It started with The Mozart Effect. That’s the name for research first put forth by Alfred A. Tomatis (and later by others, eventually trademarked by Don Campbell, Inc.) which claims that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, may have beneficial effects on some kinds of mental skills. Some musician friends asked me if I thought it had any effect on math. I didn’t know.
I have always been on the lookout for any technique which would improve learning. Since I considered my classroom a living laboratory, and I had plenty of music to play on the computer, I decided to give it a try. Please understand, that although I considered this an experiment in learning, it could hardly be considered scientific. I had no way to do a control group or any kind of double blind testing. I just figured I’d play with the idea and see what happened.
My Mozart Effect experiment did have some startling outcomes, but I can’t say it improved mathematics performance in my class in any measurable way.
I played Mozart for weeks. Just as I was about to conclude that my students were all deaf, I heard Maria whistling. Here was a beautiful waif of the inner city absentmindedly whistling the Romance (Andante) from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik! I was thunderstruck! I was so amazed that I forgot to chide her that whistling is not part of normal classroom protocols.
I said, “Maria! Have you any idea what you are whistling?”
Maria said, “Oh, it’s that damned song you keep playing. I can’t get it out of my head!”
Well, never let it be said that Herr Mozart had no effect.
I tried other music as well. Miles Davis was well received but didn’t improve performance. Beethoven made us all nervous. He demanded active listening which was a distraction. Bach was a disaster.
I had this great CD: E. Power Biggs plays Bach Organ Favorites. But Toccata and Fugue in D Minor got everybody talking about Dracula. The other organ pieces got even worse reactions. Someone may seem to hear well but understand poorly. No wonder teaching is difficult! I couldn’t understand the problem until Daryl spoke up, “Hey Mr. D. what is that stuff you’re playing? It sounds like we’re at a funeral.” I had forgotten how many of my students had experienced untimely death in their young lives and how often Bach is played at funerals.
I tried to recover. I blithely said, “That’s Johann Sebastian Bach.”
Daryl was shocked. “No! They didn’t call him that. Is that really what they called him?”
“That’s his name,” I said.
“You’re kidding,” said Daryl. “They really called him Johann ‘The Bastard’ Bach?”
Someone may seem to hear well but understand poorly.