Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Music in the Classroom: Distraction or Study Tool?

on March 14, 2011

In an age where every student has an iPod or iTunes capability, the integration of music in the classroom has grown phenomenally. From personal study music to historical music from an era the class is learning about, music can either be a great motivator for learning or a huge distraction.

There have been many studies done over the years about the effect of music and learning. They all look at the same question though: does music make studying easier or does it distract you from learning?

According to the study "Effects of Background Music on Phonological Short-term Memory" by Salame and Baddeley, listening to lyrical music while studying creates a huge distraction. And that means people don't remember certain tasks and bits of knowledge they need the most for learning. 

According to Current Psychology and the study of Salame and Baddeley, “Music as well as speech is highly structured, and one may therefore expect to find the same disruption with music as is apparent with speech.” This means that distractions from bothersome surrounding discussions are equivalent to listening to music.

When asked about these effects, senior Daniel Shader at Empire High School in Tucson, Ariz., said, "Music definitely has an effect on the way you think and act ... But I think it does help me concentrate because then I can drown out the other [students].”

At Empire, American history teacher Katie Chester took time to discuss her thoughts of music in the classroom. Upon walking into her classroom for the interview, she was playing music from the '50s era that her 5th period American History class was learning about that day.

When asked about the effect of playing era-based music, Ms. Chester responded by saying: “For history, we do music of the time period to get a more emotional look at the era. Plus classical stuff helps [the class] calm down and focus.”

The response from a student’s perspective on historic teaching with music is much the same as Ms. Chester. Shader was a student in Ms. Chester’s American History class his junior year and he said, “It was cool to kind of understand what that era was about.” 

Upon Ms. Chester’s last remark, I then mentioned the constant use of iPods and other music devices used in class. In Ms. Chester’s opinion, “Music and iPods are rewards for good behavior. They can definitely be a distraction though because the students become more focused on finding that perfect song and it takes away from the work. However, it does make a good motivator to work.”

From a student view, iPods in class are just a means of either drowning out other students or a source of fun. For Shader,  “I only listen to [music] when I’m bored.”


Works Cited

Pring, Linda, and Jane Walker. “The effects of unvocalized music on short-term memory.” Current Psychology. 13.2 (1994): n. pag. Web. 2 Feb 2011. 

About the author: Shelby Archuleta is a very sleepy senior.


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on Mar 26, 2011
I played Philip Glass last week during an in-class writing session: they commented that it helped them concentrate, and and "BTW, what WAS that, Ms Healey"???? They admit iPods are the weapon of choice for focus doing homework. When possible (not really OK at my school on a regular basis) I take advantage of that fact. We also discuss the choice of "soundtrack" for optimal learning before they get the earbuds out.


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