Melodies, Rhythm and
Cognition in Foreign
Melodies, Rhythm and
Cognition in Foreign
M. Carmen Fonseca-Mora
and Mark Gant
Melodies, Rhythm and Cognition in Foreign Language Learning
Edited by M. Carmen Fonseca-Mora and Mark Gant
This book first published 2016
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Copyright © 2016 by M. Carmen Fonseca-Mora, Mark Gant
All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without
the prior permission of the copyright owner.
ISBN (10): 1-4438-9741-8
ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-9741-9
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Acknowledgements .................................................................................. viii
Part 1: An Overview
Chapter One ................................................................................................. 2
Music and Language Learning: An Introduction
M. Carmen Fonseca-Mora
Chapter Two ................................................................................................ 7
Music: Why it Affects Us, How Society Uses it, and How this Knowledge
May Benefit Educators
Part 2: Music as a Pathway to Cognition in Language Learning
Chapter Three ............................................................................................ 24
From Melodious Cries to Articulated Sounds: Melody at the Root
of Language Acquisition
Kathleen Wermke and Werner Mende
Chapter Four .............................................................................................. 48
The Relationship between Musical Aptitude and Foreign Language Skills
Chapter Five .............................................................................................. 57
Musical Training and Foreign Language Learning
Chapter Six ................................................................................................ 69
Teaching English Rhythm through Folk Songs
Rosalía Rodríguez Vázquez
Table of Contents
Part 3: Melodies for Very Young Language Learners
Chapter Seven ............................................................................................ 86
Children’s Poetry and Music in Foreign Language Learning
Cristina Aguilera Gómez and Pascuala Morote Magán
Chapter Eight ............................................................................................. 97
A Window into Composing Musical Materials for Young English
Part 4: Songs and Music in the Primary Language Classroom
Chapter Nine ............................................................................................ 108
Shall We Sing? Orff-Schulwerk Tools for Rhythmic Development
in L2 Students
Chapter Ten ............................................................................................. 119
The Impact of Music on Creativity: Exploring Classroom Research
Teresa Fleta and M. Luisa García Bermejo
Chapter Eleven ........................................................................................ 130
Songs as a Valuable Pedagogical Tool for EFL Primary School Children
Part 5: Melodies and Rhythm in the Secondary and Tertiary Foreign
Chapter Twelve ....................................................................................... 142
Awakening Senses for Language Learning
José Manuel Foncubierta and Mark Gant
Chapter Thirteen ...................................................................................... 153
Education in Values through the “Chanson Française”: A New
Approach in Teaching FFL in Higher Education
Melodies, Rhythm and Cognition in Foreign Language Learning vii
Chapter Fourteen ..................................................................................... 163
A Music-Based Agenda for Teaching English as a Second/Foreign
Language: Common Themes and Directions
Chapter Fifteen ........................................................................................ 174
A—B—C, it’s easy as Do—Re—Mi! Notes from the Tune Into English
Roadshow, a Touring Didactic Sing-along Show
Contributors ............................................................................................. 186
The editors would like to thank Cambridge Scholars Publishing for
their professional assistance and special thanks is due to all contributors to
MUSIC AND LANGUAGE LEARNING:
M. CARMEN FONSECA-MORA
UNIVERSITY OF HUELVA, SPAIN
Music is love in search for a Word.
Among the various aims of academic inquiry are those of describing,
explaining and understanding the phenomena we live with or are
surrounded by, many of them profoundly embedded in our nature since
ancient times, even since the creation of humankind. This is the case with
language and music, two unique, innate human capacities that have been
an object of study in many different disciplines. In fact, this is a research
topic that is transdisciplinary and has been dealt with in brain, language,
music, education, and health studies. More concretely, melodic and
rhythmical patterns are two crucial elements that can be found in research
into both language and music.
Curiously enough, the idiom “to have an ear for” is found in many
different languages and is directly related to language and music. So in
French, we find the expression “avoir de l’oreille pour”, while in German
it is “ein Ohr haben für” and in Spanish “tener oído para”. This shows that
beliefs about the relationship between music and language are somehow
supported by our shared verbal behaviour; by common sense or street
wisdom. However, analysing what is meant by “having a good ear for
music or languages” brings many different research perspectives into the
picture. From neuroscience, it raises questions about brain functioning,
which brain areas are triggered by each of them or how musical and
language stimuli are processed (Patel 2014). Psychologists are interested
in the affective power of music and words, as well as in explaining the
common cognitive processes which the mind activates (Chobert & Besson
2013). Musicologists mainly seek to understand how musical training
Music and Language Learning: An Introduction
benefits language learning and to describe the main ingredients of an
optimal music-for-language-learning intervention programme (Runfola,
Etopio, Hamlen & Rozendal 2012). Health studies are concerned with the
conditions in which human well-being is affected by music and language
(Barnes 2015). Finally, educationalists are interested in finding out
whether alternative teaching methods based on musical approaches could
help learners to overcome language learning difficulties or simply make
them learn at a quicker rate (Fonseca, Gómez, Jara 2015).
The interplay between language and music brings to applied linguists
inquiries into the nature and function of speech melodies, the role of
prosody, or descriptions of rhythmical patterns in verbal behaviour. From
another perspective, applied linguists are interested in researching the role
of music in first and second language acquisition to see if students with a
good ear for music are better equipped for language learning (Fonseca,
Avila & Segador 2015). The necessarily fragmentary answers from all
disciplines are needed when trying to understand the relationship between
language and music, and more deeply, when trying to find out how music
contributes to communication exchanges in any language, what universal
properties it adds to the first language acquisition process and how the
teaching and learning of foreign languages could be improved. As
language and music are two innate human capacities, with an undeniable
link between them, does this mean that everyone could benefit from their
intertwined input in the language classroom? On the one hand, musical
abilities enhance linguistic cognitive processes such as phonemic and
phonological awareness, reading comprehension, vocabulary acquisition,
listening and speech abilities. On the other hand, language learning also
takes advantage of the emotional elements provided by music and songs.
Musical activities have been found to influence memory, attention and
effort as a result of their physiological properties and also to foster a
relaxed and safe but motivating and productive classroom atmosphere
(Fonseca & Herrero 2016).
From the perspective of applied linguistics, this book draws together
the literature published over recent decades on music and language and
also draws on experiences in language teaching; it provides a clear
explanation of just how central melodies and rhythm are to foreign
language learning acquisition. It adds insights from the specialized
literature on this topic in order to explore how musical approaches in the
language classroom can be of benefit for foreign language learners.
Therefore, Binns’ overview chapter briefly examines not only some of the
evolutionary explanations as to why music may form such an important
part of our lives, but also some of the ways in which it may affect people
physiologically and psychologically. Using specific examples, it then
looks at how music can change students’ emotions, can aid teacher
instruction, can make grammatical structures more memorable, and can
help students identify with foreign cultures.
Music as a pathway to cognition in language learning is analysed in
part two of this book. Wermke and Mende’s research explores the musical
elements of human infants’ pre-speech vocalizations and states that they
seem to reflect much more than a special musical feature; they are
described as an imperative and a necessary precondition for language
acquisition. Toscano-Fuentes’ perspective explains how musical aptitude
contributes to the learning of foreign language skills while Avila’s chapter
attempts to provide a detailed overview of musical training potential by
analysing the effects of music on the different cognitive and affective
variables that define a good language learning process. Finally, this part of
the book is rounded off with a study of rhythm in language learning.
Rodríguez Vázquez gives evidence for the use of traditional songs as
effective instruments in the teaching of EFL rhythm to adult learners. The
ultimate goal of the chapter is to show how a comprehensive analysis of
songs may contribute to a better knowledge and understanding of
suprasegmental features and, more broadly, how the use of vocal music in
the EFL classroom can shed light on the confluence of cognitive,
neurobiological and affective factors in language acquisition.
The third part of this book is concerned with melodies for very young
learners. Aguilera and Morote state that poetry and music lie at the heart of
nursery rhymes. Children’s songs are described as an educational resource
of exceptional value in which poems, melody and rhythm are combined.
The similar formal structures of both poetry and popular melodies foster
the creation of fertile and creative contexts that put children in touch with
music and words, essential elements in their intellectual and emotional
development. Thain’s chapter reflects on what musical materials for young
English language learners could be like. Her premise is that well-chosen
musical materials offer much more than just “fun and enjoyment” and that
not all musical materials are created equal. Whether they are aimed at
practicing pronunciation, reinforcing vocabulary or supporting reading,
Thain emphasizes that musical materials must be carefully designed.
Songs and music in the primary language classroom are dealt with in
the fourth part of this book. Pacheco-Costa’s contribution considers the
Orff-Schulwerk musical and pedagogical approach as an ideal framework
for improving young foreign language students’ skills, particularly those
related to phonetics, speech rhythm, vocabulary and reading. Fleta and
García Bermejo’s chapter presents pedagogical experiences that show how
Music and Language Learning: An Introduction
to make teaching and learning more interesting by taking music as a
springboard for inspiration. They reflect on how to use creativity to
improve literacy. Last but not least, Diakou’s approach focuses on songs
as a valuable pedagogical tool for EFL primary school children. She states
that the repetitive nature of songs and the joy they bring into the classroom
help to reinforce language acquisition.
The fifth and last part of this book summarises interesting suggestions
as to how to use melodies and rhythm in the secondary and tertiary foreign
language classroom. Foncubierta and Gant explore ways of awakening the
senses for language learning. They state that music and images not only
favour students’ active participation, but also activate learners’ previous
knowledge and personal experiences and help them to find stories to share
in class. Adam’s contribution draws readers’ attention to the development
of ethical, moral and affective aspects which can contribute to the
improvement of learning in different areas of knowledge. She states that a
more comprehensive and humanistic education, the nucleus of which is
not based solely on the cognitive development of learners, can be reached
through music. Her concern is related to improving knowledge of the
French language and culture through the traditional “Chanson Française”
which she considers to be a useful tool for enhancing the personal
competence of both teachers and pupils. Zhou’s chapter aims to create a
synthesis that informs and orientates teaching practices by putting music
under the spotlight in various fields. It draws on a broad spectrum of
evidence that highlights the significant bearing that music has on language
teaching and learning. By setting one foot in each camp of Second
Language Acquisition (SLA), the cognitive and the social, this chapter
indicates possible points where music and SLA intersect, giving particular
emphasis to enhancing learners’ speech perception and production. As an
example, a review of Hip-Hop/ Rap and the educational and pedagogical
implications that assist English language teaching and learning for Chinese
learners is discussed. Kavanagh closes this book describing his inspiring
Tune into English Roadshow, an interactive didactic show, using well-
known songs to help to raise students’ awareness of the language used in
Melodies and rhythm have the effect of creating positive emotions;
they affect students’ predisposition toward language learning, that is to
say, their cognition. As the emotional human beings we are, any stimulus
is firstly evaluated by our amygdala, an almond-shape set of neurons in
charge of emotions and emotional behaviour and therefore motivation,
located deep in the brain's medial temporal lobe. Musical elements trigger
positive emotions, motivation, verbal memory, social bonding or even
self-regulation, all of which are needed for the development of good
language skills. For our readers, we hope that we have managed to make
the values and cognitive benefits that melodies and rhythm can offer for
any age group more visible, enhancing learning both inside and outside the
Barnes, Jonathan. 2015. “Towards a Creativity-rich Curriculum for the
well-being of Children Three to Seven Years Old.” The Routledge
International Handbook of Philosophies and Theories of Early
Childhood Education and Care: 278.
Chobert, Julie, and Mireille Besson. 2013. “Musical Expertise and Second
Language Learning.” Brain Sciences 3, 2: 923-940.
Fonseca-Mora, M. Carmen, and Francisco Herrero Machancoses. 2016.
“Music and Language Learning: Emotions and Engaging Memory
Pathways.” Positive Psychology in SLA 359.
Fonseca-Mora, M. Carmen, Javier Avila López, and Arturo Gallego
Segador. 2015. “Beneficios del entrenamiento musical para el
aprendizaje de una lengua extranjera.” Revista Electrónica Complutense
de Investigación en Educación Musical-RECIEM 12: 29-36.
Fonseca-Mora, M. Carmen, Pilar Jara-Jiménez, and María Gómez-
Domínguez. 2015. “Musical Plus Phonological Input for Young
Foreign Language Readers.” Frontiers in Psychology 6: 286.
Patel, Aniruddh D. 2014. “Can Nonlinguistic Musical Training Change the
Way the Brain Processes Speech? The expanded OPERA hypothesis.”
Hearing Research 308: 98-108.
Runfola, Maria, Elisabeth Etopio, Karla Hamlen, and Mary Rozendal.
2012. “Effect of Music Instruction on Preschoolers' Music Achievement
and Emergent Literacy Achievement.” Bulletin of the Council for
Research in Music Education 192: 7-27.
WHY IT AFFECTS US, HOW SOCIETY USES IT,
AND HOW THIS KNOWLEDGE MAY BENEFIT
SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY - MADRID CAMPUS, SPAI N
This chapter briefly examines not only some of the evolutional
explanations of why music may form such an important part of our lives,
but also some of the ways in which it may affect people physiologically
and psychologically. Then, using specific examples, it looks at how music
is, and has been, harnessed by society and used for distinct purposes
ranging from enhancing factory production and curing medical pathologies
to torturing prisoners and instructing guerrilla fighters. The same
components of music that allow for such diverse social usage can also be
channelled into education in a number of ways: music can change the
emotional state of a classroom, can aid instruction, can make nightmarish
grammatical structures almost palatable, and can help students to identify
with and imitate foreign cultures.
As advertisers discovered long ago, music does not possess magical
properties which indoctrinate listeners and, as with any other marketing
technique or teaching tool (an unfortunate but ever more true analogy),
careful preparation is vital for its successful use in the classroom. And, if
language teachers are fully aware of how different music may affect their
students in a given situation, it may improve their teaching effectiveness.
The chapter finishes with a closer look at the specific case of using
political propaganda songs to teach languages: their repetitive and
rhythmic structures which are designed to motivate and communicate
specific messages make them highly effective language teaching tools.
Why music can affect us
The origins of music are uncertain but its universality suggests that it is
related to the evolution of humankind. According to Darwin, the reason
why all humans have the capacity to make and appreciate music is
because, in an evolutionary past, we used this to attract more sexual
partners thus ensuring the survival of our species (Darwin 1871, 880), just
as songbirds do (Catchpole and Slater 1995). There are many examples of
dance and song playing an integral part in human courtship, ranging from
the romantic jaw’s harp playing of the Hmong of South East Asia or the
ritual singing and dancing of the Masai in Kenya to Salsa dancing in a
Latin club in Soho. Darwinian theory would suggest that the best
musicians, or dancers, have more reproductive success than their less
Miller (2000) applied this idea to contemporary rock musicians,
arguing that Jimi Hendrix’s musical output, while doing him “no survival
favours” (Hendrix died at the age of 27), enabled him to have “sexual
liaisons with hundreds of groupies, [maintain] parallel long-term
relationships with at least two women, and [father] at least three children
[…]. Hendrix’s genes for musical talent probably doubled their frequency
in a single generation through the power of attracting opposite-sex
admirers” (2000, 331). Miller (1999) also discovered that males produced
at least ten times more music than females and were most productive
around the age of 30, near the time of peak mating effort and activity. If
music and dance in humans are related to natural selection, as Darwinians
claim, and can thus increase an individual’s possibilities of finding a fit
reproductive partner, then music plays, or at least has played, a
fundamental role in the survival of the species: this would certainly
account for music being such an effective tool for motivating students in
There has also been much academic debate over the relationship
between language and music, and which of the two evolved first. Despite a
few detractors, such as Pinker, who claim that music is “quite different
from language” (1997, 529), there is an increasing amount of evidence to
support the idea that either language went through a musical phase during
the course of its evolution (Dunbar, 2004), or that music is “derived from
language” (Wilson 2012, 283).
Music: Why It Affects Us, How Society Uses It 9
Music is deeply rooted in human biology and is critical to the cognitive
development of the child (Cross 1999, 25), and studies focusing on Infant-
directed Speech (IDS) have shown that IDS relies on musicality rather
than language to convey meaning and that it is universally recognized.
Further acoustic analysis studies have demonstrated that IDS has a
distinctive prosodic structure which may facilitate word learning (Kemler
Nelson et al. 1989) and that vowel hyperarticulation—also found in
Foreigner-directed Speech (Uther et al. 2007, 5)—may act as a didactic
device for instruction of language learners (Papousek 1991).
Further proof that music and languages share some sort of evolutionary
history is evident in the prosody of traditional songs. Each language
demands different musical treatment and traditional music has evolved
accordingly: English words do not lend themselves to flamenco rhythms
just as French lyrics do not fit comfortably into Irish melodies. Indeed, the
musical patterns of a baby’s crying, long before words are formed,
correspond to those of their mother’s language (Mampe et al. 2009). Thus,
the prosody found in traditional music is perhaps one of the easiest ways
of illustrating a language’s rhythm, word emphasis, word intonation, and
How music can affect us
Research suggests a direct cause-effect relationship between certain types
of music and physiological reactions in human subjects. Music can cause
galvanic skin response (Peretti and Swenson 1974), vasoconstriction
(Kibler and Rider 1983), and muscle tension (Scartelli 1984), and can also
affect the variability of heart rate (McCraty et al. 1996; Anshel et al. 1978;
Roballey et al. 1985), respiration rate (Foster and Gamble 1906), pulse
rate, and blood pressure (Webster 1973).
Brain anatomy research has shown that music can affect the limbic
system, which is part of the Emotional Response System, and may
stimulate the release of endorphins which in turn inhibit the transmission
of pain signals (Creutzfeldt et al. 1989). This mental and emotional
activity can also alter the autonomic nervous system (ANS) (Kamada et al.
1992), which may in turn affect the function of the cardiovascular (Sinha
et al. 1992), neuroendocrine (Lovallo et al. 1990), and immune systems
(Ader et al. 1991). It seems likely that the immune and hormonal changes
observed in subjects after listening to music are a result of the ANS being
affected (Lenton et al. 1991; Updike et al. 1987). Music can also facilitate
the induction of trance because it stimulates the alpha brain waves that
allow a person to think internally or have a tranquil state of mind: studies
using electroencephalographs have found that musicians produce a higher
amount of alpha waves in the temporal lobe than non-musicians do
(Overman et al. 2003).
All music has a continuous fluctuation of pitch which coincides with
the ebb and flow of the emotions that are being expressed (Cooke 1959,
105), and these emotions may provoke subsequent behavioural patterns.
Being happy has been found to induce increased cooperation (Isen 1970;
Fried and Berkowitz 1979) and the ability to think more creatively (Isen et
al. 1987). Krumhansl (1997) observed that music which is expected to
invoke sadness produces large changes in heart rate, blood pressure, skin
conductance and temperature while music which is expected to provoke
fear produces important changes in pulse rate and amplitude and music
which is expected to provoke happiness produces significant changes in
respiratory patterns. McCraty et al. (1988) reported that 15 minutes of
listening to Grunge music caused a significant increase in hostility,
sadness, tension and fatigue, even in teenagers who claimed to like it: this
may be explained by negative sensations producing an increase in
sympathetic stimulation, which in turn increases levels of cortisol and
other adrenal steroids (McCraty et al. 1995). The levels of these steroids
have also been shown to vary in response to musical intervention using
designer music, such as Lew Childre’s, Speed of Balance (Childre 1996).
Having seen the physiological effects that music may produce in
humans, teachers may want to think carefully what music they use next
time in the classroom. However, many of these studies seem to ignore
factors such as the surroundings, the predisposition or the personality of
the subject, and these may be as important as—if not more important
than—the music itself in terms of producing reactions in people.
What music is like and how it can be used
Music plays a role in both creating groups and reinforcing the feeling of
belonging to a group. According to Benzon (2001, 81), music is the
“biotechnology of group formation” and “is a medium through which
individual brains are coupled together in shared activity” (2001, 23). In
terms of the classroom, it can help with classroom management, such as
clean-up activities and it can be used to time activities, and to provide
attention cues in order to energize and motivate students (Sprenger 2002).
Music can also aid in building a stronger sense of community and a culture
of caring, where people nurture each other (Bennington 2004).
Music: Why It Affects Us, How Society Uses It 11
Ironically, just as music can favour the formation of in-groups, it can
also create out-groups, which is why teachers must choose carefully what
music they use in the classroom. Some students may like Heavy Metal and
will automatically reject other genres such as Pop or Hip-Hop, and vice
versa. Hence, unfashionable genres such as classical, 1950s rock and roll
or folk music are often safer options for the secondary school classroom
because few adolescents will have any established opinions on them. The
exclusive nature of certain genres of music, however, tends to be at a very
local level because, as Blacking (1973, 68) suggests, there is a universally
recognized relationship between musical intervals and human feelings,
which makes music a useful tool for traversing cultural boundaries
(Mithen 2005, 91; Oelman and Loeng 2003). Although music can form in-
and out-groups, it is often one of the easiest ways of beginning meaningful
communication in a foreign culture, as many travelling musicians can
Music has the power to arouse strong sentiments among the members of a
specific group, whether it be a tight-knit group such as the Scouts or a
loose-knit group such as Michael Jackson fans. Traditionally, armies have
been accompanied by marching bands or bagpipers to boost morale and
arouse patriotic feelings. Although musicians no longer go into battle
playing, soldiers still listen to music. Songs, such as Mystikal’s Round out
the Tank, and Outkast’s Bombs Over Baghdad were popular among US
troops in the Iraq war, and helped psych them up before battle (Gittoes
2006). Similarly, students often listen to their favourite music to help them
to focus before an exam.
Arousal, however, does not always produce a positive sensation, as the
research carried out by McCraty et al. in Grunge music showed (McCraty
et al. 1988), and music that is played repetitively at loud volumes during
extended periods, can easily become a weapon of torture. In 2006, the
BBC reported that US troops were torturing Iraqi prisoners by playing the
Barney I Love You song for up to 12 hours non-stop. Obviously, the
volume of music played in a classroom must be appropriate to the task
being performed, and the number of times a song is repeated during a
specific exercise must be carefully monitored, so as not to produce a
negative effect on the students.
There are numerous anthropological reports of music being used by
healers in societies such as the Navajo (Fergusson 1931, 203-204) or the
Ashanti (Wilson 2006). In Evans-Pritchard’s account of Azande
witchcraft, he explains how divinatory medicines made from magical trees
and herbs were activated by drumming, singing, dancing (1976, 436).
Indeed, Rouget, in his anthropological study of music and trance, refers to
shamans as musicants and possessed people as musicated (1985, 288).
More recently, sedative music has allowed doctors to reduce doses of
anaesthetics and other pain-relief medication (Standley 1995; Robb et al.
1995). Robertson claims that “fifteen minutes of soothing music lulls the
patient into such a state of well-being that only 50 per cent of
recommended doses of sedatives and anaesthetic drugs are needed to
perform otherwise very painful operations” (Robertson as cited in Horden
2000, 12). Similarly, classical music has been used to reduce anxiety and
depression (Guzzetta, 1989), and new age music has been found to
facilitate sleep in elderly individuals with sleep disturbances (Mornhinweg
1995). Regular musical intervention using Peter Hübner’s Medical
Resonance Therapy Music® reportedly produced a 75% reduction in
attacks among epileptic sufferers, and 80% of those treated reported a
marked reduction in both the intensity of epileptic seizures and in epileptic
amnesia (Hübner 1995).
Although this may not seem directly relevant to education, teachers
may use music as a classroom anaesthetic to soothe rowdy spirits. Even
though the music may not cure the students of their fidgetiness, it can
provide a distraction which aids in making them less boisterous.
In traditional societies, certain types of song are related to certain tasks,
such as Bulgarian threshing songs and Somalian water-carrying songs. The
music, often participatory, acts as a social binder but also allows
individuals to improve their physical performance by responding to the
rhythmical elements of the music and synchronizing their actions to it and
the task at hand (Anshel and Marisi 1978). Music can increase employee
morale and reduce absenteeism and staff turnover, and those who prefer to
work with music show significant benefits in performance, job satisfaction
and energy levels (Oldham et al. 1995). Keypunch operators’ productivity
at the Mississippi Power and Light Company increased 18.6% and their
Music: Why It Affects Us, How Society Uses It 13
errors decreased 37% as a result of the installation of a programmed
background music system (Ross 1966).
In the classroom, research has shown that slow tempo music played at
a low volume can enhance cognitive performance (William Pryse-Phillips
2003, 611); (Hallam et al. 2002), and can facilitate language acquisition,
reading readiness, and general intellectual development (Hanshumaker
1980). According to DiEdwardo (2004), music improved students’ grades
and abilities to compose thesis statements for research papers in courses
that emphasize reading and writing skills. Wijaya (2006) found that
second language learners believed that listening to music while writing
could make them relaxed and calm so that their ideas could flow easily
and students who had commercially recorded pop/rock music as an
integral part of the instructional package in language skills scored
significantly higher with regard to continuing motivation (Weiskoff 1981;
Eady and Wilson 2004).
Between 70 and 77% of customers prefer stores that play music, and 63%
of them claim that they purchase more in stores with background music
(Burleson 1979; Robert 1971). Milliman’s famous study on the effects of
music in supermarkets found that higher sales volumes were consistently
associated with slow tempo music (60-73 BPM) while in contrast, lower
sales figures were consistently associated with faster tempo music (93-110
BPM), even though the customers did not seem to be significantly aware
of the background music (1982, 86-91). Moreover, customers spend more
money on food and drink at restaurants where slow tempo music is being
played (Caldwell and Hibbert 1999), the amount of time spent drinking
soda in bars decreases when fast music is played (McElrea and Standing
1992), and the number of bites per minute that diners take corresponds to
the speed of music played (Roballey et al. 1985). Similarly, an increase in
the volume of background music can lead to an increase in consumer’s
alcohol drinking in bars (Guéguen et al. 2004; 2008), and customer
preference for either French or German wines is strongly associated with
the use of either stereotypical French and German background music being
played (North et al. 1999).
If bites per minutes could be converted into words per minute or
students could be manipulated by music to favour certain subjects, then
teachers would perhaps have less work to do in the classroom. However,
although it is tempting to believe that music can directly influence
people’s actions, as expounded by Gorn (1982), subsequent studies have
indicated that music alone is not sufficient to create preference for a
product (Allen and Madden 1985; Kellaris and Cox 1989). Music in the
classroom is only effective when used in the correct educational setting
and in conjunction with appropriate didactic preparation and exercises.
Music can both enhance the meaning of words and make them easier to
assimilate and memorize, and—in the correct setting—can become an
extremely powerful medium for unification and indoctrination purposes.
Many religious groups use music to communicate their messages, whether
it is a priest intoning the creed, a Hindu singing a raga or a muezzin calling
out the Adhan. Other groups, such as the Sufi dervishes, the Moroccan
Guedra, or New York charismatic evangelists, may use music and song to
transport the listeners into other states during religious or healing rituals.
The power of song has not gone unnoticed by political groups. Most
political or military songs—from the Internationale to the Stars and
Stripes—have fast 2/4 or marked 6/8 march rhythms and are written in
major keys designed to create a sensation of happiness and euphoria in the
listener (Toiviainen and Krumhansl 2003). Salvador Allende’s victory in
the 1970 Chilean general election was partly thanks to the Canción Nueva
movement, which used songs to inform the illiterate campesinos and
factory workers of a possible alternative future. Not surprisingly, many
musicians, such as Victor Jara, were among the first victims of Pinochet’s
military coup in 1973.
During the 1980s conflict in Nicaragua, Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía
Godoy (1979) wrote a series of training songs for the mostly illiterate
guerrilla fighters. The songs give chillingly precise instructions on the
different types of munitions, how to make bombs or how to strip, clean
and reassemble an M1 Garand rifle.
Memorization and holistic learning
Just as they do for guerrilla fighters, music and rhyme allow children to
assimilate and memorize information which is otherwise too complex for
them to process efficiently. According to Rudolf Steiner, imitation is an
unconscious process that is different to learning and is one of the strongest
features in early learning (Steiner 1923/1988), and the Waldorf system
encourages repetition rather than analysis in the early years of language
teaching. This seems logical when one considers that the children of the
Music: Why It Affects Us, How Society Uses It 15
last three decades have learned to count rhythmically to music while
watching Sesame Street (Richardson and Wolfe 2001).
The holistic learning of chunks of melody or text is similar to the
learning of a language in authentic situations, in which the learner is
immersed in a culture where that language is spoken. It allows students to
concentrate on the activity itself (in this case, the song) rather than on
language learning. According to Krashen and Terrell, “language is best
taught when it is being used to transmit messages, not when it is explicitly
taught for conscious learning” (1983, 55). The vocabulary accumulated
through learning songs (Griffee 1992) allows learners to unconsciously
form a database of important vocabulary and grammatical structures,
which can later be extracted if needed. As an example, students of Spanish
who memorize the first line of Ojalá (1978) by Silvio Rodríguez (“Ojalá
que las hojas no te toquen el cuerpo mientras caigan”) have a foundation
for understanding the complex use of the subjunctive, and later when they
want to use a phrase starting with ojalá or mientras, they can recall this
structure to use as a basis from which to construct the new phrase. This
same phrase may help them learn the Spanish tendency to use articles
instead of possessive pronouns when referring to parts of the body.
Music can help to create a relaxed, friendly and cooperative atmosphere, a
factor which is significant in language learning (Griffee 1992). Music is a
carrier of emotion, and emotion mediates our thoughts and actions, thus
affecting our physical and intellectual state. By purposefully capitalizing
on the emotional connection between mood and music, teachers can use
material related to lyrics and tunes effectively (Bennington, 2004). Since
behaviour, learning and memory depend on the physical and intellectual
state of the learners (Jensen 1995), music should form an integral part of
every classroom (Bennington and Robert 2004).
Authenticity is one of the six core features of content and language
integrated learning (CLIL) methodology (Mehisto et al. 2008), and
involves the use of materials that have not been developed specifically for
language learners (Nunan 1988), and which allow for natural contact with
and for a natural acquisition of a language (Coonan 2005). Songs can
provide an infinite source of authentic texts, and although, in terms of
vocabulary and structure, they may sometimes seem less accessible for
certain learners, they—like any authentic text—are enjoyable, interesting
and motivating (Guariento and Morley 2001).
Song lyrics also often have theme lines or a story behind them which
“offer rich background and social and historical context to language
learning” (Griffee 1992, ix). As examples, We wish you a Merry
Christmas can be used to evoke the Christmas season and as a basis from
which to study the related traditions, and Bob Dylan’s Masters of War can
be used to talk about the anti-Vietnam movement in the 1960s.
Using protest songs in FL teaching
There is no one type of music that works better than all others in the
classroom because—like any teaching tool—a song is only as effective as
a teacher makes it. However, folk-based protest songs contain many
elements that lend themselves to language teaching. Most protest songs are
culturally specific, and thus belong to musical genres that are unfamiliar to
young learners, and do not create any problems of in-groups or out-groups.
Moreover, they stimulate interest in problems related to the culture of the
language being taught, and since these problems are divorced from the
students’ life experiences, the students do not suffer moral dilemmas. For
example, a student from Saudi Arabia will quite happily talk about human
rights issues in the USA but will probably be very uncomfortable talking
about similar issues in his or her own country. The slightly illicit aspect of
many protest songs can also be a useful motivational factor in the
classroom, especially among adolescents.
Protest songs are specifically designed to mobilize and motivate
people, and the lyrics tend to be clear, direct and repetitive. Moreover,
since the melodies and rhythms tend to be culturally specific, the songs
tend to be highly prosodic, and hence provide useful models of the
language’s rhythm, word emphasis, word intonation, and pronunciation.
Examples of songs that can be used effectively for EFL are: Joan Baez’
We shall not be moved, Bob Marley’s Bad Card or Bob Dylan’s Masters
of War. There are many examples for the teaching of other languages as
well, such as: for Spanish, Quilapayún’s Venceremos; for Portuguese,
Chico Buarque’s Construçao; and for French, Mireille Mathieu’s La
The social importance of music can perhaps be attributed to evolutionary,
physiological and psychological processes. Music can act as a facilitator to
Music: Why It Affects Us, How Society Uses It 17
help induce certain states and, in adequate settings, can be applied to
enhance group cohesion, production, health, memory, marketing and
ideologies. Music can be applied effectively to enhance education in that it
can provide authentic material, facilitate the memorization of instructions,
vocabulary, structures, and pronunciation, create favourable teaching
environments, and motivate students. It can also serve as a basis from
which to teach otherwise complex language concepts. Nevertheless, music
in itself is no guarantee that teaching will be enhanced: it must fit the
situation in which it is to be used because the wrong music can produce
effects that totally neglect the objective of the exercise. Music in itself
cannot cure a sick person, but together with a competent authoritative
figure in whom the patient trusts, an appropriate setting, and the
appropriate care, music can enhance the effectiveness of certain
treatments. Music cannot make a customer buy a specific product, but if
that product caters to the customer’s needs, is adequately positioned and
well-priced, then the music may enhance its sales. Similarly, music cannot
teach students unless it is combined with suitable preparation, justification,
and tasks. Music, just like any supplemental tool, can be used
constructively and effectively or not: its effectiveness depends totally on
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