Sound Warnings

Can music be a distraction?

Yes! There are times when the best sound is no sound. And some music just doesn’t work in the classroom.

Trust your intuition and be aware of how music is affecting your students by watching their responses. The good thing about music is that playing Bach at the wrong moment has never been found to do any damage. It’s also easy to fix. If your selection seems wrong, change it!

  • How do you avoid making music a nuisance in the first place?
    Use music intentionally at key times. Don’t play it continually. Constant sound will stimulate the brain to “tune out” rather than “tune in.” Carefully planned use of music is much more effective.
  • Use background music only when it can support an activity or help hold student focus during study times. See the guidelines in Soundtracks for Learning.
  • Create a balance between the energy levels of the music you play. Avoid the temptation to play energizing or calming music all the time. Playing upbeat music constantly can tip the scales from heightened attention to stress, and too much soothing music can lull students to sleep.
  • Vary the music you play by incorporating different styles. Playing all your personal favorite music is a good way for students to get to know something about you but it may not support the learning process. Be clear about why you are using specific selections.
  • Be careful not to play music too loudly. Check volume levels from different points around the room so you know how the sound projects. If a student is particularly sensitive to sounds, have the student sit where the music is not as loud.
  • Inappropriately chosen music may be distracting and less than effective. If you are unsure of what music to play, use the Sound Suggestions from the Soundtracks for Learning or the recommendations in the Sound Suggestions section of this website. Watch for students reaction–did you get the response you were hoping for? If not, try again!
  • Note that students who are musically trained may find they focus on the music too much and get distracted by analyzing the music or judging the quality of the performance. I suggest to musicians that they let go of the need to analyze and simply enjoy the positive musical effects. Remind them that there are times to be critical of music (as in music studies) and times to remember why music is so important to them.

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