling evidence to show that music can help students retain language concepts.
Researcher Daniele Schon and her team invented a number of nonsense words and taught them to a group of participants. When Schon simply taught them the words, it took the participants over 20 minutes to pick out individual words, and they had a difficult time identifying the study words from words made up of parts of the study words. However, once the words were set to music, with each syllable given its own pitch, all of the participants did much better, identifying the words reliably more than 50% of the time.
Studies like Schon’s show that while it’s not necessary to use music to teach language, it can help facilitate the process and help students retain linguistic information.
Students often get discouraged or frustrated when initially learning about complex topics, but using music as a learning tool is an excellent way to help make a difficult topic more enjoyable and easier to understand.
A Northumbria University study in the UK tested the effects of music on a simple concentration task performed by young adult study participants. This test was repeated five times: both in silence and while the four concertos of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” were played in the room. Researchers found that the uplifting “Spring” concerto produced the best results, with students responding faster and more accurately on the test. According to Dr. Leigh Riby, this is for an important reason:
“This experiment shows that cognitive capacity is enhanced when pleasant and arousing stimuli are introduced.”
Concentration and retention are enhanced when music plays because listening to music is a pleasurable experience that activates many areas of the brain, including language, hearing, and motor control, according to Don McMannis. With these benefits, bringing music into the classroom to teach complex thoughts can help students succeed.
Introducing Music Into the Classroom
Experts like McMannis are hard at work devising songs for teaching all sorts of important skills. Music in the classroom doesn’t have to be limited to these specific songs, however—classical compositions and other music have been shown to help kids learn as well. It’s easy to start incorporating music into the curriculum: it’s inexpensive and has been proven to help students learn, grow, and thrive.