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How to Use Sound to Enhance Learning

children making sounds with clapping, singing, instruments and listening.
Children Playing with Sound

Sound is a powerful tool in education, influencing how we learn, retain information, and interact with others. Inspired by my conversation with Hayes Greenfield, the founder and lead educator of Creative Sound Play (a sound-based generative learning system for Pre-K), this article explores the benefits of incorporating sound into teaching practices in the classroom and at home.


Researchers have long studied the positive effects of music in education. In 2020, the study "The Effect of Music Intervention on Attention in Children: Experimental Evidence" aimed to understand music’s effectiveness in improving cognitive function. The researchers focused on attention, a crucial aspect of cognitive development, and examined the impact of music intervention. The results indicated significant improvement in attention control and switching following the music intervention. Additionally, further evidence suggests that music therapy helps regulate emotions, mood, and behavior. This is because the amygdala processes sensory input such as tempo, rhythm, and notes, determining emotional responses and stimulating behavior accordingly (Fernández-Sotos et al., 2016; Uhlig et al., 2016). These findings highlight music as a valuable resource in educational settings.

Sound-Based Pedagogy

picture of Hayes Greenfield, a man in a suit jacket looking into the camera with a black background
Hayes Greenfield
"Sound is ubiquitous, it's with us, it's part of nature, and sound is one of the things that children absolutely love and adore making and they plug into it. It's part of our DNA. Humans love it." -Hayes Greenfield

Sound-based pedagogy involves using sound intentionally in teaching. By incorporating the three elements of sound (pitch, volume, and duration) into classroom activities, teachers can enhance students' executive functions skills and social-emotional learning. In my discussion with Hayes, he described sound-based pedagogy and how he uses it:

" When people hear the word 'sound,' they often think music. But sound comes before anything we call music. It could be a car horn, a bird chirping, or a dog barking. Sound is ubiquitous, it's with us, it's part of nature, and children absolutely love and adore making it. It's part of our DNA. Humans love it. When teachers start to actively listen and work with sound, breaking it down into pitch, volume, and duration, they tap into children's executive function skills, inhibitory control, and creativity."

Three Fundamental Parts of Sound:


Pitch refers to how high or low a sound is. Hayes uses examples like the high-pitched chirping of a bird ("cheep, cheep, cheep") and the low-pitched roar of a lion ("roar"). By varying pitch, teachers can engage students in different ways, such as counting with different pitches.



How to Use Sound to Enhance Learning in the Classroom

Teaching Sound in Steps

Engaging students with sound can be simple and effective. In Greenfield's new book, Creative Sound Play for Young Learners, he lays out a thoughtful method on how and when to use sound activities.

Greenfield suggests starting with transition times. These "incredible jewels" can become valuable learning opportunities through simple sound activities, like repetitious clapping and counting exercises. Provide opportunities for simple variations with pitch, volume, and duration. To focus on sound and "hear better," Hayes recommends children close their eyes in different places and listen to room tones. Then, discuss the various sounds. By following directions, children are working on their executive functions of self-control and working memory.

Next, move on to instruments like handheld shakers and glockenspiels. Playing sounds is about providing opportunities. Play simple variations. Lay various instruments out in a circle and have children take turns playing the instruments in order, from first to last. Then reverse the order for a simple variation. To create tension or provide sound relief, play silence. These activities develop children's cognitive flexibility and social-emotional learning by working together and waiting for their turn.

As a culminating project, children can create sound sculptures that have a beginning, middle, and end. These can include narration, dance, paintings, or different materials to represent specific sounds, becoming a beautiful event for parents and families. Sound activities like this foster social-emotional learning by building community and boosting self-esteem.

Sound in Special Education and for Classroom Management

Incorporating sound activities in special education can develop executive function skills and allow students to engage more fully in their learning environments. For instance, making deliberate and intentional sounds together helps children with language delays communicate and feel included. An example of this is having a non-verbal conversation using sounds that show emotion, using instruments as a variation.

Sound can also be used for classroom management. If a student comes in loudly, challenge them to make the same sound, but softer. If a child bangs on something, bang back, then change the sound and watch how the student responds. No words are needed.

"We forget in this digital world how to just bring it down to being analog," says Hayes.

Home Activities

6 glasses filled with colorful water in different heights to be used as a water xylophone
Water Xylophone

Wondering how to use sound to enhance learning at home? Try these sound-based activities:

  • Clapping patterns- start simple then add complexity

  • Have a non-verbal argument and make up, to show how emotions can be understood without language.

  • Explore different room tones- close eyes, listen, and discuss different kinds of sounds.

  • Collect or make instruments- mimic and then lead sound stories. The possibilities are endless and fun!


Sound is a versatile and impactful tool in education. By integrating intentional and deliberate sound activities using pitch, volume, and duration, you can see children's executive functions and social-emotional learning grow.

Explore the resources provided by Hayes Greenfield and consider how sound can enhance your educational practices. Visit his website at For the full conversation, listen to "Sound-Based Teaching with Jazz Musician Hayes Greenfield" on The Brighter Side of Education podcast.


Hassler, Lisa. “Sound-Based Teaching with Jazz Musician Hayes Greenfield.” The Brighter Side of Education podcast, season 2, episode 41, May 27, 2024.

Mittag, Jennifer. "The Effects of Background Music on the Executive Function of Children with ADHD in the Classroom Setting: A Study Proposal." Western Washington University, 2020.

Schoemaker, K., Bunte, T., Wiebe, S. A., Espy, K. A., Deković, M., & Matthys, W. (2011). Executive function deficits in preschool children with ADHD and DBD. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53(2), 111–119. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02468.x

Söderlund, G. B., Sikström, S., Loftesnes, J. M., & Sonuga-Barke, E. J. (2010). The effects of background white noise on memory performance in inattentive school children. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 6(1), 55–65. doi: 10.1186/1744-9081-6-55

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