John Hopkin’s School for Education: Integrating Music in the Classroom

“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” –Ludwig van Beethoven

We all know how greatly music affects our feelings and energy levels! Without even thinking about it, we use music to create desired moods– to make us happy, to enjoy movement and dance, to energize, to bring back powerful memories, to help us relax and focus. Music is a powerful tool for our personal expression within our daily lives– it helps “set the scene” for many important experiences.

Throughout time, people have recognized and intentionally used the powerful effects of sound. In the 20th century the western scientific community has conducted research to validate and expand our analytical knowledge of music. This research supports what we know from personal experience: Music greatly affects and enhances our learning and living!

Research continues to be conducted to provide helpful guidelines for our intentional use of music, especially in the classroom. This article, based on extensive research and experiences, will provide you with successful and valuable guidelines for incorporating music into the teaching and learning environment– applicable to all ages and educational settings.


How is it that for most people music is a powerful part of their personal life and yet when we go to work or school we turn it off? The intentional use of music in the classroom will set the scene and learning atmosphere to enhance our teaching and learning activities. Plus, using music for learning makes the process much more fun and interesting! Music, one of the joys of life, can be one of the joys of learning as well. The following pages give you suggestions for when and how to use music during your teaching or training. With these techniques, you, the teacher, can orchestrate a classroom environment that is rich and resonant– and provide learners with a symphony of learning opportunities and a sound education!

Music helps us learn because it will–

  • establish a positive learning state
  • create a desired atmosphere
  • build a sense of anticipation
  • energize learning activities
  • change brain wave states
  • focus concentration
  • increase attention
  • improve memory
  • facilitate a multisensory learning experience
  • release tension
  • enhance imagination
  • align groups
  • develop rapport
  • provide inspiration and motivation
  • add an element of fun
  • accentuate theme-oriented units


Here are three areas of teaching where integrating music can be highly effective. For each intent, there is a rich repertoire of classroom techniques that can be used simply and easily by anyone-a brief example is given in each. These techniques work for people of all ages and from many societies. The very young, teens and adults will experience an increase in their effectiveness and joy of learning from these uses of music.

    Music can be used to help us remember learning experiences and information. In Active Learning Experiences music creates a soundtrack for a learning activity. The soundtrack increases interest and activates the information mentally, physically, or emotionally. Music can also create a highly focused learning state in which vocabulary and reading material is absorbed at a great rate. When information is put to rhythm and rhyme these musical elements will provide a hook for recall. Here are three ways we can use music to help us learn information:

    • Active Learning Experiences
      Music will activate students mentally, physically, and emotionally and create learning states which enhance understanding of learning material. For example, play music with an association for your topic in the background while reading a concise summary of the important information. The more interesting and dramatic, the more easily the information is remembered. In a social studies class, I have read Chief Joseph quotes and a brief synopsis of his tribes’ famous journey toward Canada while playing native music in the background. This introduction to the “Last Free Days of the Nez Perce” is powerful and memorable because the music helps students to appreciate the experience and set the mood. To activate information physically, play upbeat music during a related movement activity or role-play. For example, while learning about the flow of electrons in electricity, I play Ray Lynch’s Celestial Soda Pop while we create a classroom flow of electricity. Some students are stationary neutrons and protons while others are moving electrons. When we add “free electrons” like a battery would, the electrons begin flowing and voila! we have an electrical current! Ray Lynchs’ upbeat music keeps us moving and makes the role play more fun.
    • Focus and Alpha State Learning
      Music stabilizes mental, physical and emotional rhythms to attain a state of deep concentration and focus in which large amounts of content information can be processed and learned. Baroque music, such as that composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state. Learning vocabulary, memorizing facts or reading to this music is highly effective. On the other hand, energizing Mozart music assists in holding attention during sleepy times of day and helps students stay alert while reading or working on projects.
    • Memorization
      Songs, chants, poems, and raps will improve memory of content facts and details through rhyme, rhythm, and melody. Teaching these to students or having them write their own is a terrific memory tool!
    (The Three A’s) Preparing for a learning experience can make the difference between lessons well-learned and just passing time. Certain music will create a positive learning atmosphere and help students to feel welcome to participate in the learning experience. In this way it also has great affect upon students’ attitudes and motivation to learn. The rhythms and tempo of musical sound can assist us in setting and maintaining our attention and focus by perking us up when we are weary and helping us find peace and calm when we are over-energized in some way. Here are two ways to use music for attitude, attention and atmosphere:

    • Welcoming and Attention
      Background music is used to provide a welcoming atmosphere and help prepare and motivate students for learning tasks. Music can energize lagging attention levels or soothe and calm when necessary. Simply playing music as students enter the classroom or as they leave for recess or lunch totally changes the atmosphere. Depending on the music, you can enliven, calm, establish a theme or even give students content information with content-songs!
    • Community Builders
      Music provides a positive environment that enhances student interaction and helps develop a sense of community and cooperation. Music is a powerful tool for understanding other cultures and bonding with one another. Selecting and playing a classroom theme song, developing a classroom “ritual”—such as a good-bye or hello time that uses music, or other group activities with music are ways to build lasting community experiences.
    Music is the doorway to the inner realms and the use of music during creative and reflective times facilitates personal expression in writing, art, movement, and a multitude of projects. Creation of musical compositions offers a pathway to expressing personal feelings and beliefs in the language of musical sound. Here are two ways music can help us express ourselves:

    • Creativity and Reflection
      Background music is used to stimulate internal processing, to facilitate creativity, and encourage personal reflection. Playing reflective music, such as solo piano in either classical or contemporary styles, as students are writing or journalling holds attention for longer periods of time than without the music. In one study, students wrote twice as much with music than without!
    • Personal Expression through the Musical Intelligence
      The creation of music expresses inner thoughts and feelings and develops the musical intelligence through understanding of rhythm, pitch, and form. Writing songs related to content allows students to express how they feel about issues brought up in historic incidents, social studies topics or literature. Students can also create an instrumental “soundtrack” with simple rhythm instruments that auditorily portrays a particularly important scientific discovery, a poignant historical event, or the action within a novel.


As you begin to resonate with your new musical classroom experiences, you may find transformations occurring in other aspects of your life. Your students may share with you wonderful experiences occurring in their lives because of doorways which were opened through the inclusion of music in the learning process. When this happens, celebrate and bless the connections to life meaning that has occurred. Everything that we do as teachers has echoes and reverberations that contribute to the whole of life. If there are no echoes it may mean that what we are teaching has less meaning than we thought. Expect and enjoy the miracles that occur!


Educational theorists have long sought answers to the question of how we can best teach students to learn well. Models for teaching have evolved and will no doubt continue to be developed. Some of today’s’ leading learning technologies embrace the use of music to assist in learning. Nearly all methods can be enhanced through the use of music. The guidelines provided in this book can help teachers and trainers learn how to use music no matter what learning methods are being used. Special note is given here to three successful learning models in which the use of music is particularly relevant.


In 1983 Howard Gardner, psychology professor at Harvard University, presented his Multiple Intelligence theory based upon many years of research. Promoting the concept that intelligence is not one entity but that there are many different forms of intelligence, Gardner has awakened a revolution in learning. Multiple Intelligence teaching methods recognize eight (though there may be more) forms of intelligence: visual-spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, musical, and most recently naturalist. Multiple Intelligence teachers strive to broaden students familiarity and skill levels in each area.

The Multiple Intelligence teaching model emphasizes education for understanding rather than rote memory or the mimicking of skills. Practical hands-on skill development is coupled with factual knowledge and the ability to apply skills and information in real-life situations and make meaningful contributions to society.

Development of the musical intelligence can be greatly aided by the use of music throughout the curriculum. In addition to learning about musical elements and how to create music, the musical intelligence involves developing an ability to respond to musical sound and the ability to use music effectively in one’s life. As a musician who has taught general music in public and private schools I can speak to the value of having students hear music throughout the school day as a means of increasing musical intelligence. The more students listen and respond to a variety of music, the more they will know about music on a personal, real-experience level, the deeper will be their understanding of why people throughout time and around the world create music, the greater will be their ability to use music productively in their lives, and the more eager they will be to develop their musical skills because they will understand, appreciate and enjoy music more!

As a music teacher, I can say that the methods for using music in the classroom not only enhance the learning process but also contribute to the development of the musical intelligence.


In the 1960’s, Dr. Georgi Lozanov and Evelyna Gateva researched ways to increase memory abilities including the use of music in the classroom. Their successes caught the attention of the world. Teaching techniques developed from their creative experiments and today we have a solid format for effective multisensory and whole brain learning called Accelerated Learning. This book does not describe the full philosophy or method designed by Lozanov. It will, however, draw upon the knowledge of music in Lozanov’s method to share successful ways of using music for learning.

The use of background music during lectures, vocabulary decoding, or group readings is a cornerstone of Accelerated Learning techniques. Two methods for using music, designed to create very different but equally effective learning environments, were developed through Lozanov’s methods. They are called concerts. The Active Concert activates the learning process mentally, physically and/or emotionally while the Passive Concert is geared to place the student in a relaxed alpha brain wave state and stabilize the student’s mental, physical and emotional rhythms to increase information absorption. Both teaching methods result in high memory retention. Used together the two concerts provide a powerful learning experience.

Another component of Accelerated Learning techniques is the recognition that the learning setting and student comfort level with learning is of great importance to student success. Lozanov’s methods included using music as students enter the classroom, leave the classroom and during break times to help establish a positive learning atmosphere.


You will find many ideas that feel comfortable and exciting to you in this book. You will probably also find techniques that do not resonate for you. Keep in mind that you do not have to use music in all the ways presented here in order to be effective in enhancing learning through music. The addition of even one music technique in your classroom will add richness and improve the learning process. My suggestion is for you to begin your musical journey by incorporating one technique that resonates greatly with your teaching style. When you have mastered this use of music in your classroom, go on to explore a new method. Your students enthusiasm and response will be a guideline and incentive for future ideas and uses.

Music for Learning Suggestions

Focus and Concentration Music

Play as background music while students study, read, or write to:
· increase attention levels
· improve retention and memory
· extend focused learning time
· expand thinking skills

  • Relax with the Classics. The LIND Institute. Accelerated Learning research indicates slow Baroque music increases concentration. It works!
  • Velvet Dreams. Daniel Kobialka’s exceptional music-favorite classics such as Pachelbel’s Canon at a very slow tempo.
  • Celtic Fantasy. Kobialka uses the warmth of Celtic music played slowly to facilitate relaxed focus.
  • Music for Relaxation. Chapman and Miles. Quietly sets a calming mood.
  • Baroque Music to Empower Learning and Relaxation. The Barzak Institute uses slow and fast Baroque era music to hold attention.
  • Mozart and Baroque Music. The Barzak Institute. A useful compilation with 30 minutes of Mozart and 30 minutes of Baroque music.
  • Mozart Effect: Strengthen the Mind Enhance Focus with Energizing Mozart, selected by Don Campbell.
  • An Dun. Calming the Emotions Chinese music that actually does calm and appeals to all ages.
  • Accelerating Learning. Steven Halpern’s music assists learners in focus and is good background for reading-free-flowing and peaceful.

Creativity and Reflection Music

Play as background for activities such as:
· journalling or writing
· problem-solving or goal-setting
· background for project work
· brainstorming

  • Pianoforte. Eric Daub. This thoughtful classical piano music sets the tone for introspective creativity and processing. Excellent!
  • Medicine Woman I or II. Medwyn Goodall gives us music to delve into deep thoughts and meaningful feelings.
  • Oceans. Christopher Peacock. Motivating and great team-building music.
  • Mozart Effect: Relax, Daydream and Draw. Don Campbell’s collection of reflective Mozart for gently enhancing creativity.
  • Fairy Ring. Mike Rowlands’ touching music in a classical style. Long cuts hold the mood. Good for reading with important information or stories.
  • Living Music and Touch. Michael Jones uses solo piano music to encourage reflection.

Welcoming Music

Play as background for entries, exits, breaks. Use to:
· greet your students
· create a welcoming atmosphere
· set a learning rhythm
· expand musical awareness

  • Dance of the Renaissance. Richard Searles. Delightful music of 15th-17th century England. This upbeat music appeals to all ages.
  • Emerald Castles. Richard Searles. Pleasing sounds of the Celtic countries played on acoustic instruments.
  • 1988 Summer Olympics. Various rock songs from the Olympics that inspire.
  • Celtic Destiny. Bruce Mitchell. Dynamic instrumental Celtic music. Stimulating with a variety of paces.
  • Sun Spirit. Deuter. Delightful flute music that energizes melodiously.
  • The Four Seasons. Vivaldi Beautiful melodies to set a warm mood no matter what the season.
  • Boundaries. Scott Wilkie. Relaxed jazz to set a an easy-going learning pace.
  • Echoes of Incas. Ventana al Sol. Joyful South American melodies and rhythms open the door to learning.

Active Learning Music

Use for a sound break or movement activities to:
· increase productivity
· energize students during daily energy lulls
· provide a stimulating sound break to increase attention
· make exercise more fun
· encourage movement activities

  • Tunes for Trainers. An all-in-one CD with categories of Fun Stuff, Energy Break, Brainstorm, Quiet moods and more.
  • Jazzy Tunes for Trainers. A versatile compilation with lively background music for a wide variety of teaching and training activities.
  • Earth Tribe Rhythms. Brent Lewis. This wonderful rhythmic music is played on 20 tuned drums for both rhythm and melody. Great for any movement activities.
  • Best of Ray Lynch. Ray Lynch A classic electronic and acoustic recording that adds fun and interest. Useful for topic associations.
  • Funny 50’s and Silly 60’s. Old songs that are just plain fun like Purple People Eater, Wooly Bully and more.
  • Hooked on Classics. The beat that doesn’t quit! Great for body and brain wakeups.
  • Earth, Sea, and Sky. Nature recordings. Provides a variety of sounds.
  • Best of World Dance Music. Hopping happy music from everywhere. Some vocal and some instrumental.Music selected by Chris Brewer, LifeSounds. To order call 561-575-0929 or email CDS $16 Cassettes $11

for using music to enhance learning!

“Take a music bath once or twice a week for music is to the soul
what water is to the body.”
— Oliver Wendall Holmes

Here are sound directions on how using Relax with the Classics in the classroom for focus, concentration and memory.

Relax with the Classics from the LIND Institute
These slow, Baroque selections are between 55 and 80 beats per minute. Research has shown that this music will help you maintain focus and concentration. It assists you in reaching the alpha brain wave state, a state which enhances learning and memorization.
Use this music
· during writing or reading activities
· with Passive Concerts in Accelerated Learning teaching and training (for more information, see Music for Learning, by Chris Brewer)
· Pachelbel’s Canon in D is especially useful for synthesizing and summarizing activities (such as the Overhead/Power Point Review form of Passive Concerts)
· during tests, goal-setting
· for mind-calming exercises
· to relax

Tips for Memorizing Words, Terms Facts (Passive Concert):
· Select text important to the content such as explanatory information (text from a book or reading), words and their definitions, or a metaphorical story.
· Ask your participants to sit comfortably and give them time to settle in, close their eyes, sit back, etc. Let them know they will be hearing music for a minute or two and then you will begin your reading.
· Begin the music and let it play for a minute or two. Then begin to read your content information slowly and in a calm voice that is loud enough to be heard above the music. The music and your voice should be about equal or your voice should be slightly louder. If reading words and definitions, pause for a mental count of 4 between sets of words. Keep your reading to 30 words/definitions or 3-5 minutes or text-less for young students.
· When you have completed your reading, allow the music to play for a minute or two after you have finished speaking, then slowly turn the volume down on the CD player.

Tips for the Overhead/Power Point Review:
· Place the overheads or Power used in your unit lesson in the order in which they were first presented or go back to your PowerPoint presentation visuals to where you want to begin. Colors and images on the visuals also help memory.
· Explain to students that they will be reviewing the information learned in your unit by reviewing the presentation visuals. Let them know that there will be no talking during this review, only music.
· Ask students to sit comfortably and give them time to settle in and relax.
· Begin the music and display each visual for approximately 7 seconds, slightly longer if the visual is complex (visuals should not include large amounts of text!). Continue to display visuals until all have been seen. Let the last one remain on the screen for slightly longer, turn off the projector and let the music play for another 30 seconds. Slowly turn the music down to signal the end of the review.


Music Bibliography and Suggested Reading

Abramson, Robert M. Rhythm Games Book I. New York: Music and Movement Press, 1973.

Andersen, Ole, Marcy Marsh and Dr. Arthur Harvey. Learn with the Classics: Using Music to Study Smart at Any Age. LIND Institute, San Francisco, California: 1999.

Bamberger, Jeanne. The Mind Behind the Musical Ear: How Children Develop Musical Intelligence. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Berard, Guy, M.D. Hearing Equals Behavior. New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing, 1993.

Bjorkvold, Jon-Roar. The Muse Within: Creativity and Communication, Song and Play from Childhood through Maturity. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.

Brewer, Chris. Music and Learning: Seven Ways to Use Music in the Classroom. Tequesta, Florida: LifeSounds, 1995

Campbell, Don G. Introduction to the Musical Brain, 2nd edition. St. Louis, Missouri: MMB Music Inc., 1983.

_______. The Mozart Effect. New York: Quill/HarperCollins, 1997.

_______. The Mozart Effect For Children. New York: Morrow/HarperCollins, 2001.

_______. 100 Ways to Improve Teaching Using Your Voice and Music: Pathways to Accelerate Learning. Tucson, AZ: Zephyr Press, 1992.

_______. Music: Physician for Times to Come. Wheaton, Ill: Quest books, 1991.

Copland, Aaron. What to Listen for in Music. New York: Penguin, 1988.

Gilbert, Anne Green. Teaching the Three R’s through Movement Experiences: A Handbook for Teachers. Seattle, Washington: Anne Gilbert, 1977.

Jensen, Eric. Music with the Brain in Mind. San Diego, California: The Brain Store, Inc. 2000

Mathiew, W.A. The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music. Shambhala, 1991.

Merritt, Stephanie. Mind, Music and Imagery: Unlocking the Treasures of Your Mind. Santa Rosa, California: Aslan Publishers, 1996.

Miles, Elizabeth. Tune Your Brain: Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body, and Mood. NY, New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1997.

Ortiz, John M. The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Wiser, Inc. 1997.

_______.Nurturing Your child with Music: How Sound Awareness Creates Happy, Smart and Confident Children. Hillsboro, Oregon: Beyond Words Publishing, 1999.

Sabbeth, Alex. Rubber-Band Banjos and a Hava Jive Bass: Projects and Activities on the Science of Music and Sound. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.

Steiner, Rudolf. The Inner Nature of Music and the Experience of Tone. New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1987.

Storms, Jerry. 101 Music Games for Children. Alameda, California: Hunter House, Inc., 1995.

Storr, Anthony. Music and Mind. New York: Free Press, 1992.

Walsh, Michael. Who’s Afraid of Classical Music? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

About the author

Sound Directions are created by Chris Brewer of LifeSounds to assist you in effective and creative music use! They are available for many recordings. Call 1-888-687-4251 (888-music51) for more information.

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