Science + Music = An Interesting Take on Learning

So midterms are coming up, and continuing along the same vein of this course here are a couple interesting examples of scientists and professors communicating their profession through song.

First up is a collection of songs entitled “Metabolic Melodies” written by Dr. Kevin Ahern, a biochemistry professor just across the border at Oregon State University. What really separates his examples apart from others floating around the web are the excellent production values. Rather than writing new melodies for his songs, he takes existing popular music tunes from artists like Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles and uses them to create quick, catchy study aids. By using familiar music the songs are more likely to get stuck in your head and thus are better able to retain the information. Also, although the listener at home will use it to supplement their studying, Dr. Ahern uses the songs in class and performs them live. As the videos on his website show, the performances are an excellent way to add energy to a lecture. Plus, instructing the students to sing along karaoke style to words displayed on an overhead seems to be a highly effective teaching technique. Unfortunately viewing them requires a YouTube account, so it is best to follow the links rather than embedding them here.

Here is a link to his full list of songs, as well as aforementioned videos. It’s worth it just to check out the names given to the various songs and which melodies he uses. My personal favourites are En-er-gy (to the tune of “Let It Be”) and The Tao of Hormones (to the tune of “The Sound of Silence”).

Finally here is a mainstay of science music, the venerable “The Elements” by Tom Lehrer. Written all the way back in 1959 it is popular enough that there is even an app for that. The Elements for iPad provides a nice animation along with the tune.

Here are both the song + animation and it’s Wikipedia entry for reference:

4 responses to “Science + Music = An Interesting Take on Learning

  1. I just recently finished reading Levitin’s, “This Is Your Brain On Music” (which I definitely recommend) which discussed all the different neuroanatomical, physiological, and sensory effects music has on the brain, so this is a really interesting take on how it can be further purveyed into its possible effects on learning.

    Personally, I have tried a number of memorization techniques (mnemonics, acronyms, random association, etc) over the duration of my university career, and have stumbled across a couple people that actually utilize this method of melody and lyric to help them with their studies. I don’t know if it’s because of my lack of creativity, but I’ve never really been able to get the hang of it. I feel if you’re able to devise your own tune that wouldn’t superimpose the lyrics already associated with another song, it may be prove to be helpful (maybe at least for those that have had problems with this in the past).

    Nonetheless, very interesting topic. If only the words from my PSYC 304 textbook would engrain themselves in my head instead of Ke$ha’s latest quasi-sensational hit, life would be a lot easier.

  2. My 2nd year chem 202 professor actually sang the “element” song in class (He teaches coordination chem and likes hawaiian shirts).

    For me, the lyrics just keep rumbling; I’m not sure if any information actually retained :(. Very nice efforts though!
    Fitting the lyrics in the right place, could be actually be a difficult job. I love the enthusiasm from the professor (Dr. Ahern)! Interesting take on learning, indeed.

  3. “Biochemistry Pie” is pretty cute and it definitely echoes the woes of some of my friends taking biochemistry courses right now. I have not had any professors singing yet at UBC, however I have had one act as Charles Darwin and another dance. Unfortunately, the songs probably would not help me to study because I would think of the actual lyrics when hearing the metabolic melody. I read before that when studying it is better to listen to music with no lyrics or lyrics you cannot understand so that your focus is not divided into processing lyrics.

  4. Is it just me, or are there a lot of science-themes songs being released these days? Though I don’t remember most of the science content after the song is over (partly because of my bad memory and also because the jargon can be a little much) I’m always amused. Plus, it’s an interesting way to spark some interest in people who know nothing about the subject!