Background Music with Homework? Part 3: Music in Society

A continuation from Background Music with Homework? Part 2 -Stress, emotions and music and Part 1. I recommend you read these first.

As said in the previous blog, music evokes emotion, and emotion affects physiological change. Consequently music has the power to change us not only mentally but also physically. Hence, music is used widely in society to manipulate purchasing behaviour in marketing, performance in sports psychology, and well-being through music therapy. As for  any impact on learning and thinking skills, you’ll need to wait until the next post for that.

In the early 1980’s occurred a seminal study on the impact of different types of music on purchasing behaviour. Known as the famous ‘wine shop’ experiment, the purchasing behaviour of clients was noted under two different conditions: 1) popular ‘party’ type music (let’s say Kylie Minogue), and 2) the more posh, up-market music of Chopin. What happened? Contrary to what you might have thought, the quantity of purchase was not impacted, but rather the quality of purchase per bottle price was. Under the ‘Chopin’ – that is, the classical music-type condition, patrons were spending a whopping 30% more per bottle. Music can powerfully effect the atmosphere and the way we feel. Under the classical music condition, patrons felt a bit more up-market and this affected their purchasing. Any good restaurant is well aware of this. If a 5-star establishment plays run of the mill pop music, people won’t spend. Patrons expect music to match the décor – and the prices. Can you imagine Rap music at the Ritz? This is called gestalt psychology; the atmosphere and the ambience must be in accord. Conversely, it would be pretty weird to hear Mozart playing in McDonalds – which of course is why some councils play Mozart at train stations – it just doesn’t do it for graffiti artists. The tempo of music effects one’s walking pace. In one study of the effectiveness of music in a national chain of supermarkets, the use of slow music increased sales over the use of fast music. Shoppers stayed in the store longer and purchased much more than the no-music condition. The average gain was 39.2%. Sound can permeate a space and reach all potential listeners simultaneously. Crowded shopping centres play music with a high tessitura with a simple texture -perhaps like Montavani strings on Bach – to create an illusion of spaciousness. We could go on, but what about sport performance?

One of the most interesting studies of recent times was from a university in Queensland.

According to Australian Olympic sports psychologist Peter Terry, when people exercise to music they use one to 2% less oxygen and can run for 18% longer. It is not clear why this is so, but it is a useful return on the investment. After exercise, slow music hastens recovery. In addition to offering these physical benefits music helps athletes achieve a state of mind conducive to their tasks. Australian swimmer Kieran Perkins attributed music as a key factor when he won the 1,500-metre Olympic gold medal in Atlanta in 1996. Perkins had a disastrous heat and just managed to qualify for the final. When interviewed about his remarkable turnaround Perkins said that for an hour before the race he focused his mind by listening to music. He won the gold medal in a world-record time. South African Olympian Brendon Dedekind uses pre-race music to energize himself but also for relaxation, focus, and privacy; music fast-tracks Dedekind’s emotional state before major sporting events. He says his choice of music is determined by his emotional requirements at the time. More recently US swimming superstar Michael Phelps has revealed his preference for listening to hip-hop to prime himself for big events. You might be interested to know that according to surveys, the most motivational song used is ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ by Survivor (tempo = 109 BPM).

We are increasingly understanding music’s effect on the body. A substantial amount of current medical research involves music and surgery. Post-operative recovery requires lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. In clinical trials, music’s ability to assist in establishing this desired physiology is encouraging.

What you have read in this  blog series thus far, along with Part 4 ‘Background music and homework’ (coming up next) forms part of my special presentation to students; ‘Study, Stress and Music’.

Excerpts from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin. Reviews below.

“Terrific…eminently practical…excellent discussion…I came away inspired and excited, and I heartily recommend it.” – Inge Southcott, The Music Trust, Australia.

“This book really does deliver…a great resource on a piano pedagogy list…wonderful support for the teacher.” – Dr L. Scott Donald for American Music Teacher.

“A deeply impressive work, the breadth of research is fascinating! It is Griffin’s combination of his many years of practical experience as a music educator and consultant, with his broad overview of research and primary sources that makes this book so valuable and unique. A combination of big-picture theories and ideas with immediately practical strategies and examples.”

front cover final

“Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ brings together recent developments in learning psychology and cognitive neuroscience and presents them in a very readable and engaging format. The strength of Griffin’s discussion lies in his clear explanations of the terminology as well as practical ways in which teachers can foster highly motivated, self-driven learners in both the classroom and private studio. This is a fascinating book, deserving of a wide readership. It provides clearly written explanations of a number of important developments in psychology and neuroscience, and articulates the benefits of music learning with convincing clarity. It’s a book to share with parents and senior students for the insights it provides on the benefits of sustained effort and perseverance –a message that can’t be heard often enough in our fast-paced, distracted, sound-byte-driven, contemporary society. Highly recommended.” – Dianne James, October, 2014 for Ritmico, New Zealand.

“Rarely do I come away feeling so inspired. Incredibly beneficial.” – Music Matters Blog

Amazon UK
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Australia: Contact for direct mail.

Also by Michael Griffin


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents.  “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

BookCoverPreview Bk 2

Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!”  – St George College, Australia

Available at

BookCover VR

‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 129 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“Will prove useful for almost everyone”- Rhinegold Music Teacher Magazine.

“This is a great resource to add to one’s library of rehearsal tricks.”- Anacrusis, ACCC, Canada

harmony bk cover

Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging.  Available at


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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Posted in Emotional intelligence, Multiple Intelligence, Music Education, Music psychology
One comment on “Background Music with Homework? Part 3: Music in Society
  1. Georgia Taylor says:

    I would love to know more about getting the link for your background playlist –
    Georgia Taylor
    Pipestone Area Schools

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