I think I can safely say that we know from personal experience that music affects our bodies and our minds. Listening to music relaxes us, energizes us, comfort us, keeps us company, help us celebrated and even helps marks special occasions. I think I can also safely say that we know the music we like to listen to at any given time varies from person to person and situation to situation. Sometimes I like to listen to Jazz, sometimes I like to listen to The Blues and other times want to to listen to Baroque or even Country Music. It all depends on the situation, how I’m feeling and what I’m doing.

I thought I could safely say that listening to music in the classroom helps students be more productive, so I did say that in several posts that I wrote here, some dating back to September 23, 2006. There’s so much interest in this topic. It’s a really hot topic on my blog. Everyday people visit my blog to read what I’ve said about the effects of listening to music in the classroom. In fact, at this very moment as I write this post I see that someone from Englewood Ohio, someone from San Fransisco,California, someone from Hampton Virginia and someone from Augusta, Maine has dropped in to check out what I’ve said on the topic. Why all this interest? I guess now that MP3 players have come down in price so much making them more affordable, more students are bringing them to the classroom wanting to listen to their favourite music while they work on their lessons, and teachers and parents are wondering if it’s OK to let students listen to music while doing their school work.

I’ve gotten lots of feedback, and I’d like to thank people for that. How else will I know what people think, if they don’t tell me. So please keep telling me. I’ve had students tell me that listening to music helps them work. I’ve had teachers tell me that when they let their students listen to music in the classroom, the students work better. That feedback supports my experience in the classroom. It’s a good thing that people take the time to leave comments and ask questions because I also got feedback from people who say that they can’t listen to music and do their work at the same time. The music distracts them. Now, I wouldn’t have known this because I like listening to music when I work. I’ve also been asked if I had scientific research to support the contention that music facilitates learning. I’ve had to say no that I didn’t actually have scientific research to support this, just my own experience.

Given the request for scientific research to back my contention, and given the fact that listening to music in the classroom is such a hot topic, a controversial one at that, I thought that I would see what the research said. Now, I have to say up front that my search was not an exhaustive one. With all due respect, this isn’t a master’s thesis. It’s just my blog, and I’m telling you the way I see it from my vantage point of a classroom teacher. But, I was interested enough to spend several hours seeing what I could find. I did find some research that supports my contention that music facilitates learning, especially the learning of students who manifest the ADHD type symptoms of having difficulty staying focused on the task at hand, of being easily distracted, of fidgeting excessively, or having to get up frequently and move about.That was exciting. I see these behaviours in my classroom all the time. I even behave like that some times. I can’t sit for long without fidgeting or getting up out of my seat. I’m terrible when I go to the movies or to theatre. I’m forever squirming about while other people sit still as a stone. I don’t know how they do it. I have to move. I guess I’m blessed with twitchy muscles or something.

Ok, back to the research. I came across a paper by Daniel Reitz and Dr. Partricia Chiodo (May 4, 2006). They cites studies done by F. F. Cripe (1986) , L. Morton, J. Keshner and L. Seigel 1990) that conclude that music has a beneficial effect on students

music with a prominent beat stimulates an increased arousal in students which overrides the effect of environmental distractors…repetitive beat produces a reduction in muscle tension, thus reducing hyperactivity… (there was) significant reduction in distractability among students after being exposed to music. Short term memory was also beneficially affected by having to listened to music

Although Reitz and Chiodo conclude that listening to music promotes academic success , they suggest that further research is needed as these conclusions were based on the results from a study of a small number students and surveys completed by students themselves.

Nina Jackson In her article “Music and the MInd” suggests that although more research needs to be done, we can be cautiously optimistic about the potential benefits of listening to music to motivate students, improve concentration and study skills. She supports the use of music in the classroom. In fact, she calls music the new teaching tool for the 21st century. I guess her point is that any thing that’s as powerful as music, should be used to help students. She says

Music plays with your state of mind as the electrical energy generated by firing neurons creates brain waves. The music a person chooses to listen to can influence the waves’ frequency, and their state of mind. It’s not only the mind that is influenced by music, the body also responds. Musical messages travel down the spinal cord, impacting the autonomous nervous system that regulates the heart rate, blood pressure, muscular activity, metabolism, and other vital functions…

Energizing music can make your brain exercise longer and harder. It increases speed and workload capacity … music with a strong steady beat can increase endurance, boost effort level, increase motivation and distract from discomfort and agitation.

Boost effort, increase motivation and distract from comfort and agitation? That’s what I want for my students. That’s what will help them learn.

I guess Jackson who is Head of Music at a school in South Wales would see the effect of music on students all the time and would have far more anecdotal evidence than I do to support the positive effects of listening to music while learning. Although she suggests specific pieces of music to listen to for specific results, I usually just let student choose their own music. The only thing I suggest is that they listen to music that they’re very familiar with. I read this recommendation once many years ago. I’m sorry I don’t remember where or I’d share the source with you. Supposedly, listening to very familiar music isn’t distracting because you know it so well.

Now in closing, let me say this: Given the limited amount of scientific research there is about the benefits of listening to music in the classroom, I guess the most I should say about the whole thing is that I’m cautiously optimistic. But, my non scientific day to day experience with students and music in the classroom doesn’t make me want to be cautiously optimistic. It wants me to be wildly optimistic. I know that some people can’t work listening to music. They’ve told me that much. That’s OK. So here’s what I propose. Until more research is done and either proves or disproves that music facilitates learning, let’s let students decide if music helps them learn or not. They know. They can tell you. Just ask. If they think it does, then let’s encourage them to listen to music while working. If they think music doesn’t, then let’s let them pass on listening to music. We’re always looking for ways to motivate student, to engage students so if music is the way let’s go for it.

Here are some other articles I wrote on music in the classroom that you might find interesting

Listening to Music Helps Students Be More Productive in The Classroom

The music in the classroom debate continues

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43 Responses to “Research about the benefits of listening to music in the classroom leads to optimism”

  1. Blood Angel on September 11th, 2008 12:05 pm

    I’m doing a paper on this so thank you this help me out a lot.

  2. The Grade » Blog Archive » So much for thinking outside the (boom) box on September 21st, 2008 9:38 pm

    […] research that supports the theory that listening to music and learning are not incompatible, McDaniel is […]

  3. celena on December 18th, 2008 10:10 am

    this artical is okay

  4. Susan Wright on March 11th, 2009 7:25 am

    Please respond. I will certainly read the full article, but I need a response now if possible.

    I have a darling algebra student who insists that listening to his choice of rap or metal music, for example, would help him to focus and concentrate on his lessons.

    As a nearly 60 year old woman, I cannot imagine that possibility being true. Can you help me specifically to address him and/or influence me to allow my students to listen to their music?

  5. Michael Taylor on March 20th, 2009 11:51 pm

    I am an experience public high school teacher and I have the complete opposite view. While many students say that music helps them study, what I think what they are really saying is “Music helps me from getting bored while I study.”

    I offer the simple statement as food for thought “Can you listen to two conversations at once and understand what is being said in both of them?” The answer is probably this: I can get the main idea from both of them. So listening to rap while reading a poem might be marginally beneficial (as opposed to not reading the poem at all), the depth of knowledge and retention would be weaker. (See http://www.physorg.com/news73147511.html)

    With all that said, depending on the task I personally like listening to instrumental music when I am doing some tasks (more so with mathematics than with reading). My own view is that the instrumental music creates a relaxing atmosphere but is not particularly distracting – probably still somewhat distracting but on a far lower level as my mind is not trying to translate the notes into meaning as it would normally with words.

    My 2 cents.

  6. Elona Hartjes on March 21st, 2009 9:11 am

    Thank you for sharing your expereince with music. I hadn’t thought about the fact that listening to music might be benifical in that it keeps my reluctant/struggling students from being bored while they work. My students often find high school generally boring so anything that helps them from being bored and doing the work is great. They tell me that they get more work done listening to music and it seems they do. I guess once again, it depends on the students. What you say is probably right for some students. Thanks for the link, too.

  7. Engage, Enrich, and Inspire » Blog Archive » Curriculum Camp Day 5: The "Atoms" Family on July 1st, 2009 9:18 am

    […] shows that music has a positive impact on student learning.  Elona Hartjes, author of Teacher at Risks, has found studies that support the use of music in the classroom to stimulate students’ […]

  8. chyennneee ! on September 8th, 2009 8:55 am

    thank you fer doinq this website thinq it really helped me out on my project at new tech hiqh school in arsenal , this is really qoood fer students and they can concentratee . thank yu veryy muchhh – i can say this is all truee .

  9. Maureen Collins on September 28th, 2009 4:51 pm

    I am researching this for my grade school class and was wondering if you have any suggestions on research articles I could look up on the web or titles of the articles. Your links above didnt work for me. I would appreciate all the help! Thanks!

  10. Elona Hartjes on September 28th, 2009 5:16 pm

    Sorry but I couldn’t get the link to work now either.

  11. Johanna Guzman on December 2nd, 2009 2:18 am

    I am doing my capstone on benefits of background music and I would like to know the citation for the paper by Daniel Reitz and Dr. Partricial Chiodo or any information that you can give me so that I may read their work.

    Thanks, Johanna

  12. Elona Hartjes on December 3rd, 2009 6:54 pm

    I’m sorry the link to the article isn’t working. I did not keep hard copy of the link. Let that be a lesson to me. I just did the research out of interest and not for a paper so I didn’t think too much about references. Sorry. If I manage to find the link or article name, I’ll post it and let you know asap.

  13. Sara on April 25th, 2010 3:12 am

    thank you ..this helped alot =)

  14. patricia on May 11th, 2010 9:47 am

    Thanx..this helped me with my speech!:D

  15. Joe on July 30th, 2010 3:44 pm

    I found this article in my research of this topic http://www.baatltd.com/newsletters/The%20Role%20of%20Music%20in%20Learning.pdf . I am also writing a paper on this topic. I just started going to school again after 8 long brain draining years. I am taking all of my classes online and thus have to be self motivated. Being a man in my mid 20’s and a gamer, going to school in my own home and keeping up on my school work has been difficult. Distractions are abound and ‘better things to do’ are constantly staring me down. Listening to music in the background while doing my school work is the only thing that has keep me on track and let me study for hours.

  16. Elona Hartjes on July 31st, 2010 3:20 pm

    Thanks for the link. Good luck in your studies.

  17. Me on August 11th, 2010 1:33 am

    I’n my personal experience music helps during repetetive tasks but is distracting when the task requires problem solving and creative thinking (which unfortunatly is not that often in school).

    However when I’m doing even problem solving work music is still less distracting then people talking. It’s common for teachers to do nothing about constant chatter during time given for work and then tell me off as soon as they see me trying to escape by putting on my headphones.

    In summary I could work better without headphones on if the teacher would make the rest of the class stop talking.

  18. Elona Hartjes on August 11th, 2010 9:16 am

    Thanks for making the point that it might be better if teachers talked less. It’s a valid point.

  19. Miss Smith on November 5th, 2010 9:20 am

    Hi. I am attempting to write an article for my school paper on listening to music in the classroom during silent work. I was wondering if you might have any specific information that would help me. I am trying to prove that if kids were allowed to listen to their music that overall class production and possibly grades would improve.
    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

  20. Marcus Cherrill on November 13th, 2010 12:10 pm

    Music is such a vital part of everyone’s life. It transcends religion, gender and income. It has the power to bring together people from all over the world to work as one. Why not build it into your everyday learning experiences.
    My experience as a classroom teacher for 16 years tells me that music most certainly has its place as an important tool in learning. Maximum learning happens when we feel safe, reassured and able to take risks.
    ICanTeach.co.uk provides a good selection of music – with lots of ideas on how to use them in the classroom on Twitter. Search for #music4learning. Have fun.

  21. Sora on November 14th, 2010 8:30 am

    I had fun reading this article. This is also my topic for my “baby thesis”. I am wondering if you could post the paper you came across. I tried to click the link but it said that it could not be found.

  22. Music: A Teacher’s Best Friend « Jack Hartmann on March 21st, 2011 1:09 pm
  23. move2thebeat on March 30th, 2011 11:57 am

    i love listen to music when i work.. but my school wont let us do it in class, i think its because they’re afraid eminem is going to rap the answer to us

  24. Elona Hartjes on August 11th, 2011 9:10 am

    Thank’s for sharing your insights about listening to music. I hadn’t thought about music as an environment that can help you recall facts for tests although I’m aware of all kinds of rhymes that help little kids learn things.

  25. weirdone on September 28th, 2011 9:04 am

    why don’t you publish your piece its fairly good compared too some of the junk i’ve had to look at recently

  26. riju samuel on November 18th, 2011 8:24 am

    I support the fact that listening to music while working will improve learning much easier

  27. Kierra Wadsworth on November 28th, 2011 11:28 am

    Hi I am doing a research paper and I am wondering if this is really true and if it really helps. I love music so i what to know more:)

  28. Elona Hartjes on November 28th, 2011 10:49 pm

    Try it yourself and see. Some people work better with music; othe’s don’t. The music needs to be something that you are really familiar with. New music doesn’t work as well.

  29. MusicLover on December 18th, 2011 3:14 am

    I found that it depends on the person to determine if listening to music while working helps or hinders them. Music helps me focus more because it’s something for my mind to focus on along with my work. My brain thinks of multiple thoughts at once many times and I end up getting distracted without the music. I don’t think teachers should play music out loud for everyone to hear but rather to let the students listen to their own music with headphones so as not to disturb other students especially seeing as not every person in the world likes the same kind of music. Music can hinder the people who don’t have the ability to focus on multiple things at once where as people who think about multiple topics can benefit from the music because it gives them something to focus on that isn’t as distracting. It has to be music that the person likes or else they’ll be distracted by the music thinking about when it will end or be turned off.

  30. Cristopher on January 5th, 2012 9:33 am

    Thanks for this because I think students should be allowed to listen to music in school. I am one of those students who works better when I am listening to music. Plus I am doing a paper on the topic, so this helps. Thanks again.

  31. Cristopher on January 5th, 2012 9:47 am

    Thanks for this. I think students should be allowed to listen to music in class. I am one of the students who works better while listening to music. I thik that if a student wants to listen to music, they should be allowed to. I am also writing a paper on the topic. So Thanks, Again.

  32. Chris on January 13th, 2012 1:55 pm

    This is an awesome article you’ve come up with. I am an ESE student with ADHD and I have done so much better in class when the teachers let me listen to my music in class. My English teacher refuses to let me listen to my music and has refused to let me do a research paper on the subject because she says “It has no relevance and is in no way imortant. You couldn’t even find one source on this topic.” I personally know shes wrong, I’ve found about twenty sources on this topic, this is becoming a serious thing with teachers and some deign it’s ok with them and some deign it “unnecessary”

  33. Taylor on January 17th, 2012 10:27 am

    this is helping me with an editorial i am writing and with some personal experience with the fact that mp3 players and iPods are banned from my school. it’s really stupid in my opinion because the library is closed most of the time during my first period study hall. i have been listening to my mp3 for a few weeks and only recently the study hall teacher yelled at me. i told her i had nothing else to do. she said to get rid of the mp3 or she would get rid of it for me. i honestly do not understand why, if during a study hall there is nothing to do, why you can’t listen to some music until your next class?

  34. Damian Grooms on March 21st, 2012 3:08 pm

    Hello my name is Damian Grooms I’m a 7th grade student at Licking Heights Central in pataskala Ohio. I have read your article and I happen to agree with every thing you said. I am going to write to my principal and petition
    him to let us listen to music. I love to listen to music and it helps me to work harder and get more done in a short time period . I just wanted to thank you for your information it will really help my case.


  35. Norhana Cana of Philippines on June 13th, 2012 8:54 pm

    This is an fantastic! article. I am incoming future music teacher at Mindanao state University – Maguindanao Philippines . I observe that most of the Students now a day love to create their own memory rhymes and songs. Having this as a classroom activity allows a student to personalize the facts which may be more challenging and requires more focused attention in order to learn, remembering and express there feelings.

  36. Elona Hartjes on June 13th, 2012 9:56 pm

    Yes, creating memory rhymes and songs is a way kids can take ownership of their own learning. That is definately a good thing.

  37. Mary Stevens on June 14th, 2012 11:13 am

    I have often wondered if listening to music would be helpful or distracting to students. Now, I have so many different ideas about the subject. I can’t believe that listening to music would occur during the entire class. I couldn’t stand presenting a lesson with music competing in the backgroud for the attention of my students. It would distract me! But I think listening to insturmental music in the backgroud while writing assignments would be uplifting or soothing. I wonder if nature sounds would work? rushing water? birds chirping?

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  39. Week 8 – Ipods in class | ipods in class on May 21st, 2013 12:11 pm
  40. Denine Laberge on July 25th, 2013 11:56 am

    I have been allowing my students to listen to music during Writer’s Workshop for years. I am one of those people who works better with music and plugging in my headphones allows me to put all my focus on my work. My own children know this from report card writing time.

    What I have noticed is that students who normally accomplish nothing because they are chatting during writing time are now getting their work done. Because they are no longer distracted, the quality of their work is improved and errors due to inattention to detail are reeduced significantly.

    I also understand your need to back up your views with scientific research. Justifying what we believe based on our own (valuable) experience to others requires it, but what I witness on a daily basis makes me much more than cautiously optimistic as well!
    Denine Laberge´s last blog post ..Research vs Research Projects

  41. Elona Hartjes on July 25th, 2013 1:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing your insights about the value of listening to music.

  42. Jennifer on January 10th, 2014 7:27 pm

    Thanks for your articles. I am working on a research paper for my masters, also. My topic is about using music to help students get on task quicker when they enter the classroom. May I quote you on some of your articles about this topic? I am planning to research this topic in my own classroom and could use some insight into other articles that could be of help to me. I also would like to create a survey for the students. Anything you could help me with would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again!

  43. Elona Hartjes on January 27th, 2014 5:52 pm

    Yes, of course. I’d love to help.

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