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Creating a Soundtrack to Learning

If you want to be in tune and in sync with your learners, consider creating a soundtrack for learning! For many people, music plays a significant role in their personal lives. It helps them to focus, to bring joy, to reinforce positive memories and increase energy levels. However, we seem to switch it off when we go to work or apply it in less meaningful ways. According to Chris Boyd Brewer, author of Music and Learning (1995) and Soundtracks for Learning: Using Music in the Classroom (2008), through “the intentional use of music” we can “enhance our teaching and learning activities, plus, make the process much more fun and interesting!” We can quite literally set the tone for the learning and create some powerful triggers that will amplify learning, retention and future application.

Throughout time, people have recognised and intentionally used music to stir emotion and raise consciousness. Music is something all human cultures have had; to honour leaders, to celebrate success, as entertainment and to rally support around their armed forces. For instance, many cultures have used drums as a signal for their warriors to go into battle or to evoke fear from their combatants. Today we use them in much the same way in our sporting arenas to elevate players and to unify spectators around their favourite team.

So what if we used music in deliberate ways to enhance the teaching and learning practices in our classrooms. We already know that music informs language, helps to improve motor function, connects to existing brain rhythms, fosters cognitive development and is even powerful in utero. Therefore, rather than using random selections of music (or no music at all) we should choose appropriate pieces that support different parts of our programs.

There is a great body of research that suggests that music enhances our learning and living. As a trainer, you can orchestrate a classroom environment that resonates with your learners and provides a symphony of learning opportunities through the use of music and sound. For instance, background music as students enter, exit or take a break can be used to provide a welcoming atmosphere and helps to prepare and motivate students for learning tasks. Chimes and drums can be used to signal the start and end of activities and short pieces of music can be played to signify the transition between topics or activities.

However it is used, remember that music should provide a positive environment that enhances student interaction and helps develop a sense of community and cooperation. The choice of music will be critical. Aside from the licensing issues, commercial music will often evoke different feelings in different people which may distract from the aim of its use. It is rare to find a playlist that will appeal to everyone’s sensibilities. Therefore, avoiding popular music in preference for royalty free or production music may be the answer. The lack of lyrics and the reduced familiarity from the audience, will enable the trainer to attach the relevant meaning to the piece.   

There are a host of sites to access royalty free music for any cohort or situation. Below are some to consider:

In addition to this, the speed of the music (or beats per minute – bpm) should also influence your choice. A track in the 40-60 bpm range will be more calming whereas those in the 60-80 bpm range will be more appropriate for moderate activities or reflective tasks. The pace for energisers should be in the 80-100bpm range, whilst collaborative tasks and physical activities should be in the 100-140bpm range for optimal impact.

So next time you are preparing for training, consider how you can use music to enrich the message and enhance the experience. Rather than going a cappella, think about what accompaniment you need to put your training in the key of learning!
By Marc Ratcliffe