Music and Its Power Over Emotions and Actions

Washington Post staff writer Meeri Kim discusses the link between music and its power over emotions and actions in her piece The Secret Math Behind Feel-Good Music. What is it about a certain song that can make us feel joyful, wistful, depressed, or playful?

An assistant professor in cognitive and neuroscience at the at the University of Groningen, Jacob Jolij, conducted a study focusing on the math behind “feel-good” music. His research found that tempo and key are the primary variables that make a song seem happy or sad.

The article states: “Jolij’s final equation of Feel Good Index (FGI) includes the sum of all positive references in the lyrics, the song’s tempo in beats per minute and its key. The higher a song’s FGI, the more feel-good it is predicted to be. Happy lyrics, a fast tempo of 150 beats per minute (the average pop song has a tempo of 116 beats per minute), and a major third musical key all help create music we perceive as brimming with positive emotion.”

Music is powerful and can “indirectly influence our perceptions and actions”. Research has repeatedly shown that music can help children in the classroom: to motivate, stimulate, help children focus, and aid in memory and learning retention.

So, by all means, rock on!

Fun fact: According to the study, the song that scored highest on the “Feel Good Index” was “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Who knew?

Keep Calm and Rock On: Music and Learning

Young Children Learning Mathematics Through Beat, Rhythm and Melody by Kamile Geist, Eugene A. Geist, and Kathleen Kuznik discuss how music is not only pleasurable but also useful in stimulating growing, young minds.    


Music and rhythm can be powerful tools in teaching children.  While many early childhood toys are meant to stimulate the sense of sight, one of the first ways and infant learns to organize his or her thoughts and understand patterns is through their sense of hearing and touch.  The steady, rhythmic beat of a lullaby or nursery rhyme can soothe an infant while also allowing the infant to hear and process the complex patterns of the music.


Incorporating music into a teacher, librarian, or parent’s daily routine will naturally and easily contribute to future learning in literacy and mathematics, activating patterning.  The article emphasizes the importance of using music to support a child’s learning stating, “Keeping mathematics learning natural and comfortable should be the goal of all teachers, whether they are teaching infants or college students”.  Numerous studies have shown that using music in the classroom regularly while teaching reading or mathematics, at any age, greatly improves the person’s ability to understand and retain complex concepts. For example, when was the last time you have heard a commercial without background music?  Music can help us remember things whether it be an advertising jingle for shaving cream or the ABC song.  


The article continues: “Recent music neuroscience research indicates that steady beat does affect attention behaviors in humans. We typically process steady beat in the premotor cortex of the brain, an area also related to attention (Bengtsson et al. 2008). Zentner and Eerola (2010) found that 120 infants, ages 5–24 months, were more engaged with rhythm-only stimuli (for example, a steady drum beat) than with speech-only stimuli. The results of this study indicate that children have the potential to be more engaged when listening to steady beats than when listening to verbal-only instructions.”  


For helpful tips to incorporate in a teacher’s lesson plan (whether it be during circle time reading or a math lesson on addition and subtraction), see purple box in article entitled, “Tips for Using Music to Engage Children in Mathematics”.  


Keep calm and rock on.  

Rhythm, Memory, and Learning

We are often asked while setting up for a program, “Why the guy with the bass?

Boost Memory and Learning with Music, an article by Cheri Lucas, discusses the importance of music in the learning process.

Time and time again, music has proven to enhance a person’s ability to learn and retain information whether it be learning the alphabet or learning about the solar system.

Music can: 

  • Motivate a child
  • Stimulate their busy minds (multi-sensory learning approach)
  • Set a positive mood (to energize or calm)
  • Boost memory and attention span inside and outside of the classroom.

For example, rhythm-rich and bass-oriented music can help a child tune into a lesson on verbs.

In the article, Chris Brewer,  author and founder of LifeSounds Educational Services shares that one of the ways to tie music to memory is to remember:

“Your child memorizes more effectively through rhythm and rhyme. Chants and raps improve memory of details and help the retrieval of information later.”

So, by all means grab a book and ‘get jiggy with it’!