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Brain-Based Teaching: Part 2

Author: Steve Hiles

Activity: Music to Match

Select music to match the activities you plan.

Consider the "feeling" or emotions that the music evokes in you. Listen carefully to the various instruments and see if you associate them with certain feelings. Trumpets and  other brass instruments most often are used for marching and martial music -- most people experience a very celebratory, happy feeling hearing this kind of music. Violins, violas, basses and other strings often give a soothing, even romantic feeling to listeners. Jazz saxophone and clarinet are known for their melancholy sounds while flutes and pipes are often used to play light, fun tunes that can even make people laugh.

Once you have chosen several possible pieces of music to use in class, consider the beats-per-minute concepts that can help you choose between options. To figure out the BPM in a piece of music, here is a simple how-to: Start to play music that you think might be appropriate to a given activity. Use a stopwatch or clock with a second hand that makes it easy for you to know when one minute is up. Listen for the drum down beats or "pulse" in the music. Start the stopwatch, and begin to count the beats. Stop at one minute and write down the number  of beats. Do this a few times until you feel confident that you have estimated the approximate number of the BPM.

The BPM is likely to have real effects on student learning and the mood in the classroom. Like a conductor, you can orchestrate the mood of the class. Theoretically, listeners' physical heartbeats may change to sync up with the musical beats. Again, try to match BPM appropriately to the task or activity you want students to do while the music plays. 

  • For instance, if you want students to engage in a brainstorming session activity, then you would want to play music that has no lyrics and a pulse rate above 80 BPM.
  • On the other hand, if you are after focused learning as in 'think-pair & share' activities, then you would want to achieve a pulse rate of about 60-90 BPM.
  • For activities of an independent nature such as independent reading and or problem-solving, you would want to achieve a pulse rate of below 60 BPM.
Simply put, you cannot just arbitrarily play any piece of music to just any activity and expect to yield results. Note that both the tempo and appropriateness must guide your selection. 

If you have never used music in the classroom, I would recommend that you gradually introduce music into the classroom to coincide with your instruction. Music itself and the technical issues to get it playing can become distractions. Start with a few minutes a day (when students enter/depart the classroom), and gradually increase the use of music as you feel comfortable with its use. Before you know it, incorporating music into your classroom instruction will become natural.

Activity: Use a 'Call Back Song'

During the first few days of school, I introduce the class to our "Call Back Song" which calls them back to their seats. I teach -- model --rehearse the following procedure over and over again until it is routine!

Whenever they hear the "Call Back Song," students must react with the following actions:

  • Stop all talking
  • Return as quickly as possible to your seat
  • Wait for the next set of instructions

Naturally, the "Call Back Song" is a theme of your own choosing and can be any song you like. Mine is "Brown-Eyed Girl."

I would love to hear from you regarding your thoughts or comments about this post. 

Stay tuned for Brain-Based Teaching: Part 3, as we will talk about Music for Math!

All the best,
Steve