Music lessons help boost academic results by convincing children that they can learn new skills and become intelligent, new research suggests.
Teenagers who are high achievers in music are more likely to think that you can learn to be clever and this has a positive impact on their school work.
Children who took fewer music lessons or did not learn music at all were inclined to have a more defeatist attitude, known as a fixed mindset, and did not make such fast academic progress.
Credit : Nicola Woolcock
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Watch this short and fascinating video on the extraordinary benefits of embracing music education within a school. The comments by headteachers Shazia Hussain and Hilary Dunford are particularly relevant to the challenges faced by all primary head teachers.
Hello. My name is Jeremy and I am rapidly approaching my 57th birthday (how did that happen?). I have four children, my oldest daughter - Becky - is 33 and my youngest son - Sebastian - is 13 (how did THAT happen!). I have two grandchildren, Cody is three and Eliza was one just two weeks ago.
Why am I telling you this? My job is Director of Warwickshire Music, but that’s not what I am. What I am and what I believe is defined by my circumstances and my experience. What I believe is that my children and grandchildren deserve an education at least as good as mine; and hopefully better.
As I look back over an increasingly long time span to my primary school education I have to confess that it was rather bland. I have very few vivid memories from that time. One clear memory I do have is sitting in assembly and listening to one of the teachers playing the euphonium. He played in a local brass band and his performance clearly had a big influence on me.
There was no opportunity to learn an instrument in my primary school but there was when I went to secondary school. There was one instrument in the music cupboard - a rather battered old trumpet. So I took that and starting playing... and now I can look back on a kaleidoscope of vivid memories based around my musical experiences. I remember my first concert as if it was yesterday. I was terrified and am sure that I didn't play a note because my mouth dried up and I couldn't blow!
Although this perhaps is not a positive memory it was certainly a highly influential one and led to many more positive and pleasant memories to look back on.
We all understand the value of memorable learning; learning that is embedded because it is based on an emotional response. I believe passionately in the power of music to create memorable learning that can influence a child for the rest of their life.
I have never talked to any colleague in schools who did not value music and the arts. I have spoken to many colleagues who are finding it increasingly challenging to give children the range of opportunities they deserve; and all too often it is music and the arts that have to disappear from a child's experience at school.
Emotional learning embeds memorable learning. If young people are to become fully rounded adults they need a range of memorable experiences that will allow them to grow and develop; that will give them a richness of understanding and will give them wisdom and insight. This is why music and the arts are so important.
BY ALEXIS KALIVRETENOS • 18 MARCH 2015 (14665)
What if there was one activity that could benefit every student in every school across the nation? An activity that could improve grades and scores on standardized testing? An activity that would allow students to form lasting friendships? An activity that would help students become more disciplined and confident?
Fortunately, there is such an activity. Unfortunately, many schools will not make it a part of their curriculum, due to issues of funding and scheduling. This activity is something that everyone is aware of, but not everyone has a chance to participate in. This activity is music.
For years, music classes have been the ugly ducklings of school curriculums—the last courses to be added, the first courses to be cut. They have always taken second place to traditional academic classes. Music, however, has proved itself to be extremely beneficial time and time again, from the undeniable improvement in grades regarding traditional academic classes to the glowing remarks from music students everywhere. In an ever-changing world, the addition of music education in schools needs to be next on the academic agenda. Music education should be a required component in all schools due to the proven academic, social, and personal benefits that it provides.
According to the No Child Left Behind Act, the following are defined as, “core academic subjects”: English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, the arts [emphasis added], history, and geography (Benefits of the Study 1). Although music, being a part of the arts, is supposedly on the same level as other academic subjects, it is not being treated as such.
Music education greatly enhances students’ understanding and achievement in non-musical subjects. For example, a ten-year study, which tracked over 25,000 middle and high school students, showed that students in music classes receive higher scores on standardized tests than students with little to no musical involvement. The musical students scored, on average, sixty-three points higher on the verbal section and forty-four points higher on the math sections of the SATs than non-music students (Judson). When applying to colleges, these points could be the difference between an acceptance letter and a rejection letter.
Furthermore, certain areas of musical training are tied to specific areas of academics; this concept is called transfer. According to Susan Hallam, “Transfer between tasks is a function of the degree to which the tasks share cognitive processes” (5-6). To put this simply, the more related two subjects are, the more transfer will ensue. This can be evidenced with the correlation between rhythm instruction and spatial-temporal reasoning, which is integral in the acquisition of important math skills. The transfer can be explained by the fact that rhythm training emphasizes proportions, patterns, fractions, and ratios, which are expressed as mathematical relations (Judson). Transfer can be seen in other academic subjects as well. For example, in a 2000 study of 162 sixth graders, Ron Butzlaff concluded that students with two or three years of instrumental music experience had significantly better results on the Stanford Achievement Test (a verbal and reading skills test) than their non-musical counterparts (qtd. in Judson). This experiment demonstrates that music can affect improvement in many different academic subjects. All in all, it can be shown that music education is a worthwhile investment for improving students’ understanding and achievement in academic subjects.
Related to academic achievement is success in the workforce. The Backstreet Boys state that, “Practicing music reinforces teamwork, communication skills, self-discipline, and creativity” (Why Music?). These qualities are all highly sought out in the workplace. Creativity, for example, is, “one of the top-five skills important for success in the workforce,” according to Lichtenberg, Woock, and Wright (Arts Education Partnership 5). Participation in music enhances a student’s creativeness. Willie Jolley, a world-class professional speaker, states that his experience with musical improvisation has benefited him greatly regarding business. Because situations do not always go as planned, one has to improvise, and come up with new strategies (Thiers, et. al). This type of situation can happen in any job; and when it does, creativity is key. Similarly, music strengthens a person’s perseverance and self-esteem—both qualities that are essential in having a successful career (Arts Education Partnership 5). Thus, music education can contribute to students’ future careers and occupational endeavors.
Participation in music also boasts social benefits for students. Music is a way to make friends. Dimitra Kokotsaki and Susan Hallam completed a study dealing with the perceived benefits of music; in their findings they wrote, “Participating in ensembles was also perceived as an opportunity to socialize with like-minded people, make new friends and meet interesting people, who without the musical engagement they would not have had the opportunity to meet” (11). Every time a student is involved in music, they have the chance to meet new people, and form lasting friendships.
Likewise, in a study by Columbia University, it was revealed that students who participate in the arts are often more cooperative with teachers and peers, have more self-confidence, and are better able to express themselves (Judson). Through one activity, a student can reap all of these benefits, as well as numerous others. Moreover, the social benefits of music education can continue throughout a student’s life in ways one would never suspect. An example of this would be that “students who participate in school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs among any other group in our society” (Judson). By just participating in a fun school activity, students can change their lives for the better. Music education can help students on their journey to success.
Chinese philosopher Confucius once stated, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without” (Arts Education Partnership 1). Music education provides personal benefits to students that enrich their lives. In the study of perceived benefits of music by Dimitra Kokotsaki and Susan Hallam, it was found that “participating in an ensemble enhanced feelings of self-achievement for the study’s participants, assisted individuals in overcoming challenges, built self-confidence, and raised determination to make more effort to meet group expectations regarding standards of playing” (12). In an ensemble, every member is equally important, from the first chair to the last chair. Thus every person must be able to play all of their music and be ready for anything. When one person does not practice their music and comes to rehearsal unprepared, it reflects upon the whole ensemble. Needless to say, no one wants to be that person. So students take it upon themselves to show that they want to be there and come prepared. This type of attitude continues throughout students’ lives.
Furthermore, group participation in music activities can assist in the development of leadership skills (Kokotsaki and Hallam 13). One participant in the perceived benefits of music study stated that, “I have gained confidence in my leadership skills through conducting the Concert Band” (Kokotsaki and Hallam 28). Conducting an ensemble is just one of the many leadership opportunities available to music students.
Music can also be a comforting activity to many students. High school senior and school band member Manna Varghese states that for her, music is a way to relieve stress. When she is angry or frustrated, she likes to play flute or piano to relax. For students, music classes are not necessarily something they participate in for a grade, or to put on a college application. Students participate in music classes because they enjoy them and want to be there.
Even though it has been proven that music education benefits students, many people argue that it still should not be required in schools. They state that with the increasing importance placed on standardized testing, there is not enough class time to include music classes (Abril and Gault 68). However, it has been shown that the time students spend in music classes does not hinder their academic success. A study by Hodges and O’Connell found that “being excused from non-musical classes to attend instrumental lessons does not adversely affect academic performance” (Hallam 14). Thus, in reality, having students enroll in music classes would not be detrimental to their academic performance, and the students would then be able to reap all of the benefits that come with music education. Furthermore, funding for music education is an issue at many schools. The people in charge of determining funding for schools often choose to fund traditional academic classes over arts programs. Paul Harvey states, “Presently, we are spending twenty-nine times more on science than on the arts, and the result so far is worldwide intellectual embarrassment” (Hale 8). Clearly, the current system for the allocation of funds for schools is not adequate. By transferring some of the funding from traditional academic classes to music classes, this embarrassment could be avoided. Evidently, although some may try to argue against it, music education should be required in all schools.
What would life be like without music? Imagine it for a moment. No listening to music on the radio on a long drive. No music to dance to. There would not be any soundtracks in movies, and concerts and musicals would be nonexistent. Eventually, no one would even remember what music is. Many people do not realize it, but music has a bigger effect on their lives than they may think, and they would definitely care if it was to disappear. Without music, life would never be the same. To keep music alive, students must be educated about it in schools. Students will not only get to experience and enjoy what music has to offer, but will reap the innumerable benefits that come with music. Ancient Greek philosopher and teacher Plato said it best: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to imagination, and life to everything.”
Abril, Carlos A., and Brent M. Gault. “The State of Music in Secondary Schools: The Principal’s Perspective.” Journal of Research in Music Education 56.1 (2008): 68-81. JSTOR. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
Arts Education Partnership, comp. Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve, and Succeed. Washington D.C.: n.p., 2011. Print.
Hale, Donna Sizemore. “Stay Involved to Protect the Arts.” American String Teacher 63.3 (2013): 8. ProQuest. Web. 19 Oct. 2013.
Hallam, Susan. “The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people.” International Journal of Music Education 28.3 (2010): 269-89. Print.
Judson, Ellen. “The Importance of Music.” Music Empowers Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.
Kokotsaki, Dimitra, and Susan Hallam. “Higher Education music students’ perceptions of the benefits of participative music making.” Music Education Research 9.1 (2007): n. pag. Google Scholar. Web. 26 Oct. 2013.
National Association for Music Education, comp. The Benefits of the Study of Music. N.p.: n.p., 2007. Print.
Thiers, Genevieve, et al. “Music Education and Success…From the Band Room to the Board Room.” Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music. By Craig M. Cortello. N.p.: n.p., n.d. NME.com. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
Varghese, Manna. Personal interview. 24 Oct. 2013.
Why Music? Prod. NAfME. Radio
Tags: 2014 Essay Contest Alexis Kalivretenos is the first-prize winner of the 2014 Humanist Essay Contest.
By Laura Lewis Brown
Whether your child is the next Beyonce or more likely to sing her solos in the shower, she is bound to benefit from some form of music education. Research shows that learning the do-re-mis can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.
Research has found that learning music facilitates learning other subjects and enhances skills that children inevitably use in other areas. “A music-rich experience for children of singing, listening and moving is really bringing a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning,” says Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, a not-for-profit association that promotes the benefits of making music.
Making music involves more than the voice or fingers playing an instrument; a child learning about music has to tap into multiple skill sets, often simultaneously. For instance, people use their ears and eyes, as well as large and small muscles, says Kenneth Guilmartin, cofounder of Music Together, an early childhood music development program for infants through kindergarteners that involves parents or caregivers in the classes.
“Music learning supports all learning. Not that Mozart makes you smarter, but it’s a very integrating, stimulating pastime or activity,” Guilmartin says.
“When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage,” says Luehrisen. While children come into the world ready to decode sounds and words, music education helps enhance those natural abilities. “Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development,” she says. But Luehrisen adds that those inborn capacities need to be “reinforced, practiced, celebrated,” which can be done at home or in a more formal music education setting.
According to the Children’s Music Workshop, the effect of music education on language development can be seen in the brain. “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds,” the group claims.
This relationship between music and language development is also socially advantageous to young children. “The development of language over time tends to enhance parts of the brain that help process music,” says Dr. Kyle Pruett, clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine and a practicing musician. “Language competence is at the root of social competence. Musical experience strengthens the capacity to be verbally competent.”
A study by E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, as published in a 2004 issue of Psychological Science, found a small increase in the IQs of six-year-olds who were given weekly voice and piano lessons. Schellenberg provided nine months of piano and voice lessons to a dozen six-year-olds, drama lessons (to see if exposure to arts in general versus just music had an effect) to a second group of six-year-olds, and no lessons to a third group. The children’s IQs were tested before entering the first grade, then again before entering the second grade.
Surprisingly, the children who were given music lessons over the school year tested on average three IQ points higher than the other groups. The drama group didn’t have the same increase in IQ, but did experience increased social behavior benefits not seen in the music-only group.
Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.
In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.
Research has also found a causal link between music and spatial intelligence, which means that understanding music can help children visualize various elements that should go together, like they would do when solving a math problem.
“We have some pretty good data that music instruction does reliably improve spatial-temporal skills in children over time,” explains Pruett, who helped found the Performing Arts Medicine Association. These skills come into play in solving multistep problems one would encounter in architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming, and especially working with computers.
A study published in 2007 by Christopher Johnson, professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs, regardless of socioeconomic disparities among the schools or school districts. Johnson compares the concentration that music training requires to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.
Aside from test score results, Johnson’s study highlights the positive effects that a quality music education can have on a young child’s success. Luehrisen explains this psychological phenomenon in two sentences: “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better.”
And it doesn’t end there: along with better performance results on concentration-based tasks, music training can help with basic memory recall. “Formal training in music is also associated with other cognitive strengths such as verbal recall proficiency,” Pruett says. “People who have had formal musical training tend to be pretty good at remembering verbal information stored in memory.”
Music can improve your child’ abilities in learning and other nonmusic tasks, but it’s important to understand that music does not make one smarter. As Pruett explains, the many intrinsic benefits to music education include being disciplined, learning a skill, being part of the music world, managing performance, being part of something you can be proud of, and even struggling with a less than perfect teacher.
“It’s important not to oversell how smart music can make you,” Pruett says. “Music makes your kid interesting and happy, and smart will come later. It enriches his or her appetite for things that bring you pleasure and for the friends you meet.”
While parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.
“There is a massive benefit from being musical that we don’t understand, but it’s individual. Music is for music’s sake,” Rasmussen says. “The benefit of music education for me is about being musical. It gives you have a better understanding of yourself. The horizons are higher when you are involved in music,” he adds. “Your understanding of art and the world, and how you can think and express yourself, are enhanced.”
Credit: Laura Lewis Brown, EarlyMorningMom.com
The results of a research project by Northwestern University, published in July 2015, suggest that music training, begun as late as high school, may help improve the teenage brain’s responses to sound and sharpen hearing and language skills.
The research indicates that music instruction helps enhance skills that are critical for academic success. The gains were seen during group music classes included in the schools’ curriculum, suggesting in-school training accelerates neurodevelopment.
Professor Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the School of Communication, and her colleagues recruited 40 Chicago-area high school freshmen (14-15 years-old) in a study that began shortly before school started, and followed them until their last senior year (18-19 years old). Nearly half the students had enrolled in band classes, which involved two to three hours a week of instrumental group music instruction in school. The rest had enrolled in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), which focused on fitness. Both groups attended the same schools in low-income neighbourhoods.
All participants improved in language skills, but the improvement was greater for those in music classes, compared with the JROTC group. According to the authors of the report, high school music training might hone brain development and improve language skills. The stable processing of sound details, important for language skills, is known to be diminished in children raised in poverty, raising the possibility that music education may offset this negative influence on sound processing.