Michelle E. Zuñiga, Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy

To engage students, instructors have adopted a multitude of innovative learning activities. These activities include group work, flipped classroom, think, pair, share, and many more. Rarely, however, is music proposed as an aspect of learning in the classroom. I seek to highlight how music in general can be used to enhance learning in the classroom.

Using Music to Enhance the Classroom Ambiance

Dr. Matthew Mahavongtrakul at the University of California, Irvine, holds a virtual discussion board where his students can post song suggestions to listen to at the opening of class (in the background) while students settle into their seats and during break sessions while students converse.

Albers and Bach (2003) state that by playing music in the first couple of minutes to class instruction beginning gets students thinking about the course material. That is, if the lyrics corresponded with the course material. But more importantly, playing music in the background helped students feel more comfortable and enhanced their learning environment.

Using Music to Teach Concepts

PhD candidate Deyanira Nevárez Martínez from the Department of Urban Planning and Public Policy at the University of California, Irvine, uses hip hop in her classroom to talk about housing inequality in cities with students. Walczak and Reuter (1994) report on the effectiveness of providing students with the lyrics of songs in teaching a sociology course. As part of Walczak and Reuter’s study, students were divided by topic and given several song choices and questions for discussion. While some students mentioned they did not like the recording artist being played or considered the music outdated, many students favored the use of music and considered the lyrics as helpful to learning sociological concepts in the class.

Teaching researcher McParland (2009) notes that music can present students with lyrics that get students to think in other ways about culture and diversity. When lyrics are familiar to students, students may even feel more of a connection with the song and feel more free to express their own critical thinking through writing and discussion.


Next time you consider planning a class lecture on particular concepts, think about if there is a song for students to connect with in order teach about the concept. In addition, music can always be used just to help students feel comfortable in the classroom.


Albers, B. D., & Bach, R. (2003). Rockin’ soc: Using popular music to introduce sociological concepts. Teaching Sociology, 31(2), 237-245.

Lawson, R., Hall, J., & Mateer, G. D. (2008). From Abba to Zeppelin, Led: using music to teach economics. The Journal of Economic Education39(1), 107-107.

Levy, D. L., & Byrd, D. C. (2011). Why can’t we be friends? Using music to teach social justice. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning11(2), 64-75.

McParland, R. (2009). A sound education: Popular music in the college composition classroom. In A. D. Smith, T. G. Smith, & R. Bobbitt (Eds.), Teaching in the pop culture zone: Using popular culture in the composition classroom (pp. 101-108). Boston: Wadsworth.

Walczak, D., & Reuter, M. (1994). Using popular music to teach sociology: An evaluation by students. Teaching Sociology, 22(3), 266-269.

Whitmer, M. (2005). Using music to teach American history.

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on March 6th, 2020.