Background music in class

Do you play background music in class? If yes, what kinds of music do you play? I’m curious to hear what others are doing and share my experiences with background music. A few years ago, I taught at a university with a very charismatic teacher. He was extremely popular with his students and his students always performed well on the tests we had. (We taught the same course and every teacher had access to course wide student grade information.) I was curious to see what made him so popular and his students so driven so I asked him would he mind if I observed a class.

 

Creating an awesome learning environment

As expected, he was his charismatic self during the class and I could see that he had a great way of engaging the learners in the room. His demeanor was friendly and approachable. I could easily see why students would enjoy the learning environment he had set up. Even more than his relaxed style and approachable character, there was one thing that he did in class that seemed to help create this awesome learning environment. Loud background music!

 

Getting students on task

At the start of the class, as he set up the classroom, he had current lively music blasting from the speakers. Entering the room was more like entering a nightclub! Actually, it was more foreground than background music! Also, during speaking activities, he would always have the volume of music up high enough that there was almost no chance of hearing what the learners were talking about. Only when I got close enough to hear the students, could I hear that they were on task and talking in English. More than that though, they were engrossed in each other’s conversations. It seemed like they were totally unaware of what was going on around them and completely lacking in self-consciousness.

 

My experiences playing background music

Needless to say, I was curious and impressed! I decided to give it a go with one of my classes. I asked my class to recommend English music they liked and gave it a go. Wow! Without exaggeration, the music in class completely changed the dynamics of my class. Nowadays, I use music in all of my classes. I am careful to control when the music is playing and the volume, but I have become part teacher and part DJ! If used well, I really think it works too. I have had so many comments from my students about how much they like the music. I also often have students come and ask who the artist I am playing is.

 

Two reasons teachers should play background music in class

I think there are two reasons teachers might play background music in class:

1 To improve the atmosphere of the class

2 To reduce anxiety and communication apprehension

 

A three point guide to using background music

Here is my three point guide to using background music in a classroom.

Let the students select the music. I know my music taste is different to many of my learners, so what makes me feel relaxed is probably completely different to what relaxes my students. I usually find out what students like by getting them to offer suggestions. I have been doing this for a few years now, so I have a pretty good idea of what they like.

Vary the volume. I tend to crank up the volume when the students are talking, but if there is a time in the class where students need to concentrate or apply themselves, I turn it down. Also, I usually turn the music down completely if I am talking or giving instructions.

Build up a playlist. When I first started playing music in class, I didn’t have much of an idea about current pop music or what was popular amongst the age group I taught, but over time I built up a playlist. Now, I know what music is popular and I have different songs I can play for different kinds of activities. Upbeat music to get students going or something more mellow to calm them down. I can’t say I like all of it, but my students seem to like it!

 

Please let me know what you think. Have you had any experiences playing music in class? I would be interested to hear what you have to say. If you are looking for other ways to motivate your learners, please check out this post. http://dreamreader.net/walk-talk-activity-lower-communication-apprehension/

 

Comments

  • Helen Waldron
    Reply

    This is really interesting. I sometimes turn on gentle “relaxation” music when my business students can’t switch off their work environment enough to concentrate in class, but your post makes clear that for your young adult learners “loud music” is protection.

    • admin

      Hi Helen,

      Thanks for your feedback. I’m glad to hear you found it interesting.

      Yeah, many of my learners are anxious about other people hearing them speak, so this seems to help lower their communication apprehension. I have gotten so used to it that it feels strange having silence in class. I occasionally teach a TOEFL iBT class and that is the only class I rarely use music. That involves a lot more concentration!

      Thanks again!

  • Sonia Steckert
    Reply

    I am a Spanish instructor and I use music in my classroom. In the past, I have asked for student input to the music. However, this year, I use instrumental music or specific songs.

    I teach middle school students. I also use it for raising the energy level of the students. I also lower the volume and choose more mellow tunes for seat work that involves concentration. I stop music when I need to give directions.

    I particularly like the music playing when students enter the last 2 periods of the day…they are physically and emotionally drained and within minutes they are alert, smiling and quietly swaying, nodding or pencil tapping to the beat of the music as they work. It’s like a jolt of JAVA! without the caffeine! Smile!

    My perspective is that when they work on their studies at home they are listening to music as they work, so generating the same atmosphere does help them focus and avoid detractors around them.

    Keep up the good work you have with your students.

    Mrs. Sonia Steckert

    • admin

      Hi Sonia,

      Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t agree more. I find it livens my students up when they need it and calms them down too!

      Keep up the good work too! Thanks for reading the blog.

      Neil