June 23, 2020

How Music Helps Enhance Learning


Humans love music. The fact that we spend over 32 hours listening to music every week is a testament to this statement. From electric guitars to ouds and bagpipes, music can be found in every corner on the globe. In fact, it’s one of the only remaining cultural universals amongst our species. Despite the apparent political and social importance of music on a global scale, there remains a general lack of adoption of music throughout our educational system. This article seeks to draw attention to the numerous benefits of engagement with music in optimising one’s education and learning processes. 

Studies show that exposure to music can improve learning and increase positive classroom atmosphere (Eerola & Eerola, 2013; Foran, 2009). Furthermore, during developmental stages, active engagement with music can affect the way in which the brain processes information; this enhances the perception of language and speech, and subsequently improves our ability to communicate with others and learn to read (Hallam, 2010). Numerous studies on the impact of experiencing calm music suggest that it can reduce aggressive behaviour and regulate moods, specifically feelings of anxiety and stress (Ziv & Dolev, 2013; Goldbeck & Ellerkamp, 2012).

While studying music composition and theory certainly has considerable effects on the human brain, this article will highlight how the pure passivity of listening to music also has profound benefits for learning. Music lessons can be both timely and costly, whereas listening to music via Youtube, Spotify, and Apple Music is free and accessible. I will explore the reasons why music can enhance learning, for all students in any classroom. Whether you’re teaching science, history, mathematics or language, music can be a helpful tool to improve learning experiences for students. Here’s what the research says:

1. Helping to create a positive learning environment

It proves difficult to learn and process information when people become stressed. Studies have shown that using background music in the classroom optimise the level of positivity and calmness in students as well as teachers. In these studies students showed normal levels of blood pressure, body temperature, and pulse rate which translates to reduced anxiety, frustration, and aggressive behaviour.

2. Helping to enhance memory recall

Music and memory are powerfully interconnected within our brain. Researchers at John Hopkins University claim that integrating music into a classroom setting can improve student’s memory and recall of the target learning material. From playing an emotional song about World War II or an upbeat rhythm to help explain electricity, music helps activate the information mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Although rote memorization is far from the intended goal of learning on a broader scale, content-based songs may help students (as they helped me) in the short term to memorize key lists, definitions, relationships and establish a foundation of vocabulary.

3. Helping to solidify a foundation of concepts

A strong, foundational grasp of vocabulary helps students to make relational connections to larger concepts. Along with textbooks and in-class activities, content-based songs provide students with an alternate method of understanding the basics. Research shows that alternate learning methods allow students opportunities to connect ideas and interpret information through their own meaning.

4. Helping to boost engagement and motivation

Engagement is critical for learning. When engaged authentically, students show massive improvements in academic achievement and motivation to continue learning. The use of daily popular music in the classroom has been shown to engage students as they actively seek out meaning to song lyrics. One reason why songs and YouTube music videos help to engage students is because of the younger generation’s familiarity with digital technology. Educators can help engage pupils by using methods that include familiar technologies.

5. Allowing learners to become happier

Happiness is key to learning. Research from Patrick Quinn & Angela Duckworth shows that happier students outperform their peers academically, even when accounting for factors such as past academic performance and IQ. To maximize happiness, teachers can design learning activities such as integrating music into the classroom. This increases happiness because when we listen to music our brain releases dopamine (a hormone known to generate feelings of happiness). Dopamine levels can increase up to 9% when listening to songs we enjoy. For some students, music has also been shown to make homework more enjoyable.

The application of this information:

The above information has hopefully provided an overview of how and why music can enhance student learning experiences. The next step is to apply techniques for involving music in the classroom. Here are a few suggestions:

– Use background music: at the beginning of class or during quiet work time.
– Play content-based songs: to introduce a subject, try playing a content-based learning song (
such as a Jam Campus song) about your topic.
Have students find a song related to your in-class topic: This one is good as a homework assignment. This technique worked for my GCSE history as my class had to learn and analyse the lyrics of the song ‘Ra Ra Rasputin’ in order to gain an insight into the overthrow of the Russian Tsarist government. This task works well for an incident such as the Cold War because it was such an emotional time for the world that the events influence many song lyrics. There are many other historical events where this assignment could apply.

To create a positive learning environment, improve recall and enhance student’s overall learning experiences, see how you can begin to creatively integrate music into your classroom.