How to use Music to Boost Student Engagement

Use the power of music to guide students to a deeper learning experience

Back in high school, my friends and I signed up for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Retreat.

I didn’t consider myself too athletic at the time, but all my friends were going, so I tagged along.

During the last night of the retreat, the leaders put on the movie “Rudy.” Most people were ignoring the movie by eating or playing cards. However, a friend of mine and I sat down to watch the end of the movie.

In the last minutes of the movie, Rudy gets called out on the field and makes a tackle. The crowd goes wild and suddenly without warning … TITLE TRACK!

Being a high school boy means you don’t want to show your tears. I looked over at my friend to see if he was crying and he looked back at me. Then we both started laughing because we knew we were holding back tears. “This part makes me cry every time!” my friend said. I rubbed my eyes and agreed.

Why Cry?

What was in that movie that made a couple of high school boys cry?
Sure, Rudy has an amazing plot, good camera angles, and quotable one-liners. However, the key to the tears isn’t in any of that. The key is in Jerry Goldsmith. Without Jerry, I can guarantee you wouldn’t cry in Rudy.

“Who is Jerry Goldsmith?” you might ask.

Jerry wrote the title track to Rudy. It was the music that brought me to tears. Sure the plot had a lot to do with it, but try it out yourself! Go back in your mind right now to a scene that makes you cry in a movie. Now imagine watching that scene without any music. It loses its power!

I am a sucker for psychology.

We all have messages that we are constantly processing from the world outside us, whether that be people’s body language or sneaky product placement in movies. All of these messages and our interpretation create an internal mood and conversation inside of ourselves.

Hollywood can guide our emotions with soundtracks. Churches guide their members to a spiritual experience with music. Musicians guide fans to a certain experience at concerts.

The messages we receive add strength to or redirect our constantly playing inner dialogue.

Music creates or enhances an experience.

There is nothing wrong with your emotions being directed, as long as you are aware it exists, and you are intentional about what you listen and react to.

That being said, we should be intentional about setting the mood or our classroom. Our students come in to class with previous experiences from the day. The classroom is our environment to monitor. We should use music to intentionally create an experience and redirect our students emotions.

Here are some ideas on how to do just that:

Use music to guide your students state:

As mentioned earlier, music guides emotions. It’s okay to help your students mood by playing happy songs, epic songs, or calm songs. Don’t leave your students to overcome the conversations and distractions in their head. Help them out with music!

Use music to help your students focus:

Last summer I monitored credit recovery. It was a time when students had to finish the work that they didn’t do during the school year. I didn’t have to teach, so there is a lot of silence in the classroom. I noticed that when I kept the room silent, my students lost interest quickly and tried to break the silence through conversation. However, when I put on music, they could work diligently without interrupting each other for 30 or 40 minutes!

Use music to make yourself more interesting:

Have you ever lost interest in a public speaker, and then a piano player comes up behind them and starts to play? Everything changes! Suddenly your emotions get re-engaged and the speaker’s words have power. Do that in the classroom. Add background music and make yourself interesting.

How to make this work practically

It’s one thing to talk about good ideas in the classroom and another thing to implement them. Adding music to your class, fortunately, is pretty easy to do. However, it is going to require a little additional investment of money and time.

Step 1: Buy a Bluetooth speaker.

You want to be able to control the music from anywhere in the room, so you will need a speaker that can connect to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. These speakers usually range anywhere from $20–$300 (look on Amazon). The cheaper ones usually are cheap for a reason (although my wife and I had one from Walmart that was only $4. It’s was loud and worked great!). Also, try to find one that has a built-in battery pack so that you can take your music on the go if needed.

Step 2: Subscribe to unlimited music

Unlimited music subscription services are easy to find and well worth the investment. Usually, they run around $10 a month. Would I pay $10 a month to have my class focus for up to 30 minutes at a time? Yes!!…..yes I would!

I use Apple Music, but most people prefer Spotify. Also, Google came out with an option for YouTube Red which not only gives you free access to music but also takes away the ads on your YouTube videos.

Step 3: Prepare music in advance

You don’t want to be hiding behind your phone choosing songs all the time. Also, everyone knows that creating playlists is a black hole that defies normal time rules. You could be an hour into making a playlist and think only 10 minutes have gone by. Make your lists ahead of time so you don’t waste time in the classroom.

Step 4: Experiment

See what works in your classroom. Play music often. Play it in the background. Play it to calm your class down. Play an entrance song to get them excited. Play a movie soundtrack to tell a story. At times, let them choose the music. You will immediately see a change in their demeanor!

Some final thoughts

What you are doing with your students doesn’t have to be hidden manipulation.

Let them know why you play music and how it affects them.

Don’t let your students inner dialogue high jack their learning experience. Use music to guide them.

How else would you use music in the classroom?

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, be sure to click the green 💚 so others will see it.

If you are breathing, you are an educator.

Everyone is an educator of something. If you want to increase your influence and expand your impact, download my FREE ebook: “Profe Pablo’s 25 Teaching Tips that will instantly make your life easier”.