Video Game Music in the Classroom

During a school day other teachers wander into my room as I teach. Occasionally they will remark on how wonderful it is to hear classical music emanating from a classroom, and how pleasant it is to see students appreciating quality music as they complete their work. As they leave, the students share a collective smirk; that teacher doesn’t know that Sir is playing the Halo soundtrack.

I’m not the first person to see the benefit of using video game music whilst studying. Video game music is designed to be in the background. It is intended to be entertaining without becoming distracting. Whether you are trying to improve your concentration or make a laborious task more interesting, music from games offers a wonderful solution.

I enjoy a classroom environment where music is permitted. Whether I play any music at all will naturally depend on the class. Sometimes I use music as a reward; a sensible class knows they are doing well when they hear a tune playing (The more exceptional classes get to pick what’s playing). The right kind of music can also calm a noisy class or focus the distracted. The risk in that instance is that playing the music could make a bad situation worse, and impact on behaviour. Nevertheless, I am confident that video game music has always had a positive influence in the classroom.

Furthermore, video game music can be more than just background to a learning environment; it can be involved in the lesson. Regardless of the activity type or overall intention of the lesson, there is a game soundtrack out there that will meet the requirements. Below are some of the video game soundtracks and themes that I like to play in lessons, and for which activities they are selected.

Working in silence, revision and silent reading.

Let’s start with the basics. You want the students to enjoy an independent activity without becoming distracted. If the music could help them concentrate, that would be a major bonus.

My first port of call is the Journey Soundtrack:


This music has an instant calming effect, and each piece blends into the next so the change of track doesn’t distract the students. Some of those students have remarked that this music is a bit sad and depressing; in that case I skip to the more lighthearted tracks for a bit. On a side note, this is also one of the soundtracks I am using to convince the music teachers here to plan a set of lessons around video game music.

Another really good choice is the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack:

Happy, mellow and with lots of different sounds to keep your ‘audience’ listening, without anything so recognisable to leave them sitting back trying to work out where it’s from. I have however had to stop playing this in lesson. I’m getting very impatient for Kingdom Hearts III and don’t need reminding…

Working in a group and completing a project.

Sometimes you want something that will help concentration, but will also keep the tempo up. The Journey soundtrack won’t help here. You don’t want music that’s too frantic either, because then you are just adding a distraction. You want a group to work in harmony, or you wish to subtlety suggest that work should be happening at a brisk space.

The Halo soundtrack works really well here:

This soundtrack also works well for silent activities too, providing you pick and choose the right tracks. The first track is instantly recognizable, which adds some enjoyment (“It’s Halo! Woo!”) then the tracks pick up the pace.

If you want to kick things up a notch, and provide a real sense of urgency, try the Borderlands soundtrack:

There are some songs with lyrics in this list, which could be distracting. If you put those aside you end up with a serious, grittier sound to the backing of the lesson. There’s almost a sense that something bad will happen if the work doesn’t get finished.

Presenting or speaking in front of the class.

I am a teacher, so I have absolutely no issue with standing in front of a group of people and rambling on. The majority of people are a great deal more hesitant to take part in any form of public speaking. For students, this is especially true.

Students are much more confident in front of an audience when they are not the only focal point at the front of the room. If they have made a poster or presentation that they can gesture to, they are less aware of the eyes staring back. If they can take turns speaking with a friend, they can support each other. As it turns out, speaking over an inspiring piece of music also raises the confidence of the speaker.

Everything sounds just a bit more important over the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion soundtrack:

And you can’t fail to feel epic when accompanied by the Modern Warfare 2 soundtrack:

Debate, competition and timed activities.

Sometimes in lessons you want to mix things up by creating healthy competition. You might have them completing a task against the clock, or have them competing against each other. Discussion based lessons can also be a lot of fun. In many subjects organised debates are a superb source for enthusiastic learning, providing the students have a decent competitive streak.

One thing I like to do in History lessons is organise ‘Boxing Debates’. Don’t worry, there’s no violence involved. The students are paired off against one another and they verbally ‘battle’ to see who wins each ‘round’. Promoting a sense of competition in this and various other activities can be achieved with music.

The Super Smash Bros Brawl theme music makes for a great introduction to competitive lessons:

As the students enter they know that something is about to go down. Students that have already had one debate lesson recognize the tune the next time round, and are all the more eager to find out what the topic is and get stuck into the argument.

The Pokémon battle music gives the right level of urgency to any activity:

I’ve only used this music once, with Sixth Form students (ages 16-18). Since this worked so well as accompaniment to a ‘boxing debate’, I already have plans for what I’m going to do next time. Each of the ‘contenders’ in the match will have a health bar drawn on the board. The stronger there arguments, the more HP they take off each other.

Success and achievement in lessons.

Sometimes you want to know a student or group has done well. A quality presentation might deserve more than a round of applause. A sudden and delighted piece of positive music can proceed/follow the announcement of good news. There are quite a few cheerful jingles that can act as a reward for achievement, but I have my favourite.

The victory fanfare from Final Fantasy VII:

This works especially well to sound the end of a great group presentation or performance, because the fifty seconds of music that follows the fanfare makes for a nice transition while the next group gets ready.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few examples of how music from video games has made learning easier or more enjoyable for my students… and for me too, quite frankly. There are other ways that music helps:

  • The right music can set the tone/mood for a lesson, whether it be a more serious or silly topic.
  • Video game music set in a particular era can add authenticity to a topic, especially in history.
  • Music can be used as a timer. If you find a soundtrack that is an exact number of minutes, the students will know they need to stop when the music ends.

Thank You For Reading

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Author: Rufus Scott

I am a long term Gamer, a full-time History Teacher and a part-time geek. I enjoy writing about the positive aspects of gaming, especially when it comes to education. My posts are sometimes nostalgic, occasionally irrelevant, largely meant to provoke further discussion. I'll sometimes punctuate these whimsical ramblings with a random comment on gaming and/or teaching.

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