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Music lessons
Can jingles point the way to helping learners retain vital information?

By Lisa Neal / November 2007

TYPE: OPINION
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I like to peruse the daily newspaper, including the obituaries, because one never knows what one might find. I just read the obituary of Thomas Dawes, a not especially well-known musician whose obituary was featured because he wrote "some of advertising's best known jingles, including 'Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz' for Alka-Seltzer." Now I don't even know anyone who takes Alka-Seltzer but I can sing this jingle without a moment's hesitation, along with the hosiery jingle "Our L'eggs Fit Your Legs" and other Dawes' creations. Memorizing these jingles was effortless, even unintentional. Teachers, in contrast, struggle on a daily basis to engage their students and get what they are teaching to stick.

In an in eLearn Magazine interview, design guru Don Norman talked about the impact of music in movies. "Movies go to great efforts to recreate realism on screen and get you involved, yet feel it essential that they have music in the background. They feel it really adds to the interpretation and experience. It's often the case that artists are ahead of scientists. What scientists do is notice what the artists have done, and then try to understand it." Let's call Thomas Dawes an artist and examine what he created.

Dawes' tunes and lyrics were short, catchy, and repetitive. These qualities surely increase their memorability—often embarrassingly so—many years later. Most people do not teach this way. In fact, I have often said to my students, "Remember this, it's very important." I now wonder what would happen if I sang these important concepts to my students, like we were in a musical. Different parts of memory are used for sound, smell, taste, etc., but does music make words more memorable? Or can it mask their meaning? Even though I can sing Dawes' lyrics, I didn't act upon them, though I assume others did.

Music has been shown to promote memory better than either silence or background noise. A 2001 study by M. Larkin called "Music Tunes Up Memory in Dementia Patients" selected 23 subjects with dementia and tested their recall after they were exposed to four different types of noise: no noise, cafeteria noise, familiar music, and novel music. The study found that recall was better with sound than with silence and better with music than with cafeteria noise. Has this been confirmed by iPod listeners too?

Educational television certainly learned this lesson, as evidenced by "Sesame Street" and other children's shows. And then there's "The hip bone's connected to the thigh bone…," which may not be on the tip of most medical students' tongues but certainly offers a memorable introduction to anatomy. However, there are few music-inspired techniques or older children or for adult learners-but perhaps there should be?

In the movie, Akeelah and the Bee, Akeelah's spelling coach has her practice spelling while jumping rope as a memory aid, which serves her well when she gets stuck at the spelling bee. Now I wonder if I should sing or tap dance for my students to enhance their recall.



Comments

  • Sat, 07 Nov 2015
    Post by TA-DA...Teaching Activities Done Aesthetically

    You are so right when you said, "Maybe there should be music inspired techniques to inspire older children!" I teach elementary students and know the power of using music to learn. My students learn expanding numbers through songs, as well as adding fractions. They learn about fossils, when the volcano Mt. Vesuvius, and when it blew in 79 A.D. We sing about bones,and how ligaments are the strong stretchy bands that hold our bones together and that these are joints. Songs like the engineering design process helps us to solve problems of the world. Yes, music: teaches my students facts, serves as a reading resource, allows them to use the song to know write a narrative or information text, and to learn history, geography, biographies, and science as they get excited about the wonderful world that they can contribute to with their knowledge that becomes power! STEAM is a powerful part of our learning...and using music as part of the "A" for arts brings enjoyment and excitement to our classroom.

ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
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