Can music make training and learning more effective?

It won’t be long before teenagers are celebrating another round of record-breaking exam success. Many reasons will be given for this but one will probably be ignored – music.

Now that we’re in the midst of the exam season, it won’t be long before the annual hysteria about GCSE and A–level results grips the national print and broadcast media.You know the sort of thing: A–level pass rate hits 100% – minister hails results as ‘best ever‘.

Cut to scene of teenage girls shrieking, sobbing and giggling. “It’s all down to hard work,” they will chirp, while uncharitable souls – usually called ex–chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead – will say it’s down to easier exams, over-reliance on coursework and generous marking. No–one will mention the impact of music.

As a father of teenagers, I’ve observed how no homework assignment is ever done without the accompaniment of music, usually of the rock variety. Maths to the sound of the Kaiser Chiefs, English to the vibes of the Arctic Monkeys, and German to – well I’d like to say Wagner or Kraftwerk –but no, it’s Iceworks.

Twenty-first century teenagershave greater and easier access to more music than their predecessors ever did. Could it be that listening to music helps learning generally, and that it is playing an unsung part in improving exam results?

Well those of you who recall the hype about the Mozart effect may think there’s something to this theory. Backin 1993, two University of California academics – physicist Gordon Shaw and cognitive development expert Francis Rauscher – conducted an experiment to test whether music improved a group of college students’ intelligence.

They played them the first 10 minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major. They then found there was a temporary increase in the students’ spatial temporal reasoning abilities.

This research spawned predictable consequences: pushy parents played Mozart to young children and unborn babies. In 1998, the governor of Georgia spent £105,000 of public money on a collection of classical music called Build Your Baby’s Brain Through the Power of Music, and distributed it to hospitals as a gift fornew mothers.

Since then, many have de-bunked the Mozart effect and the cursory research that underpins it. But this has not stopped the music industry from cashing in: Mozart for Newborns, The Mozart Effect – Music for Babies, and Baby Needs More Mozart are readily available.

Search for the hero

Whatever the views on using music to improve learning and intelligence, there’s no doubt that many trainers swear by it.

Kimberley Hare, trainer and specialist in accelerated learning with Kaizen Training, and a speaker on the subject of music and learning, says: “The use of music in training is becoming much more mainstream. The most important thing when using music is the emotional state you’re trying to create in the learners.”

Hare says there are five uses for music in training –such asentry music,as a way of changing the mood when the training tempo changes, or where the lyrics are a deliberate part of the learning message, such as “Search for the hero inside yourself”.

One place I searched was a trainers’ website thathosted a discussion on the use of music in learning and training. Most said they used music to help create an appropriate mood, to bring a particular tempo to the training, or to emphasise a particular learning theme. Mostcontributors said they used Baroque music as a mood setter.

This matches my own experience. The only course I attended where entry music was played featured – what else? – Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concerto. Rather than putting me in the mood for project management, it made me feel as though I’d walked into a call centre.

John Charlton, editor and training manager

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