Just Can’t Get You Out Of My Head: Science in Song
When was the last time you heard a song based on science?
These kinds of parody and theme songs seem to represent the direction of science song writing currently, and while they are genuine science communication, they seem to be intended primarily as light entertainment rather than as a tool to promote understanding of, and enthusiasm in science.
Yet there is an underground side to science song writing which has a great deal of value. I am talking about the use of song as a learning tool.
If I asked you to repeat back to me word for word a short spoken passage, chances are you would get the general idea right but would not be able to recite the exact words you had heard, even after a few repetitions. If instead I was to write a song with rhymes, a catchy melody and consistent rhythm, with lyrics the same as the spoken passage, the recall would be greatly increased. This exact situation has been studied by Greg Crowther in his article “Learning to the Beat of a Different Drum“. He had one group of university students listen to Billy Joel’s “You’re my Home”, while another group listened to an unaccompanied male voice speaking the lyrics. After three listens the students who had listened to the song were recalling approximately double the amount of words than the students who had listened to the prose alone.
The complex words and concepts present in most science lend themselves especially well to representation by song. It allows ideas to be set out in a logical and straight forward way, and can return to and repeat important concepts if needed.
A particularly good example of this is “The Nano Song”. I am about to finish my undergraduate degree in nanotechnology, yet would have some trouble explaining exactly what nanotechnology is to most adults, let alone children. However this song manages to give a concise yet reasonably broad summary of nanotechnology as a whole, in a format understandable to children, which most people would want to listen to again.
When the power of learning through song is linked to the complex ideas and words inherent in most science, science song writing becomes a powerful pedagogic tool. Lynda Jones, president of the Science Songwriters Association, puts it better than I know how to;
“The brain learns best, regardless of age, with multi-sensory stimuli, and music is an important component of that. The ideal learning experience would include the stimulation of sight, sound, rhythm, touch, movement, taste, smell, emotion and intellect, followed by the opportunity to recite, review, reflect, discuss, and respond. TV advertisers, who must get their messages across in less than a minute, strive to appeal to as many of these as possible. Why should education do any less?
A catchy and carefully constructed academic song will address many of the above requirements for optimum learning, namely, sound, rhythm, emotion, and intellect, and leave an impression that invites recitation, review, and reflection. The power of teaching through music has only just begun to be tapped.”
If you are interested in learning more about science song writing check out to the Science Songwriters Association website, or if you want to listen to some science songs head over to the Sing About Science and Maths database.
Have you ever used music to aid in the retention of information?
Got any good science songs to share?
Do you think music is or could be an effective form of science communication?
Only one way to let me know… Comment!
Crowther, G. (2006) Learning to the Beat of a Different Drum. Connect vol. Mar-Apr ’06 pp. 11-13.