The Sounds of Learning

Why a Kent State psychology professor begins every class with a song

Christopher Was, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology for Kent State University, describes himself as a true audiofile, listening to all types of music.

Christopher Was, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology for Kent State University
Christopher Was, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology for Kent State University

He studied music theory as an undergraduate, and is trained in classical guitar. For more than 30 years, he has played the bass in several bands, including the Skoolies, featuring three other Kent State professors. Combining his passion for music with his background in cognitive psychology research seemed like the perfect combo for a new course.

In the spring of 2022, he created and began teaching a popular new course at Kent State called Psychology of Music.

“I'm very interested in how we process information,” Was said. “With my background in music, I started thinking, ‘Why not teach a course from the perspective of how we process music?' That's where the idea came from.” 

Some of the topics for the course include the neuropsychology of how we process music, what makes music so enjoyable and how things like pitch changes, rhythm and beat affect how we process it.

Ellie Henning, a senior psychology major from Painesville, Ohio, took the course when it was first taught. “I really enjoyed Dr. Was' teaching style and the way he approached everything with such passion,” Henning said. “I loved how whenever possible he tried to connect class material to our own lives to try and make the material more personal and easy to understand.”

Was starts every class session with a song related to that day's lesson, which plays as students enter the classroom. He says one of his favorite lessons to teach involves discussing acoustic spaces and then sending students out into different places on campus to record themselves and determine how the space affects the sound. He said one student even took it so far as to have his whole band perform songs in these different spaces.

“Music has an effect on us because it’s a language and a [form of] math, and we process it both ways,” Was said. “I want students to walk away understanding there’s more to music than just having noise in the background. It affects us in specific ways.”

Learn more about Kent State’s Department of Psychological Sciences.

Top image credit: Peace,love,happiness from Pixabay

POSTED: Wednesday, July 12, 2023 12:05 PM
Updated: Friday, August 18, 2023 03:47 PM
Taylor Cook, Flash Communications