Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Music in the Classroom the weekend of January 11th – 12th, 2014, some members of the Learn, Out of the Box team had the opportunity to attend InspirEd, a front-runner in education conferences in India, organized by Teach for India (TFI). The two day conference was jam-packed with sessions covering a spectrum of education related topics ranging from classroom teaching and school-level management to larger policy debates and approaches in education.

One particularly interesting session was on integrating music in the classroom – presented by Nick Dalton. Mr. Dalton is co-leading a TFI performing arts initiative as a representative of Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP). In his session he spoke of the importance of music in education, as a form of creative expression for students, and as a stimulating medium. Referring to Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe, he spoke of how music has defined our times and has led revolutions by uniting people through anthems. It acts as an equalizer and allows for better social integration – something Dalton experienced first-hand while teaching refugee children in New York.
With our interest piqued, we delved further into fascinating subject matter brought up in the session. Music is not just a mood enhancer (it is said to release dopamine) but there are several other beneficial implications of incorporating music in the classroom as well. Constant exposure to music makes hearing more acute, such that students are able to grasp the words spoken to them with much more ease. This has been tested in the teaching of a foreign language by researchers at Northwestern University, where students who play an instrument find it easier to learn new words due to their auditory perception. It has also been found that when a song is played during the learning process, if that song is repeated when students are being tested, they score much higher. This is because our mind tends to recall memories associated with the song. Music creates more neural pathways, or new connections in the brain, which makes information retrieval better.

Music helps children express their thoughts and feelings better. While journaling or reflecting, if some ambient music is played, it helps children broaden their imaginations, expand their perception of colour and shape, and visualize their experiences. Popular research has said Classical, Baroque and Jazz music are said to have the most positive impact on students.

Music is found to especially help children with behavioural/emotional disability or neurological disorders. Music by Mozart, particularly, has shown to have a compelling effect on students. In 1999, Anne Savan conducted a study on 10 boys, with special educational needs. The music seemed to have improved their coordination and concentration, reducing frustration, aggression and disruptive behavior. When the same music was played with some notes altered, it was found that all the calming effect of Mozart’s music was not replicated. Mozart’s music is also shown to have a positive effect on children with epilepsy, reducing the chance of an epileptic fit.

A popular 1993 study by Frances Rauscher, Shaw and Katherine Ky led to the coining of the phrase the ‘Mozart Effect’. In studying the impact of Mozart’s music on learning, they found that it had a short term impact on spatial and temporal reasoning. Students who had consumed about 10 minutes of Mozart’s music were more likely to do 8-10% better on the spatial relations section of the Stanford-Binet IQ test if attempted immediately after listening to the music. Further research since then has yielded results both in favor and against this conclusion. Whatever the results, one cannot deny that music creates a pleasant learning environment, conducive for students.

Teachers often say that their students are sharp, irrespective of their grades, as they can remember every Bollywood song on television! Music has ways of reaching children, so why limit music in school to the music classes? Music can be used to teach anything – from spelling, to history, geography, and even math and science. Music is often used to teach little children, however it is just as effective to teach older children as well. Music has many possible uses in the classroom; it can be used as welcome music, giving students the duration of the song to settle down; to close the class or transition into the next class; when playing games in the class; or actively to memorize concepts. Here is one of our favourite Math songs as an example - the ‘Triangle Song’.

Some other online resources for integrating music into the classroom, shared during the session, can be found at:

Some additional resources, found on YouTube, are: