Can Music Make Science More Engaging?

Science is complex and the entire body of scientific literature currently in existence is too vast for any single person to completely understand. Indeed it is entirely likely that if a person were to devote their entire lifetime to the study of science that person would understand only a very small fraction of today’s scientific knowledge. Science contributes to culture in many ways. One facet of this contribution is the communication of science to the general public. If the devoted scientist is able to master only a very small fraction of scientific knowledge then for the general public this fraction is very much smaller. There are many competing interests. If science does not feature centrally in someone’s work then in their own time there would need to be a very strong motivation for them to sit down and to learn more about science.

Without an effective means of communicating science to the general public this science ‘literacy’ is diminished. There are indeed many effective strategies for communicating science and there are many people or organisations doing this quite effectively. However one effective very medium for engaging with the public is music. One needs only look at the leading contemporary musicians to see a connection with the public. Needless to say personality and hard work behind the scenes play a significant role. The structure of the music also plays a significant role. The voice, instruments, lyrics, rhythm, melody, harmony and acoustic engineering combine to bring popular appeal.

This brings me neatly to the point of this post. If we have science explanations in a text format can we add music to make this more engaging? Writing science songs is hardly a new idea. Here are a few videos I found on YouTube illustrating the point.

The Elements Song

The Large Hadron Rap

My suggestion however is slightly more simple and practical – to use the medium of YouTube to convert text into a music video. This is a fairly simple approach and suitable for people with limited resources for generating videos with more complex soundtracks. In other words it is a relatively easy way to communicate written text in a more engaging way. YouTube makes it easy to do this. Youtube as well as a number of software packages enable the conversion of text slides into videos. Then it is a simple matter of choosing suitable audio tracks on YouTube and publishing the video.

Although there are potential benefits to this approach there are some drawbacks as well. Sometimes the audio may not be well matched to the video and the video may have to be crafted to the soundtrack rather than the other way around. Another drawback is that turning static text into dynamic text requires technical solutions of varying complexity although this is a fast evolving area. There is also the possibility that a person could simply switch off the sound and listen to some other music in the background. The music has to bring something to the production.

There are other problems. Although it appears intuitively that music can add value to the communication of science, there needs to be an evidence base. Additionally there are various pieces of research that suggest music can either enhance or interfere with learning.

On the other hand there is a lot of new music being generated. Leaving science ‘out of the loop’ has the potential to impair the contribution of science to culture and decrease appeal. Science also offers a structured body of knowledge that can be strategically used within a musical ‘movement’ to offer narrative, educational and economic value and to link areas within culture. Licensing instrumentals with a creative commons license would enable musicians to add lyrics and for the audience to decide on the most successful solutions. This discussion is limited not just to science communication but by inference also to Public Health. Indeed there are a number of educational videos in which people carry out Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in time to the Bee Gees ‘Staying Alive’ (e.g one video produced by the British Heart Foundation).

So below is one of the earlier posts featuring a theoretical discussion of Evolutionary Psychiatry. The video has been combined with different types of music to examine the potential to engage with different audiences. The music ranges from Classical to Jazz and features vocals including Barry White.

World Music Version

Rock Version

R&B Version

Pop Version

Metal Version

Jazz Version

Hip Hop/Rap Version

Easy Listening Version

Dance and Electronic Version

Country and Folk Version

Classical Version

Blues Version

Alternative and Punk Version

Acoustic Version

Appendix

6 Problem Areas in Evolutionary Psychiatry and a Suggestion of Some Principles for their Resolution

The Rise of the Science DJ

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

6 thoughts on “Can Music Make Science More Engaging?

  1. hypercryptical

    A fascinating post and science is indeed complex. I found when entering (MH) nursing as a mature student that my knowledge of science was quite limited, this due to many factors but especially that of a much fractured education. But this is by the by.

    I found the two YouTube videos enjoyable and perhaps educational – but the information didn’t stick. It is probable that if I required the knowledge they imparted I would have found this an excellent form of learning and therefore committing to memory.

    The dynamic text I found distracting and eventually learnt to ignore it for it moved at a slower pace than I read. Music of course is a personal thing and I realise the variations were to suit all tastes and after having a little taste of the first two offerings I clicked onto classical and was happy there, nevertheless I had to play around with the volume for if ‘too loud’ I focused on the music and not the text. I found it difficult to find a happy medium and realised that (what I knew already) for me music must be way in the background for otherwise it becomes a diversion from and not an aid to learning.

    That said I realise I am ancient in today’s terms and perhaps science and music combined may be an ideal learning tool for the younger generations.

    “On the other hand there is a lot of new music being generated. Leaving science ‘out of the loop’ has the potential to impair the contribution of science to culture and decrease appeal. Science also offers a structured body of knowledge that can be strategically used within a musical ‘movement’ to offer narrative, educational and economic value and to link areas within culture.”

    Mmmmh…not quite sure that science will be leaving itself ‘out of the loop’ and that adding music will make science more appealing to ‘the masses.’ Does the problem lie in schools or elsewhere? The only article I could find relating to this is here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/15/a-level-overhaul-science-decline and you may find the comments of interest.

    I would agree the BHR CPR ‘Staying Alive’ video is/was very effective.

    Kind regards
    Anna :o]

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  2. Dr Justin Marley Post author

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks for your interesting comment. Musically the elements video is excellent. To make it more educational there should be a little more about the elements in the lyrics – the song would probably last about 10 minutes. However i’ve met lots of people who’ve committed song lyrics to memory – ‘a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’.

    The dynamic text point is a good one – maybe its not adding anything. Classical has been more favoured in other videos i’ve used although this is the first time i’ve used many of the other genres.

    In terms of being ‘left out of the loop’ i’m thinking of the ‘debate’ that happens in culture through the medium of pop music. This music explores many contemporary issues and takes a central stage. If science was packaged in the same way it could become part of the debate. In addition if musicians were focusing on packaging science in this way they would be providing not only entertainment but education of sorts – infotainment with all of the various ramifications.

    I checked out the article and the comments – this approach would certainly generate a marketplace and if the science literacy rate in the general population increased there might be more of a role for scientists in the economy.

    It is speculation but great to be starting the debate!

    Thanks again

    Kind regards

    Justin

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  3. George Dawson, MD, DFAPA

    Loved the Large Hadron Rap.

    Rather than communicate it – music has always set the tone to study and do science to me. In college, our general and organic chemistry labs were wired with state of the art sound systems to play the popular music of the day and at appropriate times as loud as we would like to hear it. At about the same time I prepared for my physics exams playing a particular rock and roll song at loud volumes for extended periods of time. That approach does not work well for lectures, but I think that the heightened emotion improves focus and at some level esprit de corps.

    Chemistry majors were never cool until we had the big sound in the chem lab.

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  4. Dr Justin Marley Post author

    Hi Dr Dawson

    Thanks for your comments. I agree, music helped and helps me study. There are times when it motivating and others when it is distracting.
    I often think about whether it can deliver science to a wider audience. Imagine if you could have a science opera with engaging plots and characters as well as vocals which at the end gives the audience an insight into part of science they would never have understood otherwise. The same applies to songs like the Large Hadron Rap.
    I’m not sure of the answer but in the meantime like you it can be very helpful when studying or reading.

    Regards

    Justin

    Like

  5. Pingback: Can Music Make Science More Engaging? | Background Music | Scoop.it

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