Please Turn Off the Music?

by Abby @ Quaver on March 8, 2012

in In the Quaver Classroom!,Music Education News

What?! Have we gone mad?

Aren’t we the people who want young people to learn to love music? Why, yes, we are. However, there’s a time and a place for everything.

A study published last year in Applied Cognitive Psychology found some interesting relationships between listening materials and the ability to memorize.

Participants were asked to memorize a list of eight items. While working on the assignment:

  • Group 1 listened to music they liked.
  • Group 2 listened to music they didn’t fancy very much.
  • Group 3 listened to a voice repeating the number “3.”
  • Group 4 heard a voice saying random numbers.
  • The control group, Number 5, worked in quiet.

Want to guess the results?

The highest scores were posted by those who worked in quiet and those who heard the dull redundancy of the number 3. The other three groups scored noticeably lower. Interestingly, there were negligible differences among those who heard random number or music—whether they liked or disliked what they heard.

What’s going on here?

Music tends to activate the right side of the brain while rote learning typically occurs in the left hemisphere. The changes in music distract from paying attention to the material to be memorized, thus reducing the ability to learn.

There is a little quirk we find fascinating. Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., F.A.C.P., commenting on a similar research project, noted that:

Scores may improve slightly if students listen to the same music while being tested that they heard while memorizing material.

(For you jargon-lovers, it’s called state-dependent learning.)

So unless the history teacher is up for playing the Taylor Swift or Kings of Leon songs students were listening to while studying, it’s best to keep things quiet. Until it’s time to talk about the music, of course!

What do you think? How do you use music when working on memorization or other non-music based lessons? How do you see students respond?

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