Mark McKergow suggests ways of using music to stimulate creativity in your pupils

A few years ago, a study by Susan Hallam of Oxford Brookes Unviersity concluded that suitable music could aid creative writing in school. 54 pupils aged 9 to 11 were divided into three groups and were asked to write an exciting story. Each group did so with different musical accompaniment – exciting music, calming music and no music. The results were compared and the calming music produced better stories than either no music or exciting music. The improvement was in the quality of the excitement, suspense and attention-holding qualities of the stories, rather than in the grammatical correctness (which showed no significant difference between groups).

A different way of using music to engage creativity can be found in the art room, where lively music can definitely help in producing creative work. Painting a storm at sea might be accompanied by the ‘dialogue between the wind and the sea’ movement from Debussy’s ‘La Mer’. Here, matching the music with the topic is vitally important, with emotion and dynamics to the fore.

A more lively way of introducing creativity into the classroom is with brainstorming or other idea-generation techniques. In this instance, a lively and sparkly track can help things along. Jazz, with its improvisation and flair, can be fun. Why not find music from the bebop era, or perhaps opt for something funky and mdoern? Don Campbell, author of ‘The Mozart Effect’ describes using Brazilian music in a similar way, as Latin and merengue grooves can be huge fun and energising at the same time. A few suggestions for soundtracks for creativity:

  • Tune Your Brain: Create with Debussy comes with an excellent booklet on creativity
  • Mozart Effect Volume 3: Unlock the Creative Spirit is more fiery and emotional than you might think
  • Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet includes the legendary ‘Take Five’ and other pieces with unexpected times and twists
  • Home Cookin’ (Blue Note) is a compilation of funky jazz from the last 30 years. get down!
  • Salsa Merengue Mambo (Hemisphere label) has lots of authentic jazz grooves.

This is an area where all kinds of music could work in the right setting. Please leave a comment if you have particular success with a certain piece of music that you have used to encourage creative writing or art.


1. Susan Hallam, The Effect of Background Music on Studying presented at the Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education Conference, The Effects of Music, Leicester, 2000