Music Accompanying Student Learning

Isabella Moore

When a student asks if they can listen to music while they work, the teacher’s reaction is usually no. Be that as it may, according to 73 percent of students claim to benefit from listening to music in class. So why is it that some teachers are so adamant on not allowing music? 

English teacher Kathryn Korff shared that she wants her students to work silently, and admitted music can help with that, yet she finds it to be too distracting. 

“I feel like if I could guarantee that students wouldn’t listen to music with lyrics, I would be able to allow them to listen to music while they wrote, but I feel like listening to music while you read, or write is too distracting,” she said. 

There is a time and place for music while working. Listening to music while a teacher is talking or lecturing is one of the most common times when teachers won’t allow music in class. Students can miss what their teachers or peers are saying by getting distracted by a song. Teachers also argue that it acts as a social barrier, which can be both a good and bad thing. 

Students say music ends up drowning out their peers that pose as distractions while trying to work, but the music ends up drowning out the teachers too. Ultimately, there is no way to know that students are listening to music to help them focus, rather than distracting them, or even acting as a mechanism for procrastination.

The problem might not even be the music, but rather the use of phones. Taking phones out to listen to music, and looking down to change the song can pose as a distraction. Students can end up browsing social media or getting distracted rather than using music to accompany their work and help them focus.

Listening to music is something everyone can relate to, but there are different ways people use music in everyday life. Data from a questionnaire of 341 different people, showed that more analytically-oriented people and people with higher IQ scores use music for work and metacognitive functions. 

Metacognition is when someone develops the ability to be self-aware of how they think, and are conscious of what makes their brain work at its best. The Huffington Post reports that  80 percent of surgeons can usually be found listening to classical music during an operation. They claim it reduces anxiety, helps them cooperate, and improves their focus. You can often hear the same reaction from students. 

While some find music distracting, others can use it for emotional regulation. Those people are frequently more sensitive to music impacting their mood or perception of the world. According to researchers from the University of Groningen, music has been proven to change the perception of the world for all listeners. 

Sophomore Lilly Tiller is an excellent example of this. 

“It does not help me focus, in fact sometimes it prohibits me from focusing because I’ll get too into the song,” Tiller said. “But, if it’s classical music, that definitely helps me focus, because then I can just zone into my work.” 

This proves that music can have positive impacts on all kinds of learners, and it depends on the activity. Music with lyrics can have negative effects on reading comprehension and writing, while it could possibly help with math or science. There’s plenty of evidence that proves classical music can also help with memorization. 

Certain classical music has been known to help strengthen the parts of the brain that are weaker in people with ADHD. Using music for learning can help improve focus, visual/spatial awareness, and stimulate the motor cortices of the brain, making it easier to learn. It only works with classical music however, as not all genres will help stimulate the brain in ways that will improve learning. 

Overall, the effect of listening to music is dependent on the type of learner and the policies of each teacher. What is called the “Mozart Effect” has proven not only to help, but make people smarter, and after extensive research, I think students would benefit for more leniency for working with music.