Music, Tempo and Language Acquisition: Does the Speed of Music Affect the Ability to Retain New Language?

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Updated on Mar 28, 2013

Grade Level: 6th - 8th; Type: Other (Psychology)


Music is often used as a study aid by students. Music affects the psyche as well, according to pitch, passages and tempo. This projects addresses only tempo, and whether faster or slower music works better as a study aid.

Research Questions:

  • How does tempo affect the psyche?
  • How effective is rote memorization
  • What groups of languages are related?

Background music is becoming more and more a constant facet of daily life. Café’s, iPods and increased computer memory have allowed for us to carry libraries of music in a space the size of a thick credit card. Given that silence is rarely a feature of the urban existence, it is worthwhile to know what types of music most affect our productivity. This project aims to study the role of tempo, and its effect on memory retention.


  • Two musical pieces with drastically different tempos, but similar harmonic structures (both happy, both sad, etc.) IF you would like to be more thorough, you could take one song and slow down the tempo in an editing program like Garage Band or Pro tools.
  • Vocabulary lists of 20 words. The words should be translated into several different languages ( i.e French, Spanish, German, Tagalog, etc) so as to have the option of using a list that the test subject does NOT know ahead of time.
  • Several test subjects. Using a similar age group as a constant.
  • Personal music device like an iPod or other MP3 player.
  • Time piece, on an iPod, cell phone, etc.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Select two musical pieces that have a similar melodic structure, but vastly different tempos. Count how many beats per minute each song has. 60 bpm is considered slow, while 165 bpm is considered fast.
  2. If needed, loop the songs or create a playlist that repeats the songs.
  3. Draw up a list of 20 words, translated into several languages.
  4. Chose a test subject. Make sure you are familiar with what languages your subject speaks- he or she should have to memorize the words in a language that they are NOT familiar with.
  5. Allow them to listen to the slow tempo song. Have them memorize the list while they listen to the song. At a defined amount of time later ( 1 hour, 1 day- it doesn’t matter as long as you are consistent) give them the list in their native language, and ask them to write down as many of the words in the other language as they can remember.
  6. You will likely need to assign a value to ‘how right’ their answer is, for example, 1 point could be given for perfect recall, 0.5 for within one or two letters, or 0 for a word that bears little resemblance to the actual word.
  7. Give a total score to their performance, and convert it to ‘percentage correct.’
  8. Repeat steps 4-7, this time using a different language and the fast tempo song.
  9. Repeat steps 4-8 with several different subjects.
  10. Average all of your data. This information could best be represented in a bar graph, comparing slow and fast tempo recall.

Terms/Concepts: Tempo; Bpm (beats per minute); Memorization; Romance languages; Rote memorization; Melodic structure, Major and minor keys


Shumit DasGupta has worked for OSHA, UMBS, and Pfizer as a contract researcher, is a ten year veteran in science education, and has taught students in the International Baccalaureate program in both Chicago and San Francisco. Four of his students have made it to states, and one to nationals- the year it was held in Hawaii- and he was sad he couldn't chaperon. He also loves snorkeling.

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