CAPTION: Freshman Tessa Barcelo works diligently on her computer while Broadway show tunes pour through her wireless earbuds. She doesn’t always listen to music while doing work, but in this case it makes the citations for her research paper a little less tedious.
By Katie Budinger
If you walk through the hallways of Andover High School, you can look into classrooms and see a variety of pictures. A common one, however, is that of students staring intensely at screens. Whether they are actually doing their assigned work or not is debatable, but the silent statues are all the same: heads down, fingers typing, earbuds in. Even in the crowded, rushing hallways students are plugged in to their phones, music flowing through headphones.
Especially around the holidays a popular choice for Emme Pitts, a sophomore, is Christmas music. “I will literally tap my foot all year long to [a holiday song],” she admits.
Music in most classrooms has become as commonplace as computers these days, at least in those where teachers allow it. It raises the question, however, of whether or not the pop, rap, rock, or occasional holiday classic is actually beneficial to their learning, focus, and stress.
Institutions like Harvard Medical School have done many studies to try and learn the truth. A study done in 2015 by Dr. Anne Fabiny, Editor in Chief of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, found that music greatly improved the mood and behavior of patients with Alzheimer’s. A playlist was created for each patient based on recommendations from their families as to what they once enjoyed, and it was found that after attending several weekly classes in which their playlists were integrated, the patients’ scores on a memory test drastically improved and that they were experiencing a better overall quality of life.
Mrs. Desfosse, a health teacher at AHS, has seen music’s benefits first hand. She used to play “old time music” for her grandmother while they went through exercises to help her see them as something more enjoyable. Desfosse also has an 88-year-old friend whom she takes to church concerts where “she comes alive, smiles the whole time, and [music] definitely elicits a wonderful physiological response.”
But while music might help elderly folks, what does it have to do with teenagers? A study was done in 2000 by Myra J. Staum, PhD, MT-BC, and Melissa Brotons, PhD, MT-BC, about the reactions music elicited from college students. The students listened to music for about twenty-seven minutes at different amplitudes while wearing a heart rate monitor. It was found that, overall, the level of relaxation was increased during the study, proving that music can help students unwind and relax.
“[M]usic can be used to relax and bring kids to a different state of mind so they are in a better place to be more open to learning. Music can be a wonderful motivator too,” says Desfosse. She is a firm believer in the idea that music reduces stress and allows for a great escape from the crazy, activity-packed lives of teenagers, but is not sold on the idea of it improving focus. “Maybe the right kind of meditative music,” she suggests, “but definitely not music with words.”
Students seem to agree that their daily stress is greatly reduced after listening to music of their choice. Freshman Tessa Barcelo claims, “It’s, like, literally the best stress reliever.” In her free time, she not only listens to music, but also makes her own as a way to combat the sudden changes that come with the transition from middle school to high school.
Emme Pitts, a sophomore, recently experienced a panic attack brought on by the copious amounts of homework assigned by her various teachers. “Then I started listening to music afterwards,” she says, “like nice music, and I actually started breathing again for the first time.” Experiences like that make it hard to deny the magical, stress-relieving power of melodies.
As for whether or not it actually improves focus, Pitts and Barcelo disagree. The former is a firm believer that an upbeat tune improves her productivity, while the latter finds that certain subjects benefit from a musical accompaniment while others are better left solo. “It really depends on what I’m doing,” Barcelo says, while Pitts is more than happy to “work to the beat of a song.”
Guidance counselor Ms. Dwyer says that the subject of listening to music while working often comes up in parent meetings. She says, “I think that more often than not if a student is telling their parent or guardian that in some way it’s helpful, then figuring out a way to make it work [would be best].” This also goes for music in the classroom. Dwyer hopes that if there are students who find that listening to music during class is beneficial to them, then they will approach their teacher with a proposal either to put on some music as a group or listen individually. She even likes the idea of putting on some music, “something on the more soothing side,” over the loudspeakers sometime during the school day.
In this day an age, it seems that music has become an integral part of our lives. While we may not use it for the same purposes–be them escaping from the hectic world, calming down after a panic attack, bopping along while finishing a worksheet, or simply kicking back and enjoying the tones of a favorite artist–music impacts most teenagers’ lives in one way or another. These days, almost everyone throws in some earbuds every now and then and takes time to just exist in the realm of melodies and harmonies. “We could spend a lot of time debating whether or not that’s good or not,” says Dwyer, “or [spend time] just trying to find ways that it can help people.”