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Using music in the classroom

By Elaine Gallagher                 Music is the only activity that uses ALL of your brain, both right and left sides. Recently UNONEWS’ English Corner presented plans and a complete lesson for incorporating music in your English classroom, using Sergei Prokofiev’s  1936 masterpiece, «Peter and the Wolf». Because of readers’ […]

Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 28 de julio de 2014

Elaine Gallagher   Foto: © Cristina Gárate

Elaine Gallagher Foto: © Cristina Gárate

By Elaine Gallagher

                Music is the only activity that uses ALL of your brain, both right and left sides. Recently UNONEWS’ English Corner presented plans and a complete lesson for incorporating music in your English classroom, using Sergei Prokofiev’s  1936 masterpiece, «Peter and the Wolf».

Because of readers’ interest in music, we’ll continue with more research-based information about the effectiveness of music in the classroom.   In case you aren’t aware of the strong, supportive evidence, showing positive connections in the brain between music, and learning, let’s refresh your knowledge with updates from research.

For many years, teachers have been using songs, rhythm, chants, and music to teach students basics, such as the Alphabet Song, or counting rhymes, as «One, two, buckle your shoe…». Much research on music and long-term learning has been published by many univesities, such as  Johns Hopkins University, School of Education. Some of the following ideas come from the book Music and Learning by Chris Brewer.


How is it that for most people music is a powerful part of their personal life and yet when we go to work or school we turn it off?  The intentional use of music in the classroom will set the scene and learning atmosphere to enhance our teaching and learning activities. Plus, using music for learning makes the process much more fun and interesting!

Music helps us learn because it will:

  • establish a positive learning state
  • create a desired atmosphere
  • build a sense of anticipation
  • energize learning activities
  • change brain wave states
  • focus concentration
  • increase attention
  • improve memory
  • facilitate a multisensory learning experience
  • release tension
  • enhance imagination
  • Align groups
  • develop rapport
  • provide inspiration and motivation
  • add an element of fun
  • accentuate theme-oriented units


Here are three areas of teaching where integrating music can be highly effective. The very young, teens and adults will experience an increase in their effectiveness and joy of learning from these uses of music.


Music can be used to help us remember learning experiences and information. Music creates a highly focused learning state in which vocabulary and reading material is absorbed at a great rate. When information is put to rhythm and rhyme, musical elements will provide a hook for recall. Here are three ways we can use music to help us learn information:

 Active Learning Experiences

Music will activate students mentally, physically, and emotionally and create learning states which enhance understanding of learning material. For example, play music with an association for your topic in the background while reading a concise summary of the important information. The more interesting and dramatic, the more easily the information is remembered.

In middle school social studies classes, I’ve read Chief Joseph quotes and a brief synopsis of his tribes’ famous journey toward Canada while playing native music in the background. This introduction to the «Last Free Days of the Nez Perce» is powerful and memorable because the music helps students to appreciate the experience and set the mood.

To activate information physically, play upbeat music during a related movement activity or role-play. For example, while learning about the flow of electrons in electricity, I play Ray Lynch’s Celestial Soda Pop while we create a classroom flow of electricity. Some students are stationary neutrons and protons while others are moving electrons. When we add «free electrons» like a battery would, the electrons begin flowing and voila! we have an electrical current! Ray Lynchs’ upbeat music keeps us moving and makes the role play more fun.

Focus and Alpha State Learning

Music stabilizes mental, physical and emotional rhythms to attain a state of deep concentration and focus in which large amounts of content information can be processed and learned. Baroque music, such as that composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state.

Learning vocabulary, facts, or reading to this music is highly effective. On the other hand, energizing Mozart music assists in holding attention during sleepy times of day and helps students stay alert while reading or working on projects.


Songs, chants, poems, and raps will improve memory of content facts and details through rhyme, rhythm, and melody. Teaching these to students or having them write their own is a terrific memory tool!



Preparing for a learning experience can make the difference between lessons well-learned and just passing time. Certain music will create a positive learning atmosphere and help students to feel welcome to participate in the learning experience. In this way it also has great affect upon students’ attitudes and motivation to learn.


Here are two ways to use music for attitude, attention and atmosphere:


  • Welcoming and Attention. Background music is used to provide a welcoming atmosphere and help prepare and motivate students for learning tasks. Music can energize lagging attention levels or soothe and calm when necessary. Simply playing music as students enter the classroom or as they leave for recess or lunch totally changes the atmosphere. Depending on the music, you can enliven, calm, establish a theme or even give students content information with content-songs!
  • Community Builders. Music provides a positive environment that enhances student interaction and helps develop a sense of community and cooperation. Music is a powerful tool for understanding other cultures and bonding with one another. Selecting and playing a classroom theme song, developing a classroom «ritual»—such as a good-bye or hello time that uses music, or other group activities with music are ways to build lasting community experiences.



Music is the doorway to the inner realms of one’s brain and soul.  Here are two ways music can help us express ourselves:

  • Creativity and ReflectionBackground music is used to stimulate internal processing, to facilitate creativity, and encourage personal reflection. Playing reflective music, such as solo piano in either classical or contemporary styles, as students are writing, holds attention for longer periods of time than without the music. In one study, students wrote twice as much with music than without!
  • Personal Expression through the Musical Intelligence The creation of music expresses inner thoughts and feelings, developing musical intelligence through understanding of rhythm, pitch, and form. Writing songs related to academic content allows students to express how they feel about issues brought up in historic incidents, social studies topics or literature. Students can also create an instrumental «soundtrack», with simple rhythm instruments that portrays, in an auditory format, a particularly important scientific discovery, a poignant historical event, or the action within a novel.



As you begin to resonate with your new musical classroom experiences, you may find transformations occurring in other aspects of your life. Your students may share with you wonderful experiences occurring in their lives because of doorways which were opened through the inclusion of music in the learning process. When this happens, celebrate and bless the connections to life meaning that has occurred. Everything that we do as teachers has echoes and reverberations that contribute to the whole of life. If there are no echoes, it may mean that what we are teaching has less meaning than we thought. Expect and enjoy the miracles that occur!



In 1983 Howard Gardner, psychology professor at Harvard University, presented his Multiple Intelligence theory based upon many years of research. Promoting the concept that intelligence is not one entity but that there are many different forms of intelligence, Gardner has awakened a revolution in learning.

Multiple Intelligence teaching methods recognize eight (though there may be more) forms of intelligence: visual-spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, and naturalist. Multiple Intelligence teachers strive to broaden students’ familiarity and skill levels in each area.

The Multiple Intelligence teaching model emphasizes education for understanding rather than rote memory or the mimicking of skills. Practical hands-on skill development is coupled with factual knowledge and the ability to apply skills and information in real-life situations and make meaningful contributions to society.

Development of musical intelligence can be greatly aided by the use of music throughout the curriculum. In addition to learning about musical elements and how to create music, the musical intelligence involves developing an ability to respond to musical sound and the ability to use music effectively in one’s life. The value of having students hear music throughout the school day is a means of increasing musical intelligence. Methods for using music in the classroom enhance the learning process and contribute to the development of musical intelligence.



In the 1960’s, Dr. Georgi Lozanov and Evelyna Gateva researched ways to increase memory abilities including the use of music in the classroom. Their successes caught the attention of the world. Various teaching techniques developed from their creative experiments, and today we have a solid format for effective multisensory and whole-brain learning called «Accelerated Learning».  Lozanov’s method shares successful ways of using music for learning

                The use of background music during lectures, vocabulary decoding, or group readings is a cornerstone of Accelerated Learning techniques.  Music is geared to place the student in a relaxed alpha brain wave state and stabilize the student’s mental, physical and emotional rhythms to increase information absorption.  This results in high memory retention.  Accelerated Learning techniques recognize that the learning setting and student comfort level with learning are of great importance to student success.  Lozanov’s methods included using music as students enter the classroom, leave the classroom, and during break times, to help establish a positive learning atmosphere.



Keep in mind that you do not have to use music in all the ways presented here in order to be effective in enhancing learning through music. The addition of even one music technique in your classroom will add richness and improve the learning process. My suggestion is for you to begin your musical journey by incorporating one technique that resonates greatly with your teaching style. When you have mastered this use of music in your classroom, go on to explore a new method. Your students’ enthusiasm and response will be a guideline and incentive for future ideas and uses.




If anyone wants a list of suggestions of specific musical titles to be used in various classroom situations, write to me at: and I’ll send a list to you.