Using Music and Sound for Learning

Using Music and Sound for Learning

Using music and sound for learning is an easy way to contribute to a more stimulating, brain-based learning environment. Make some noise, introduce sound, and wake up your learner’s brains. You cannot share information and ideas effectively if your session participants are distracted or not focused on you or the task at hand.

To ensure that participants in training programs, classrooms, and other meeting situations are ready to gain, retain, recall and use what will be experienced, take some time to plan how you will gain, regain and hold their attention.

Using Music and Sound for Learning by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Adult Learning & Training Author

The following are some simple techniques that tie to research on brain-based learning regarding brain stimulation and how the brain and attention works. By applying strategies such as these, you will be able to potentially get participants to stop side conversations, reading materials, daydreaming, and other distracting behaviors and focus their attention on the front of the room. Once they do that, you can share instructions or information related to the topic or task at hand.

Use your voice.

Some people are gifted with a loud, commanding voice that carries throughout any room and can be used to gain the attention of distracted learners. Others have less forceful volume and tone and must depend on alternative methods to refocus participants.  A simple “Let’s get started” or “If I can have your attention” might work for some people but there are other more creative ways to accomplish this desired outcome.

using music and sound for learning
Game Show Themes for Trainers

Use music. 

There has been quite a bit of research and numerous books on how music impacts the brain (e.g. This is Your Brain on Music) and the topic of using music in learning environments (e.g. Top Tunes for Teachers and Training with a Beat). There are even music selections designed for training (e.g. Game Show Themes for Trainers) and learning environments. Such resources tap into the fact that music can evoke emotion, set the tone for a learning environment, and connect with a training topic. The key is to select music that has a relationship to your learning objectives and that helps stimulate the brains of your attendees.

Some of the ways that you might employ music would be to have upbeat music playing as people enter the room. When ready to start your session or you want to end a break and regroup participants, simply turn it off. The silence sends an unspoken message that something just changed and participants instinctively turn their attention toward the front for the room.

You can also use music in the background as learners work in small groups and participate in visioning activities. In such instances, use music without lyrics and that matches the intended pace of the activity. Research indicates that selecting a music beat that closely matches the desired energy level of the activity is best. For example, if you want to have people on their feet and excited, use some upbeat theme song. If your goal is serenity and reflection, you might use a baroque selection.

Using music and sound for learning

Use Noisemakers.

Inexpensive noisemakers are an excellent and creative means of gaining or regaining participant attention. Simply by blowing a whistle, using a musical slide flute, ringing a school or classroom bell, striking a gong, squeezing a squawking chicken, or using some similar device, you add a bit of sound, fun, and novelty to your sessions.

Like anything you do in a learning environment, using music and sound in novel ways during your sessions or meetings is a clever means of gaining and regaining learner attention. The key is to avoid doing anything that is distracting or does not relate to your stated learning objectives.

Learn This Blogger – Robert W. Lucas

Robert W. Lucas is an internationally-known author and learning and performance expert. He specializes in workplace performance-based training and consulting services. Furthermore, he has four decades of experience in human resources development, management, and customer service in a variety of organizational environments. Robert Lucas was the 1995 and 2011 President of the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

Robert W. Lucas has lived, traveled, and worked in 28 different countries and geographic areas. During the past 40 years, Bob has shared his knowledge with workplace professionals from hundreds of organizations, such as Webster University, AAA, Orange County Clerk of Courts, Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Martin Marietta, all U.S. military branches, and Wachovia Bank. In addition, Bob has provided consulting and training services to numerous major organizations on a variety of workplace learning topics. To contact Bob visit his website at or his blog

Effectively Using Music in Training Sessions

Effectively Using Music in Training Sessions

Effectively Using Music in Training Sessions

Music can assist in setting the tone for a training session and, if used correctly, can actually contribute to the theme. For example, in a class on Time Management, I recorded an hour of oldies songs that had the title or theme of time (e.g. Time Won’t Let Me by the Outsiders, Time Has Come Today by the Chambers Brothers, and Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce). I play the songs as learners arrive and during breaks, then, in my opening remarks comment about how time influences every aspect of our lives including our music.

Effectively Using Music in Training Sessions by The Creative Trainer – Robert W. Lucas, Awarding Winning Brain-Based Adult Training Author

In another session on motivation, I run in from the back of the room with the theme of the movie Rocky blaring away. Once in front of the class, I cut the music, and in animated fashion welcome everyone with a loud GOOD MORNING! ARE YOU READY TO LEARN SOME TECHNIQUES TO IMPROVE YOUR WORKLIFE?

I then get everyone to stand up and then lead them through a fast-paced stretching or other fun activity. That leads to small group brainstorming activity into what gets people pumped up in today’s workplace. We review their ideas and move into the program content.

As a trainer or educator, you can add music to the background to break the awkward silence that sometimes exists as participants enter the room or return from breaks. You can also use such music to signal the end of one event and the beginning of another or as a transition from one activity to another.  This works because the abrupt silence that occurs when the music is turned off attracts attention. Non-verbally, you are signaling that something is about to happen or that it is time to begin.

Effectively Using Music in Training Sessions by The Creative Trainer 

For background music, you are probably better off using nature sounds or instrumental selections instead of vocals. Also, select generic music that does not have words (e.g. instrumental, new age, or classical) so that participants do not subconsciously focus on the songs and sing along in their head or out loud.

To benefit most when using music in your sessions, some research suggests that you choose selections that have approximately 40 to 60 beats per minute if you want to slow the pace of training activities for individual work, visualization activities, or relaxation. This is because that pattern of sound will mimic the average person’s heart rate and will be in sync with their natural rhythm. If you want to stimulate creative thinking and assist in problem-solving, increase the tempo to 60 to 70 beats per minute. Finally, if you want to really energize participants and get them moving (e.g. during fast-paced activities, while exercising, or when moving them from one place to another) use music that has 70 to 140 beats per minute.

Read More This Topic!

There are a number of popular books on the subject of using music in learning events that you might find useful. Two titles that I recommend are Top Tunes for Teachers by Eric Jensen and Training with a Beat by Lenn Millbower

Like any other learning aid, if you play musical selections during individual and group activities in your training programs, make sure that the volume level is loud enough to be heard but low enough that it does not distract or interrupt concentration or conversation. Keep in mind that while some learners will enjoy the music and find it helpful, others might find it distracting and irritating. Do an in-class survey periodically to see how learners are doing during activities.

Ask them, what can you do to help them be more effective. Someone will likely tell you to turn the music off. If this occurs, you may survey all learners to see if that is the consensus and act accordingly. If you do leave it on, suggest that researchers have found that many people benefit from such stimulation.  The bottom line is that you have to decide on a case-by-case basis if the music is really needed and helpful.

Like any other material, technique, or strategy that you use when training adults, only use those which contribute to achieving your learning objectives. Do not use music simply because you like it.