Four Ways to Invigorate Learning and Performance with Music

by Diane Berenbaum

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”—Berthold Auerbach 

We all know that music can make us feel good, but we may not realize all the good it can do for our body and minds…as well as our training programs.

1.  Improve Thinking and Performance

“Music is the art of thinking with sounds.”—Jules Combarieu

Think back to your early years—chances are you learned the alphabet by singing the ABCs. As a child, I remember singing that song any time I had to put items in alphabetical order. That little ditty helped me recall the letters of the alphabet, in the right order, every time. Why? According to Kimberly Hare and James Smallwood, “Music has the ability to affect our learning processes, brain development, organization and the refinement of our entire neurological system. Music elicits emotional responses and stimulates the limbic system, which must be accessed in order for learning to be encoded into long-term memory.” 

The research is clear—Music improves recall and retention, as well as performance and productivity. Egyptians built their pyramids to the rhythmic beat of music; World War II defense plants found that production and morale improved with a musical background. And, a Midwestern University study found that factory workers' production rose 17 percent when soft background music was played during their task.

So how can you tap into music to motivate your participants and improve their learning during training and their performance on the job?


2.  Make an Impact in your Training Programs—Try a Musical Kinetic Brainstorming Exercise

“For changing people's manners and altering their customs, there is nothing better than music.”—Shu Ching

When associates walk into training program, you can almost read what is going through their minds by their facial expressions. Oftentimes you can tell they are thinking “I really don't have time for this” or, “This better be good because my work is piling up.” I've seen the most skeptical looking associates loosen up and smile when they hear music at the start of a program. Music sends the message—“This program will be different.  It won't be boring; it will be a fun, learning experience”—far better than any words you can say.

Gary Trotta, of Training Games Inc., suggests that facilitators put a few key messages of their training programs to music. By playing these messages during the session, they can be sure that their participants will be singing them and remembering them for a long time. 

He also offers a way to do brainstorming using the elements of music and movement. Go to for details on how, in just 25 minutes, you can engage your group and get them thinking, interacting and sharing ideas on the core topics of your program.

3.  Uplift and Motivate Yourself and Others

“When I hear music, I fear no danger, I am invulnerable, I see no foe.”  Henry David Thoreau 

Music's unique combination of words, rhythm, cadence, pitch and tone can create powerful responses within all of us. A song can trigger memories and nostalgic moods. Whenever I hear Seals and Crofts' “We May Never Pass this Way Again,” I am instantly thrust back into my high school days. And Kool and the Gang's “Celebrate” makes me smile for, believe it or not, it was my wedding song.

We all have songs that touch the depths of our hearts and evoke an array of emotions, feelings and hopes. There's nothing like music to help people feel better after a tough day, ready for a challenge or inspired to make a change in their lives.

As a facilitator, if you find just the right song with meaningful and relevant lyrics, you can send a message stronger than any lecture ever could. Close a program with this song and leave participants with a thoughtful and memorable reminder of your session. The music will not only reinforce your learning points, but it will also encourage them to remember and reflect on their experience.

4.  Don't Just Listen, Participate!

“Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”—Sergei Rachmaninov

Active participation in music, such as singing or playing an instrument, can yield more benefits than you might imagine. It helps improve concentration, quicken senses and relieve stress. Singing is beneficial for our breathing organs, learning a new song stimulates the mind and playing the piano is good for arthritis. 

I've experienced the difference singing can make. A few years ago, I decided to join a group called The Treblemakers, an ensemble of 16 women who perform toe-tapping music for local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. There is no question that being a Treblemaker keeps our minds sharp as we memorize new songs and dance steps every year. But, it also provides each of us with a tremendous feeling of caring and camaraderie, as well as a deep sense of accomplishment and purpose.

Stay in Tune with Music

So, if you want to stay in tune mentally and physically, on the job or at home, go ahead and grab your ipod, pop in a CD or sing in the shower. You'll feel your stress ease and your body relax…and you'll be humming in no time.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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