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Marcus Cherrill on how to transform your classroom with music – PP135


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Mike and Kevin spoke to Marcus Cherrill this week about how to transform a classroom with music.

Marcus is a Digital Champion, educator, trainer and consultant who is also Director of I Can Teach Ltd. Amongst other roles, he spent 15 years as a head of year, teaching science but also maths, ICT and even Italian and French. Marcus also did a short spell at an EBD schools for boys which he describes as ‘eye opening’.

Marcus Cherrill
Marcus Cherrill

Marcus established I Can Teach in 2007 which was a side project to enable teachers to use music in the classroom. In 2015 he finally decided to work for himself full time.

How can music have a positive effect on learning and behaviour?

Marcus believes music is very powerful – it has a huge cognitive and emotional impact. You only need to consider military marching bands and Zulu warriors beating their shields to know that there is something primeval about music. It’s deeply embedded into our psyches to respond to rhythms, to lyrics, to different sounds. When it’s used carefully and constructively it can make a real difference.

How can we use it?

Marcus mentions the work of Julian Treasure who has done a lot in the area of background music for shops. His company creates ‘Soundscapes’ which have been shown to have an impact on shopping trends and spending habits in retail. Marcus believes we can apply the same kind of psychology to a classroom. He ‘trains’ students to behave in certain ways when they hear certain kinds of music. He uses calming ‘chill out’ music for after break times, for example, and for other times he employs ‘wake up’ music to get the students active and burning off energy.

Volume is really important but try putting on the theme music to Mission Impossible if you have a 3-minute timed task.

You can even have fun by taking children back to their earlier days as a warm up and playing ‘Head Shoulders Knees and Toes’!


Marcus thinks the use of music can be very empowering. If teachers offer choices to students over what music they use to accompany different kinds of work, it can be very powerful. So thy idea can be flipped. The teacher can be in charge and ask the students why she has chosen a particular type of music or the students can be in charge.

You have to experiment as different music means different things to different people but you can take risks as well. Try the ‘William Tell Overture’ in a primary classroom for tidying up time!

Aaron Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ – what a great way to introduce a guest speaker!

Creating a class playlist with the class at the beginning of a year reinforces the idea that it’s a partnership, you are a facilitator and the teacher is no more important than anyone else in the class.

Marcus’ website, Music 4 Learning, is intended to allow teachers to share playlists in 5 different categories.

Marcus’ other tips for tools to set a great climate for learning in a classroom:

  • Good seating – comfortable seating appropriate for the setting
  • A flexible seating plan – one which can be changed depending on what you are learning
  • Smell – just as important as sound!
  • Lighting
  • Colours of the walls
  • A sense of humour
  • A meet and greet at the door
  • Some surprises – questions under the seats, things hanging from the ceiling which weren’t there yesterday, interviews, Skype chats, guest appearances from other members of staff

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Join in with the positive reinforcement for one or two of your learners who have gone over and above each week. Use the hashtag #hotchocfri to share your pictures with us on twitter.

Send in your suggestions for guests!

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Read the full show notes on the Pivotal Education site

(Creative Commons Sound clip by Johnny Pixel Productions, Inc. –

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