THINQ Bonus Post: Using background music during thinking & creative activities

In the realms of education, music – beyond being just a learning subject – can also be used as a teaching aid and a classroom management tool, offering several benefits as it (Wood & Allen, 2012, p.viii):

  1. Acts directly on the body (metabolism and heartbeat).
  2. Relaxes the mind, lowers stress levels that inhibit learning and increases alpha waves boosting memory and recall.
  3. Stimulates and awakens.
  4. Is a state-changer.
  5. Aids memory, both supporting anchoring learning in memory and inspiring emotions.

Using (appropriate) background music while participants are working on thinking and creative activities can potentially have positive effects. Albert Einstein considered that music was in some ways an extension of his thinking processes, a method of allowing the subconscious to solve particularly tricky problems (Clark, 2007). A study by He, Wong, and Hui (2017) concluded that music listening enhances creative thinking. An interesting finding was that this happens irrespectively of whether music induces positive or negative emotions, as long as it successfully arouses emotions.

Beyond creativity, results from a series of other studies (e.g. Schellenberg, 2006) suggest that music can positively affect performance on various cognitive tasks. According to the arousal-and-mood hypothesis (Thompson, Schellenberg & Husain, 2001), these positive effects of music are indirect. Music works as a mediator, directly affecting arousal and mood, which then boost cognitive skills. This theory also sheds some light on why some individuals benefit from music listening, whereas others do not. 

Music in the classroom reduces stress, increases productivity, regulates energy, and creates a relaxed, supportive learning environment (Davies, 2000). During an activity, music provides rhythm and structure and also masks out background noise. It can even reduce the anxiety of students during exams (Lai et al., 2008).

Tikkanen and Iivari (2011) examined a variety of roles music may have in the design process with children and concluded that it provides inspiration and novel imaginative ideas, supports concentration, participation, and intensive working. Savan (1999) observed that when Mozart orchestral compositions were played during science lessons the co-ordination skills and concentration span of pupils with emotional and behavioral difficulties were considerably improved. 

Some concerns about the use of music

There is some skepticism regarding the actual effect of music on children’s cognitive and academic performance (Črnčec, Wilson, and Prior, 2006) since the currently available evidence is rather limited and inconclusive. Additionally, Lehmann & Seufert (2017) suggest that background music may negatively affect learners with low working memory capacity because they cannot process the information in the learning material in addition to the music. They also advise that, when background music is used, “songs with lyrics are potentially more distracting than instrumental melodies and music with other modes or tempos could possibly evoke obstructive emotions for learning.” 

In the workshops I organize, I always use music during the creative/thinking activities and my observations conclude that it has a positive effect on audiences of all ages. It definitely adds to the overall atmosphere, mood, and playfulness of the group and has a nice soothing impact. Also, after a few repetitions (I always use the same piece), it becomes a kind of a habit. When participants hear it, they instantly get in a “thinking/creative state.”  Probably the best evidence I have regarding its positive effect comes from the times where music was “not there,” either due to my mistake or because of a temporary technical problem. Its absence was immediately noticed and participants (and me) felt like something was missing. 

The musical piece that I (almost always) use is “Waltz No. 2” from the Suite for Variety Orchestra by Dmitri Shostakovich. Still, keep in mind that in order for music to have a positive effect, it has to be appreciated, preferred, and culturally-relevant to the listeners (Mohan & Thomas, 2020). So, if this is not working for you, try something else.

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination and life to everything.


This post concludes the THINQ series (Trivial, Hard, Impossible & Nonsense Questions), a special feature on questioning by Dimitris Grammenos, PhD.

We hope you enjoyed this step-by-step approach to inquiry-based question generation and formulation, and that you discovered some practical tips for implementing it, whether in the classroom or the boardroom. We’d love to hear your feedback as soon as you integrate THINQ in your learning community. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below if you need our help to do so! We thank Dimitris for his commitment to making questioning stimulating, diverse, and most importantly … fun! 

Liked the THINQ series? Subscribed to read more from the 100mentors blog!

Clark, R., W. (2007). Einstein: The Life and Times. Bloomsbury Reader.

Črnčec, R., Wilson, S. J., & Prior, M. (2006). The Cognitive and Academic Benefits of Music to Children: Facts and fiction, Educational Psychology, 26:4, 579-594, DOI: 10.1080/01443410500342542

Davies M-A (2000). Learning … the Beat Goes on, Childhood Education, 76:3, 148-153.
He Wu-Jing, Wong Wan-Chi and Hui Anna N.-N. (2017). Emotional Reactions Mediate the Effect of Music Listening on Creative Thinking: Perspective of the Arousal-and-Mood Hypothesis. Frontiers in Psychology 8: 1680.

Lai, H.-L., Chen, P. W., Chen, C. -J., Chang, H. -K., Peng, T.-C., Chang, F.-M. (2008). Randomized crossover trial studying the effect of music on examination anxiety. Nurse Education Today, 28, 909–916.

Lehmann, J.A., & Seufert, T. (2017). The Influence of Background Music on Learning in the Light of Different Theoretical Perspectives and the Role of Working Memory Capacity. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.

Mohan A. & Thomas, E. (2020). Effect of background music and the cultural preference to music on adolescents’ task performance, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25:1, 562-573, DOI: 10.1080/02673843.2019.1689368

Savan, A. (1999). The effect of background music on learning. Psychology of Music, 27(2), 138–146.

Schellenberg, E. G. (2006). Exposure to music: The truth about the consequences. In G. E. McPherson (Ed.), The child as musician: A handbook of musical development (p. 111–134). Oxford University Press.

Thompson, W.F., Schellenberg, E.G., & Husain, G. (2001). Arousal, mood, and the Mozart effect. Psychological Science, 12, 248-251.

Tikkanen, R. and Iivari, N. (2011). The role of music in the design process with children. In Proc. of INTERACT’11. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 288-305.

Wood, W.W., & Allen, R. (2012). The rock ‘n’ roll classroom: Using music to manage mood, energy and learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Dimitris is a Principal Researcher at the Institute of Computer Science of the Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH). He specializes in Human-Computer Interaction and also holds a Certificate of Competency for the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). Since 2014, he develops and delivers workshops and events that introduce the concepts and practice of design, creativity and creative thinking to children, parents, teachers and the general public. Up to now, he has run more than 55 workshops in 5 countries with a total of about 3500 participants.

2 comments On THINQ Bonus Post: Using background music during thinking & creative activities

  • This does work. When in school, I used to play music while studying. It keeps your focus and helps you study. Those were not the days of music therapy. I would do it to create interest in studies. Music does help us in many ways, and it is proven to be effective.

  • great article! Thank you for sharing. This is a very informative post, and I’m looking forward to the latest one.

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