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A Cornucopia of Useful Points Regarding Music
Richard Howell Allen: Impact Teaching

      Volume Level: One tricky aspect of the use of music is the volume at which it is played. Know in advance that it will never be exactly right for every student in the room. Some individuals will always want the music louder, while at the exact same time other people will want the music softer. Similarly, some people will like the song that is currently playing, while others will want it changed immediately. This is a natural by-product of any aspect of instruction where students have the opportunity to have input.
      Understanding that this is the case may help you maintain your sanity when these situations arise. As much as possible, aim for the middle. Adjust the volume so that it maximizes the desired effect, while minimizes the number of people who are distracted or feel a need to complain. Alternate song choices so all students get to hear something they prefer at some point in the lesson. Continue to stay focused on the changing needs of the group and adapt as necessary.

      Type of Music: The teacher might also want to consider what type of music to play. This should be based on the reaction you want from your students. For example, if working with teens, ask them beforehand which CDs are currently most popular, and have some of these on hand. If you don't personally own any of these, you might want to ask your students to bring in some from
their own collections. This request saves you money, and it also brings a sense of student "ownership" into the room. It is important to note here that what the teacher prefers to listen to is much less important than what will create the desired effect for the learning setting.
      Teachers of teen audiences may also have to cope with one very specific issue that other teachers may never encounter. Simply put, beware of most forms of rap music. While its appeal as basic entertainment may be quite strong to some students,its usefulness to a teacher in a learning setting may be quite limited. This it due to its frequent reliance on bass sounds. Heavy low tones are counterproductive for the needs of almost all aspects of learning and recall. Students who enjoy rap music may ask that it be used during class. In these situations it becomes quite important to explain the purposes behind the music that has been chosen for the classroom. Here are some words I have frequently used in similar situations:

      "I think rap music is fine. I even own a few rap CDs myself. However, much of that form of music relies on a heavy bass notes. The wavelengths these notes produce do not encourage learning or long term memory, which is the only reason we're even using it. When we're in class, that's the purpose of the music -- to help everyone learn. So here's what we'll do. If you're willing to let the class use music that is useful for learning when we're studying, I'll be willing to have rap on during the breaks -- provided, of course, that the lyrics are decent!"

      Offering to allow them to listen to their music at breaks can be a significant aid in getting buy-in from them for the appropriate use of music during instructional periods. Teachers are free to borrow my words and adapt them to ones that will work for their environment and their students. Generally, however, it has been my experience that with a clear enough explanation, the majority
of students are willing to compromise and go with the program. Interestingly, many of these students -- even rebellious teens -- often come to enjoy the other forms of music fairly rapidly. Their understanding that the presence of music is it not there purely to entertain them is frequently the key to making it work.
      Finally, consider choosing music that speaks directly to the current lesson. Earlier in this section, I mentioned that the choice of certain songs with certain lyrics should be deliberate so that it fits the instructional moment. This might be music used to set up a conversation, such as having teenagers listen to "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens or "Cats Cradle" by Harry Chapin prior
to initiating a conversation about their relationship with their parents. Or, for example, after a discussion about their personal vision in life you might choose to play "I Can Do Anything" or "You're The Voice" by John Farnham while students spend a moment visualizing their own future.

      Class Management: Teachers may want to add one element to something I mentioned earlier. One of the four times for beginning to use music is at the start of each class. To further clarify that the class is about to begin, a particular song could be played just before the scheduled time. This cue would let students would know that the session is about to commence, and they
could find their seats at that time. Experience shows that students of all ages quickly adapt to this approach to the start of the class. For courses of extended lengths, keep things fresh by changing to a new song as needed, perhaps once every week or two.
      A junior high school in southern Texas has even chosen to use this approach on a school-wide basis. Instead of a bell to signify the start of each new period, a song is played over the speaker system. Students must be ready for the class to begin when the song reaches its last note. Of course, this means everyone is hearing the same song six times a day, so the song is changed at the beginning of each week. Students have further ownership in this process since they are the ones who nominate the songs, and a committee of their peers are the ones to decide on the one to be used the following week. As a final bonus, the name of the person who nominated each new song is announced as well when the song is used for the first time on Monday morning.

      Ownership: Music in the classroom can also benefit the teacher for an entirely different reason beyond anything discussed so far in this section. If the teacher decides it's appropriate, it may be useful to allow students to be involved in running the music. Before rejecting this idea as completely insane, know that many people can focus quite well on two things at once.
      Also, in a situation such as a year-long class, the teacher may run the music for the first few weeks. Then, once students have understood the role of the music, they could take charge of this aspect of the classroom. Finally, if there is one person -- at any age level -- that just can't seem to pay attention, watch what happens if he or she agrees to run the music. While some people may argue that this student is no longer paying attention, think about it more closely. In order to run music properly, and get the timing right, this person must follow your instruction very closely. Perhaps, since they are now actually paying attention, they will pick up more of the information you are teaching. If other motivational strategies youâve tried have not been successful,
why not give this unique approach a try?

      Starting a CD Collection: If you are only now beginning to build a collection of music to use in the classroom, here are several ideas to consider. First, if possible, focus primarily on buying CDs. They are far easier to use in the classroom than cassettes. It's very simple to locate a certain song on a CD, whereas with a tape it may be necessary to rewind or forward to the appropriate spot. CDs also tend to last longer.
      Finally, consider buying primarily CDs that are compilations. These could be the best of a certain time period, such as the 60's, the best of a certain group, such as the Eagles, or the best of a certain type of music, such as jazz. Usually, these will have a high percentage of songs that are usable for instruction. Individual albums by individual artists frequently (although not always) feature only two to three songs that will fit your needs. Conversely, the majority of selections on many compilations will be applicable to one learning situation or another.

      Which Stereo Is Best? When considering what kind of stereo system to use in the classroom, it might be necessary to consider the following parameters. What level of sound can the unit produce? Will it be loud enough to fill the room when a high volume level is required? (Remember that the more people present, the more sound usually needed.) Does the unit come with a remote control? If so, how easy is it to use?
      Some teachers find that ease of use of the remote is one of the most important decisions to make when selecting a stereo, as they come to spend a considerable amount of time with it in their hands. Is the unit capable of handling just CDs, just cassettes, or both? Is having the opportunity to use both an important consideration?
      Also, if the teacher will primarily be using CDs, how many will the unit hold at one time? There are a variety of opinions on this matter as to whether a single or multiple loading unit is preferable. Some teachers enjoy pre-loading 3 or 5 discs at a time, and simply alternate between these during the course of an hour-long lesson. Other individuals prefer to use a single loading unit because they find discs for single loading units can usually be switched more rapidly than those which hold more than one. It's mostly a matter of personal preference, so you choose.

In Summary

      Music is a powerful force that can be used to great effect in a learning setting. Handled correctly, it can unleash the energy of any class and help guide it in a useful direction. Interestingly, teachers who use music in the classroom actually need to expend less of their own valuable energy to build a dynamic, interactive, engaging experience for the students (Bucko, 1997; Jensen, 1996).
      The intention of this section has been to examine several pragmatic methods for the use of music In the classroom. If you are interested in the more technical aspects of music (for example, its effect on the brain's wave patterns) I recommended that you explore other resources. If you have a yen for knowing the research that supports the statements I'm making here, itis definitely
out there and I highly encourage you to learn more about it. However, such discussions are beyond the scope and intention of this book. For more detailed theoretical and physiological background information, consider browsing through some of the brain research volumes mentioned in the reference section.
      On a final, more prosaic note, it is amusing to mention that all the good things that can come from the proper use of music are frequently undone by a very simple logistical issue. Teachers whose situations require them to be mobile may not want to "go to all the trouble" of lugging a heavy CD player around with them as they move from location to location. For these people, remember that the bottom line of most instruction is to add value to the lives of the students. Music is invaluable in helping achieve this objective. Therefore, find a way to make it work Have a student carry the equipment from room to room if needed. If you don't have your own classroom, have someone from the class come to your office and haul the stereo for you. Hire an assistant.
Buy a more compact, powerful system thatâs lighter to carry. Or buckle down, carry it yourself, and simply enjoy the idea of bringing music into students' lives. Most of all, find a way to use music. It works.


Bucko, H. & Elliot, R. (1997). Hands-On Pedagogy vs. Hands-Off Accountability. Phi Delta Kappa, 80(5), 394-400.
Jensen, E. (1996). Brain-based learning. Del Mar, CA: Turning Point for Teachers.
--------------, (2000). Music with the brain in mind. San Diego, CA: The Brain Store, Inc.
Weinberger, N.M. (1998). The music in our minds. Educational Leadership, 56(3), 36-40.

Allen, Richard Howell. Impact Teaching.
Published by Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.
Copyright © 2002 by Pearson Education.
Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Further reproduction is prohibited without written permission of the publisher.

About Dr. Rich Allen

      Rich Allen earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Arizona State University in 1998 with an emphasis on cognitive learning theory. The focus of his research is on how the brain receives, processes, stores, and recalls information.
      Rich's Impact Learning workshops utilize a unique, dynamic approach to instruction, consistent with the philosophies being introduced. Key elements of the methodology include high levels of humor, music, energy, activity, and audience interaction. These components are woven throughout the presentation of the critical concepts and techniques. Teachers can expect to be physically engaged and mentally challenged throughout these high-powered sessions.
      Impact Learning workshops cover the following topics:
      -Understanding and using state management techniques
      -Reading the Crest Of The Wave and adapting to the needs of the students
      -Utilizing music in the learning environment
      -Giving effective directions: The key to developing an interactive learning environment
      -Making learning easy through brain-based memory techniques
      -Helping students develop a successful attitude towards learning
      -Learning to create positive mental images
      -Framing lesson so students see the value in new material
      -The Five-Part Model: How to design an interactive lesson.

See Dr. Allen's list of recommended 50's and 60's Rock Music.




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