Seeing a teenager with headphones over their ears while they are supposed to be studying is enough to infuriate most parents. Now it turns out pupils really may be revising, even while listening to drum and bass.
Studytracks are new songs with lyrics covering Shakespeare, the Treaty of Versailles and compound fractions that have been recorded to help pupils to remember what they learnt in class.
Instead of conventional homework, some schools are asking GCSE pupils to use an app featuring dozens of tracks that cover much of the Year 10 and 11 syllabus. The process embeds quotes, formulae and facts in teenagers’ brains and it is hoped that they will use the power of musical recall to boost their exam performance.
The Studytracks method was devised by George Hammond-Hagan, an Ivor Novello award-winning songwriter and producer, after he saw his teenage son struggle to concentrate during GCSEs. The lyrics on the songs are rapped by Mr Hammond-Hagan over tracks including electronic dance music, hip-hop and indie rock chosen by his son, who is now 18.
So far there have been 80,000 downloads of the app, which covers biology, physics, chemistry, maths, history, geography, English literature and war poetry. Mr Hammond-Hagan, who has written and produced for Lisa Stansfield and Liberty X, said: “My son was preparing for GCSEs when he was 15 and watching him trying to study made my eyes water. He was a bit like me at that age, hated the whole process of sitting down and studying.
“I was more creative than academic, and sitting down reading books and trying to remember things didn’t excite me. I said to him, ‘This bit of education is really important because if you do well it gives you choice’, but there was nothing I could do to get him to focus. He would listen to music while reading.
“One day I was watching him and thought, what if the music was useful and relevant to what he was trying to study. I got a microphone, picked up one of his physics books and created the first track, set to Fat Joe. When my son came back from his next physics lesson, he’d remembered everything and came back bouncing off the walls.”
Mr Hammond-Hagan worked with teachers to devise the songs. They would send him the salient points of, for example, how Hitler came to power, before he found a suitable track and set the lyrics to it.
“Teachers initially thought it was suitable for certain children in their class, then realised it was relevant to most of the school population. Some use it in lessons, not just for revision.”
He works with ten British schools and two US school districts. One positive side-effect has been his own education. “There were certain subjects I hated at school, particularly biology, history and physics, that I now really like. I’ve learnt a lot.”
The Gregg School, Southampton, uses the app. Steve Gillespie, the deputy head, said: “The songs use repetitive phrasing to create earworms so the children make quick gains in a short time.”
Listen up, maths formulae really can be lyrical
For the first billion years of the Earth’s existence/
It was believed that the volcanic activity was very intense
Maths: straight line graphs
So you have two axes, X and Y/
Horizontal and vertical/
X runs to the left and right/
Y runs to the sky
History: First World War, Treaty of Versailles
The Germans had to admit they caused the war/
And they were responsible for/
All the loss and damage done
Geography: Tropical rainforest
Tropical rainforests are found in tropical uplands and lowlands/
Around the equator/Central Africa, South East Asia, Central America, the Amazon/
And other tropical regions like Hawaii and the Caribbean