Musical Learning

by Dick McCann and Jan Stewart

Copyright © Dick McCann and Jan Stewart. All rights reserved.

This article has been reprinted from the Team Management Systems website. Please visit for further information or to contact the authors direct.

Music is a powerful medium and is becoming more widely used on management training programs and workshops.

Music has always been an integral part of primitive peoples' culture and traditions. Many tribal people use music to inspire their warriors, celebrate victories, weddings and births, and mourn deaths. In Western culture, music is used in a similar way. All nations have an anthem to play in times of celebration and to inspire national pride. Troops march off to war to music and are welcomed home with music. The majority of brides walk down the aisle to music and many sporting teams have anthems which their fans sing to urge them to victory.

Movie makers use music in their films to create mood and atmosphere. Few people who saw the movie Jaws would forget the music which set the scene for a shark attack. Music can be used to induce tears and laughter, create tension, bolster spirits and motivate. TV shows use theme music to announce their presence, some comedians have signature tunes, and advertisers use catchy tunes to sell their products. When we hear this tune again we immediately make the connection to the advertised product.

In kindergartens and primary schools music is one of the most important elements of teaching young children. The songs and rhymes we learn when we are young often stay with us most of our lives. Many parents revisit the songs with their children and realize they know all the words.

Music can remind us of both happy and sad times in our lives and bring the memories flooding back. Popular music tastes change and the music of the 60's sounds totally different from today's mass market music. Some people keep up with the trends where others prefer to stay with the past.

Which type of music to use?

After playing Chopin, I feel as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own.

(From The Critic as Artist by Oscar Wilde)

Much research has been conducted into the use of music as a mood induction procedure (MIP). Some music will elevate your mood whereas other music will depress you. More detail is in the recommended reading list below.

A simple four-fold model (the O2 model) can be useful in selecting music for management training workshops. It divides music into the categories of energetic or relaxing and whether it stimulates a focus on opportunities or obstacles.

The O2 Music Model

The O2 Music Model

Quadrant 1 music is toe-tapping music with a faster rhythm (greater than 100 beats per minute), simple melodies, a basic underlying beat and played predominantly in a major key. It helps us focus on the opportunities and induces a mood of gaiety. Often we feel energized, positive and optimistic, at least for a while!

Personal tastes vary a lot and will be a function of age, but some examples of music in this category, suggested by workshop participants, are:

  • Four Seasons - Allegro Movement (Vivaldi)
  • Brandenburg Concerto No 2 (Bach)
  • Blue Rondo a la Turk (Dave Brubeck)
  • Sh-Boom (The Crew Cuts)
  • Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Bach)

Quadrant 2 music has a slower beat than Quadrant 1 music (80-100 beats per minute) and is in general more complex music. Sometimes it is described as powerful, dramatic, soulful or grand music. It allows one to dwell on the problems of this world and become introspective.

In the classical arena examples of music in this quadrant include Ride of the Valkyries (Wagner: Die Walkure) and the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Handel: Solomon).

In the popular vein, examples include Yesterday by the Beatles and Bobby Goldsboro's Honey.

Many of the 'blues' pieces, such as those sung by Ray Charles, will also fit this quadrant.

Quadrant 3 music focuses on relaxation music that helps create opportunities or at least make them clearer. This type of music can be used to help generate internal images, a process we often call 'image-ination'.

Image-ination is associated with a brainwave frequency in the range 8-12 cycles per second. This is commonly known as the alpha state. Certain types of music actually help the generation of alpha rhythms and a state of 'creative day dreaming' or internal visualization can be induced. Music in this quadrant encourages a thoughtful or dreamlike mood because it lacks percussive rhythms and a strong underlying beat, and generally has legato melodic motives with repetitious, non-accentuated beats or unclear rhythmic pulses.

Quadrant 3 music is marketed by modern composers under the banner of new age music. This music is often written to a formula, where all semblance of a regular beat is removed. This leaves spaces between the musical phrases and allows a meditative mood to develop, thereby increasing the alpha brainwave pattern in the consciousness of the listener. Much of this music uses repetitive superimposed arpeggios of major chords.

This music also seems to produce 'long range' memories and therefore playing it while gathering information or studying can aid in the storage of key data in the mind. This particular technique is used in accelerated learning.

There are many CDs available which meet Quadrant 3 criteria. Some of our favorites are Petals (Rising Sun), The Best of Enya, Realm of the River King (David Pickvance) and A Collection of Romantic Themes (Yanni).

Adagio and andante movements of the baroque era are also very effective. Some of the most effective are:

  • Andante from Sinfonia in G, RV 149 (Vivaldi)
  • Andante from Flute Concerto in D (Telemann)
  • Piano Sonata in C# minor Opus 27 No.2 (Beethoven)

Quadrant 4 music tends in general to have a slightly slower beat (50-60 beats per minute) than quadrant three music, more use of harmonics, and minor keys. The pitch may well have a characteristic drone quality, often enhanced by the use of lower frequency string instruments like the cello. For some people, pure 'drone' music or chanting music can help create a state of relaxation where the focus is on obstacles rather than opportunities. Examples of music to fit this quadrant are:

  • Andante from Piano Concerto No. 21 (Mozart)
  • Adagio for Strings in G-Minor (Albinoni)
  • Largo Sostenuto from String Quartet No. 1 (Smetana)

Music can be one of the most effective devices you can use to make your workshops memorable. You can create the necessary mood for everything from motivation to creativity. Just because it is an important and serious training topic doesn't mean you can't have fun and enjoy music. A cup of coffee or tea and a dose of 'Always look on the bright side of life' tends to lift the mood of participants and put them in a lighter frame of mind, ready to assimilate the concepts of the day. Listed below are a number of practical suggestions for adding music to your workshops.

  • The music you play as participants enter the room will set the mood for the day. Take into account the type of participants you have in the room and also the reason they are attending the workshop.
  • Music for group activities tends to be more effective if it is instrumental, as lyrics can distract participants from the task at hand.
  • If your workshop program contains a number of different concepts, then choose a signature tune for each concept. It helps participants remember the theory more easily as it is not just words, it has a musical association for easier recall.
  • Any energizers or attention switchers used during the program to divide sessions into manageable sections can also have a music element to them.
  • Use a wide range of music styles, as your own particular music tastes don't always appeal to everyone. Moving from easy listening to classical and popular music will ensure that you have covered most peoples' music preferences. Titles and lyrics are very important as they can be used to emphasis a particular point in a theory.

Recommended reading

Copyright © Dick McCann and Jan Stewart. All rights reserved.

About the Authors

With a background in science, engineering, finance and organizational behavior, Dick McCann has consulted widely for organizations such as BP, Hewlett Packard and Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank. Dick is co-author and developer of the Team Management Systems concepts and products and also author of the QO2TM, Window on Work Values and The Linking Leader. Involved in TMS operations worldwide for over 15 years, Dick is Managing Director of TMS Australia, a Director of TMS Development International and President of Team Management Systems Inc.

Jan Stewart is a freelance writer and columnist. She is a master trainer in Team Management Systems and was, for eight years, a TMS Product Development Manager and program facilitator.

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