How Music Affects Learning by: Aaron Black

In some school districts there exists the firm belief that music is a cancer to education that must be eradicated if students are to learn effectively. They have based this flawed decision on the evidence provided by weighted studies that show any and all music as nothing but a distraction in the classroom. Accordingly these schools might take measures to ensure that music does not enter the classroom, such as mandating that earbuds be removed during class. While our specific school district has placed restrictions on streaming music different reasons (officially bandwidth problems) they have taken the same means of cutting off access to music, blocking websites, and restricting most Youtube videos via a safesearch filter that is not 100% accurate and often blocks off videos that students could use for research. Schools are acting prematurely to end the role music plays in education because they have not examined all aspects of how music affects learning, and only heed the popular opinion, viewing music as a detriment to learning.

Picture Taken By Aaron Black....... Me

Studies Are Not Consistent

There has yet to be a single study that proves the effects of music in a learning environment. While many studies have been conducted, most, if not all of these studies have been weighted and do not take into account all of the variables that could affect their results. As explained by Susan Hallam and Carey Godwin in an article about one such study "...the effects of music are mediated by the characteristics of the individual: their age, ability; personality;... The current emotional arousal and mood state of the individual may also be influenced by individual characteristics and recent life events. Individual characteristics also have a direct effect on learning outcomes and a further indirect effect through meta-cognitive activity. The environment within which the activity is taking place may also be important,... The characteristics of the task,... will also play a part. Currently little research takes account of these factors" (Hallam and Godwin). In short, individual personalities, circumstances and experiences create too many variables to keep track of in a lab setting. But nevertheless these studies often go unchallenged except by contradicting results from other studies, and the most popular result of these weighted studies shows music as detrimental. Schools then take action based upon this widely accepted verdict without examining how exactly studies come by these results and viewing only the simplest conclusion.

Weighted Studies Got Us Here

Most studies that have similar conclusions base themselves on the same criteria. While researching many articles, I noticed that all of the studies I found that showed music as a detriment were based on memorization and the language arts aspect of education. For example, Valerie Schultz states “My students seem to think that they can be attentive to the world around them if one earbud, with the volume turned low, is nestled in one ear, and the other ear is tuned to real time. Unfortunately, when it comes to paying attention in English class, there is no contest. Music wins every time." (qtd in Hamilton). Another article by Alyssa Cooper states, “[A] study, performed by researchers at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, United Kingdom, argues that listening to music while trying to memorize a list or facts actually hurts your chances of memorizing them." (Cooper). And again in the study analyzed by Hallam and Godwin, "The pupils were asked to write an exciting story. The actual topic itself was left to their discretion... The researchers selected six extracts of music which they believed would be perceived as calming or exciting. The selection included modern and classical music... The children writing with the exciting music playing in the background performed least well with a mean of 17.83 (SD=6.7) as compared to 23.72 (SD=6.47) with calming music and 22.47 (SD=7.19) with no music." (Hallam and Godwin). In all of these cases, lyrics, notes and melodies can contribute to disruption of the task at hand because the brain processes them similarly to how it processes language.

Effective Music Confirmed

Although less studies were conducted that did not involve memorization or language processing, those studies provide evidence of music being an effective study aid. Most studies that demonstrated the benefits of music seemed to consist of tasks involving math, creativity, and focus. However, few authors mention these unpopular studies. Authors such as Alyssa Cooper “One study performed by Dr. Lesiuk supported the theory that music does in fact help you focus and get your tasks done more quickly. The results of the study showed that the people who listened to music while working completed their tasks more quickly, efficiently, and had more creative ideas. Dr. Lesiuk once said “It breaks you out of just thinking one way.” In other words, music opens up your mind and allows you to think outside the box and come up with different ideas that you may not have come up with if you were not listening to music.”(Cooper), Mitzi Baker, “‘The study suggests one possible adaptive evolutionary purpose of music,’ said Jonathan Berger, PhD, associate professor of music and a musician who is another co-author of the study. Music engages the brain over a period of time, he said, and the process of listening to music could be a way that the brain sharpens its ability to anticipate events and sustain attention.” (Baker), and Elana Goodwin, “Studies have shown that listening to music before studying or performing a task can be beneficial as it improves attention,...and even your ability to do mental math as well as helping lessen depression and anxiety.” (Goodwin). In all of these studies music demonstrates its ability to improve the listener’s ability to focus on tasks, lift their emotional state and positively influence their creativity. They dispel the misconception that music only distracts students, because in all actuality music, for the most part, helps students work faster and more efficiently . However for whatever reason, studies that present this evidence currently lack popularity among school districts, possibly because too many schools base their curriculum on memorization, which may not be the best way to educate in the first place.

Set the Music Free

The benefits of music outweigh it’s detriments and should therefore be accepted and utilized in the classroom. Students should be allowed to listen to music if they so choose, but not whatever music the classroom teacher decides because that can become one of the few circumstances where music becomes detrimental. Sometimes when teachers allow students to listen to music, they play the music that they like over the speakers in the classroom, but as explained by some psychologists, "... this influence of music is likely moderated by a student’s preferences; for instance, listening to music when taking an exam may be distracting or may not reduce anxiety if students do not wish to listen to music or do not enjoy it." (Goldenburg, Floyd, and Moyer). The kind gesture of teachers putting on music over the speakers, sadly can be more detrimental than beneficial for most students unless they bring their own music to listen to, or have the same taste in music as the teacher. The study analyzed by Hallam and Godwin also serves to reinforce this idea because the music was chosen by the researchers, and not the subjects. Therefore the subjects may not have liked the music and found it more distracting.

Personal Study

When working on this essay, I found when music I am not familiar with or did not listen to often, such as disney movie soundtracks, played over speakers in a classroom I was working, I found it more distracting than my personal selection of music which included genres such as hard rock, metal, and electronic. Additionally when I listened to music that I liked the lyrics to, such as Courtesy of the Red White and Blue by Toby Keith, or music that I enjoyed a little too much, like the Skyrim theme song (I feel no shame in admitting that), it distracted me more than it helped me. But when I tried to work in silence, I found myself getting easily distracted by random things in my surroundings and simply getting lost in thought. I concluded that the best music for me to listen to while working has no overly powerful lyrics that I can get lost in, but has enough lyrics to keep me from getting lost in thought, as well as a fast enough tempo to keep me awake and alert, but slow enough to allow me to focus. Additionally when I worked at home I found I could focus better if the music was right in my ear with earbuds rather than if I chose to listen to it over a speaker. I found that the best place for me to work at home seemed to be on my living room couch instead of in my room or at the kitchen table. Many other variables could have played into how efficiently I worked that I have not even taken into account, such as stress levels. My personal work setting undoubtedly varies from my brothers preferred work settings and my friends preferred settings and so on. Therefore each student should be allowed to choose the what work settings help them function in the best way possible and be allowed to implement them in class.

Created with images by superUbO - "I Giovani e la Musica" • blprnt_van - "TwitterGram: Patrick LaForge" • Dano - "Earbud love 2" • Unsplash - "home office workstation macbook air"

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