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How To Best Implement Music in the Classroom

There are many, many ways the musical arts can be implemented in classrooms.Music can be either played or listened to actively or passively. If you’re playing music in a learning environment, remember these things:

Many students who are having difficulty in school may have listening and/or hearing problems; and these problems may be impacting their behavior, reading abilities, and attentional patterns. Schools ought to test for both hearing and listening skills.

Generally making music is better than listening to it. But don’t let the lack of a trained music teacher keep your learners from music exposure. Do what you can do in the circumstances you have. Everything from humming, to singing, using primitive to popular instruments, or CD players can add music to the day.

Let your students know why you use what you do. Help them understand the differences among music which calms, energizes or inspires. Students of all ages should learn why you use music. and be able to suggest selections.

Always be the last word in music selections. If you think that the suggestions of others are not your style, that’s no problem–still use it. But if what students suggest has hurtful lyrics or create an inappropriate mood, say no. That’s your responsibility as a professional.

Get students involved in the process of managing the music after you have introduced it. Many are happy to play “disk jockey” for the class, but you’ll want to have clear rules on what’s done and when.

Get a CD player. Keep your CDs in a safe, clean binder and keep them and the CD player well-secured.

Do active research with music. Work with another grade-level teacher. Both of you can split your class and trade student halves. You might try one type of music for 10-15 minutes (if it’s a math class, you might use Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major) and the other teacher might try a series of rhythms or even heavy metal. Then switch the two groups and do a ten-minute exam or survey activity that measures spatial reasoning, logic or problem-solving. Tally up the scores and share them with students.

Remember the studies that suggest that students learn and recall better when physiological states are matched. If students learn material with a particular music in the background, they’ll also do better with it during the test. This suggests that you might want to use music for learning only when you can match it at test time.

Approximately 15-25% of your may be highly sensitive to sounds. They may be highly auditory learners. If these students complain about your use of music, you might want to turn it down a bit, listen to their suggestions and remind them you use music only part of the time, not all the time. At least a quarter of your students dislike teamwork; would you throw that out, too? Be respectful, but stand your ground.

Background music does affect your students. The consensus is: 1) select it carefully 2) make sure it’s predictably repetitive and 3) play music in a major key 4) use instrumentals, not vocals for the background.

Some students will complain about music because of another issue: control. If the room’s too cold, and students can access the thermostat, they complain less. If music is not their taste, and they can have input on what’s played or the volume, you’ll get fewer complaints. When a student complains, you can be empathic; either turn down the music a bit or allow the student to sit further from the speakers.

Remember the power of authority figures and the value of your credibility with music. If you act positive when using music, and show that you believe it actually will enhance learning and memory, it will have a stronger effect. The group that was told music inhibits learning did perform worse on a music-enhanced word list and vocabulary quiz than the controls.

Silence is golden. Anything can become saturated. Use music selectively and purposely. In most classes, it might be used from 10-30% of the total learning time

Two exceptions:
1) if music is the whole focus of a class, more may be fine
2) you may use environmental noise/music like waterfalls, rain forests or oceans
for longer than other selections.

It’s best to optimize music training with intervals of rest. The practice sessions for playing music ought to be for a minimum of 30 minutes, up to a maximum of 90 minutes, with a focus on one skill at a time. Longer sessions can work, for one to two hours, if you’re alternating short concentrated bursts of music training of fifteen minutes at a time, with an activity like dance, drawing, theater, recess, or walks. This should be done a minimum of two or more times weekly. To get lasting benefits, the playing is best if over at least a year. Schools which have a once weekly “token” music program for 30 minutes or less are missing the significant benefits, though some meager musical and cultural exposure is better than nothing.

Based on the evidence gathered so far, it’s both reasonable and prudent that music should be a significant part of every child’s education. It is the ethical, scientific and cultural imperative that all children get exposure to music as an equal with every other discipline. There is also support for the policy of starting children early in their music education as the effects are greater in the early years. Positive impact increases with each additional year.

The message with music education is, start early, make it mandatory, provide instruction, add choices and support it throughout a student’s education. That’s what leads to dependable results. It can be, literally, an education with music in mind.

Creative Commons License photo credit: bonnie-brown

Musical Arts As An Educational Tool

“Musical arts” or “music-making” means much more than playing music or listening to it. Singing, rap and musicals are also part of the musical arts. In addition, the musical arts include composing music, reading music, analyzing, arranging, notating and creating music.

Neurobiologist Mark Jude Tramo of Harvard Medical School says, “Music is biologically part of human life, just as music is aesthetically part of human life.” Compelling evidence supports the hypothesis that musical arts may provide a positive, significant and lasting benefit to learners. There is no single piece of evidence, but the diversity and depth of supporting material is overwhelming. If this were a court case, the ruling would be music is valuable “beyond reasonable doubt.”

Hard-wired?

Music is part of our biological heritage and is hard-wired into our genes as a survival strategy. If Darwin was right, traits and behaviors which enhance the survival of a species will be selected by nature because they’ll better insure the perpetuation of a species from one generation to the next.

Could the use of music increase survival chances? Cave paintings depicting the use of music go back 70,000 years. Flutes have been found in France dating as far back as 30,000 years. Music, vocalized or played by an individual or sung as social chorus (birds, whales or ape choruses) may have been used to attract a mate. It’s possible others were attracted to those producing louder,better or more pleasing sounds. In addition, music was often used for intra-group communication which increased group safety and identification. Likely, robust vocalization improved notification of pending threat or environmental changes.

Music may be used to increase harmony and social bonding among those playing it or listening to it. Music may have also contributed to changes in the brain (i.e. verbal memory, counting and self-discipline), which may have enhanced survival. And, finally, making music probably strengthened listening skills, certainly a valued trait when hunting game or escaping predators. In fact, the human brain appears to have highly specialized structures for music: For instance, melodic contour, has corresponding brain cells that process it. Other cells in the mammalian auditory cortex have been found that process specific harmonic relationships (Sutter & Schreiner 1991). The rhythmic, temporal qualities have been linked to a specific group of neurons in the auditory cortex.

Music Enhances Cognition

Music-making contributes to the development of essential cognitive systems which include reasoning, creativity, thinking, decision-making and problem-solving. It does this by activating and synchronizing neural firing patterns that orchestrate and connect multiple brain sites. The neural synchrony ensembles increase both the brain’s efficiency and effectiveness. These key systems are well-connected and located in the frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes as well as the cerebellum. The strongest studies support the value of music-making in spatial reasoning, creativity and generalized mathematical skills. The activation between family groups of cortical neurons assist the cortex in pattern recognition. Read more