Dwayne Hodgson

A Portfolio

The work and adventures of Dwayne Hodgson,
+ Learning Designer & Facilitator at learningcycle.ca
+ Storyteller & Photographer @ thataway.ca

Everyone Deserves Music

A pop quiz. Quick! What letter comes after "O"? 

Not a tough question, but now let me ask you: Did you use the ABC-Song jingle to remember what came after O? You know, as in "A-B-C-D, E-F-G, H-I-J-K, L-M-N-O-P"?

If you're like me and my kids, you may have learned the ABC song even before you knew what the alphabet was. And chances are that catchy jingle (a.k.a Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) still comes in handy when you're doing alphabetical order when filing, or looking for books at the library. 

Jingles All the Way

And advertisers certainly know that the power of using music can both tap into our Affective domain and help us remember their products. Raise your hand it you know any of the following jingles:

"I'd like to teach the world to sing..."

"Two All Beef Patties, Special Sauce, Lettuce, Cheese, ...."

Harnessing the Power of Music for Learning

But if evil transnational corporations selling junk food to unsuspecting children can use the power of song, why can't we use it to support learning?

Jeanette Vos argues that music can serve several functions in a learning context, including relaxing the mind, releasing endorphins that encourage learning, stimulating the mind and body, tapping into the affective domain, transcending cultural differences and providing a powerful anchor for learning. 

This was a normal practice when I was working in Tanzania. We hardly ever had a workshop that didn't involve some singing and even dancing. 

But even for us more reserved North Americans deserve a bit music. Here are a few suggestions on how you might incorporate music into your next learning event: 

Music to Set the Mood

When appropriate, I play some tunes on my iPhone as I'm setting up the room for a workshop. It keeps my energy up and my nerves down, and also lets the participants who are arriving know that this will be a different kind of event. If possible, I try to pick songs or genres that are relevant to the topic and/or the demographic of the participants (e.g. music from Africa if there are a number of participants from that part of the world). 

Participants Reinforcing Their Learning With Music

If you taken GLP's Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach course, you'll recall the Day 2 warm-up in which the participants have 6 minutes to work in groups to adapt a song that illustrates the key elements of a Dialogue Education approach to learning. Although some learners are quite nervous about the task, most of them have a great time and I've never seen a group fail to create a masterpiece. Not that they are all equally good singers, of course, but they get an A for effort. 

Alternatively, you might invite the participants to create a playlist of songs that speak to the topic or their emotional reaction to a situation. They could play these on their smartphones or quote the lyrics. 

Music to Time a Break

Playing music during a learning task is a great way to signal a change of pace and reinforce to the participants that the break is over. When the music stops, it gives you a natural segue to say, "Come on back, folks". 

Music to Time a Small Group Task

Quiet music during a small group task can create a bit of "white noise" for the participants and stimulate their senses. But be careful not to play it too loud. And you might want to stick to instrumental music so that people aren't distracted by the words. I find that Bach or other Baroque music works well, as does some melodic, mellow jazz. 

Music to Energize a Group

Sometimes an upbeat tune during an afternoon break is helpful in raising the energy in a group. Pick something catchy, familiar and danceable: ABBA, anyone?

In other instances, I have run "Creativity Sweatshops" in which several small groups brainstorm ideas in tight timelines - say 60 seconds at a time -- around a series of themes or ideas.  While they were brainstorming, I purposely cranked up some loud tunes to get the energy going. After every period, I'd then introduce a new parameter for their brainstorming (e.g. "needs to involve water", "any colour but blue") to stimulate new ideas. At the end, they had to present their ten best ideas back to the group in 30 seconds. 

But Be Careful

And now, the inevitable caveats:

  • Background music can affect people differently: some people love it; others hate it. So use it sparingly and carefully. 
  • Avoid songs that might be offensive to your participants (Safety!)
  • Watch for participants who are distracted by it and adjust the volume accordingly. For some reason, I can't read when there is music with lyrics in the background. 
  • Be aware that singing in public is terrifying for any people -- perhaps even more terrifying than speaking in public! So never put someone on the spot by requiring them to sing solo. Instead, let them lip synch in the safety of a group or give them an alternative non-musical option for that task. 

Your Turn: 

What is on your workshop playlist? How do you use music in your learning events?

Please post your answers in the comments section below.