“My child listens to music whilst working, surely they cannot learn like that?”

Music affects our feelings and energy levels.  Often unknowingly, we use music to create desired moods; to make us happy, to provoke thoughts, to dance, to feel more energetic, to bring back powerful memories, to help us relax and focus.  Music is a powerful tool for our personal expression and it helps “set the scene” for many important experiences.  Much research also supports the fact that music greatly affects and enhances our learning.

Some areas where music helps are:

  • Creating an Active Learning Experience:  Music activates students mentally, physically and emotionally.  It helps to create an environment of learning that enhances understanding.  
  • Focus and Attention:  Music can help concentration levels for certain learners.  Baroque music, such as those composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, where there are 50 to 80 beats per minute helps to maintain focus.
  • Memory and Retention:  Songs, chants, raps etc help students to memorise content.  This is done through rhyme, melody and rhythm.
  • Motivation:  Music in the background helps with motivating students to learn and continue learning.  
  • Creativity and Thinking:  Background music stimulates internal processing, that in turn facilitates creativity.  This encourages personal reflection.
  • Community:  Music provides a positive environment that encourages students to work together and in teams

Of course the type of music is important and vital.  Baroque music (Bach and Vivaldi) and Classical (Mozart and Beethoven) are recommended as is ‘soft’ music (soundtracks with no words).    Research from Stanford University has found that humans do better on learning and memory tests after listening to particular music by Mozart (called the Mozart Effect as coined by Dr. Alfred Tomatis in the 1990s).  Benjamin Gold, a researcher at McGill University looked at Reinforcement Learning (e.g. studying notes, revising for a test etc) and concluded that “most significantly, non-musicians tended to learn better when they enjoyed the background music, but those with more musical training learned better when the music was neutral.”  

More recent studies (by Dr. Emma Gray) have shown that for Sciences, Humanities and Languages, music by artists such as Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus (songs with 50-80 beats per minute) help process factual information and solve problems.  When studying Mathematics, classical music was found to be the best choice (60-70 beats per minute) and for students studying English, Drama or Art, it is recommended to listen to emotive rock and pop songs such as Firework by Katy Perry or I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) by The Rolling Stones.

As with many studies, a counter-argument does exist.  This has been presented by Nick Penham and Joanne Vizard, who conclude that, “listening to liked or disliked music was exactly the same, and both were worse than the quiet control condition.”  

Yasir Patel

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