The Effects of Background Music on Learning:

The influence of music on rates of learning has been the subject of study for many years. Common sense tells us, and research has confirmed, that loud, cacophonous background noise impedes learning, concentration, and information acquisition. However, some amount of background music may in fact be helpful in the learning process, both in a structured school setting and under self-directed homework conditions. Several questions arise from this assumption, then. First, how much music is appropriate? Second, will any music do, or are some genres (e.g., rock vs. classical) and types (e.g., vocal vs. instrumental, fast- vs. slow-paced) more helpful and others, in fact, deleterious? Further, are students at all grade levels affected in the same way by different types of music, or do the effects of music change over time, depending on individuals’ exposure to various music types and other factors?

Research in this field dates back to the 1930s (Fendrick, 1937, as cited in Koppelman & Imig, 1995), but the emergence of new technologies over the last two or three decades has brought the need for new studies. Interactive multimedia (delivered by computer, CD-ROM, or other medium) and the ubiquitous proliferation of television and audio entertainment delivery devices into the home have changed the face of classrooms and bedrooms alike. Today’s schoolchildren have ever-shortening attention spans, a fact many people would like to blame on some of these very same technologies. But some modern technological conveniences/annoyances, properly tamed, could in fact be used to aid academic performance if beneficial effects were demonstrated in controlled studies.

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Department of Educational Technology

San Diego State University