A Bradford primary school wants the world to know its newfound Sats success is down to giving all children up to six hours of music a week
Abiha Nasir, aged nine, walks quietly into the small classroom, takes a seat, adjusts her hijab and picks up the drumsticks. A shy smile spreads across her face as she begins to play.
She was just five when she turned up at Feversham primary academy’s after-school clubs, leaving teachers astounded by her musical ability and how her confidence grew with an instrument in hand. Last year, Abiha successfully auditioned for Bradford’s gifted and talented music programme for primary school children, the first Muslim girl to do so. The assessor recorded only one word in her notes: “Wow!”
Abiha’s teachers say her talent might have gone unspotted in many schools, where subjects such as music and art are being squeezed out by pressure to reach Sats targets and climb league tables.
But at Feversham, the headteacher, Naveed Idrees, has embedded music, drama and art into every part of the school day, with up to six hours of music a week for every child, and with remarkable results. Seven years ago Feversham was in special measures and making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Today it is rated “good” by Ofsted and is in the top 10% nationally for pupil progress in reading, writing and maths, according to the most recent data. In 2011, the school was 3.2 percentage points behind the national average in English. This year 74% of its pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a national average of 53%. It is 7.1 points above the average for reading and 3.4 above for writing. In maths, the school was 2.4 points behind the national average in 2011 and is now 6.5 above it. Its results for disadvantaged pupils are well above average.
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.
Andrew Lloyd Webber says his new musical will challenge politicians to improve school music lesson funding.
School of Rock, based on the 2002 film, is about a group of schoolchildren who turn their lives around by entering a Battle of the Bands contest.
The young cast - aged between nine and 12 - all play their own instruments.
"At this time when there are cuts to music in schools, these are the kids that prove music is vital," Lord Lloyd-Webber told the BBC.
He said music "is a force for the good and empowers young people".
The composer, whose own foundation funds arts education programmes in the UK, said the government should rethink its "counter-productive" cuts.
"At a time when people are feeling alienated from politics, the arts cut right through that," he said.
Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, who wrote the musical's book, picked up on the theme.
"One of the main purposes of the education years is to help children find out who they are and what they want to do, and the arts are one of the greatest means of allowing people to discover their identity," he said.
"It really is mad for the country to cut back on that and throw out a whole load of people from school who really haven't found out what they want to do."
Lord Lloyd-Webber and Lord Fellowes were speaking as they unveiled the cast for the West End transfer of School of Rock, which opened to enthusiastic reviews on Broadway last year, earning four Tony Award nominations.
The show, based on the Jack Black film, features three rotating casts of child actors, selected after a nationwide search earlier this year.
They range from experienced actors, drawn from the casts of Matilda and The Lion King, to complete newcomers.
Among them is Amelia Poggenpoel, from Formby, who made headlines last year when her singing reduced Shia LaBeouf to tears.
The 10-year-old approached LaBeouf at his #TouchMySoul exhibition in Liverpool and performed Who's Lovin' You by the Jackson Five. When she finished, the actor stood up and hugged her, sobbing: "You touched my soul."
She will play Shonelle in the musical, her first West End role after several appearances in Liverpool.
Amelia told the BBC she was living in a "School of Rock house" with other cast members, where tutors run lessons before and after rehearsals. The set up is "much better" than regular school, she added.
Other cast members include Isabelle Methven and Eva Trodd, both 11, who previously played Little Cosette in the West End production of Les Miserables, and Natasha Raphael, 10, who toured the UK in the role of Annie last year.
Toby Lee, an 11-year-old from Priors Marston who runs a successful YouTube channel showcasing his guitar skills, is one of three youngsters filling the role of Zack.
The show revolves around failed rock star Dewey Finn who, in need of cash to pay his rent, fakes his credentials as a substitute teacher.
But what starts out as an excuse to get paid for slacking off turns into a life-affirming experience, as he prepares his pupils for a local battle of the bands.
"The reason I loved this story is every character in this story is somehow changed for the better through music," said Lord Lloyd-Webber, who first revealed he had bought the rights in 2013.
For the first time since Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971, he chose to premiere his new show in the US, principally because it has more relaxed child labour laws - meaning the production could have one permanent cast.
He previously expressed misgivings about bringing the show to London, saying he doubted whether he could find 39 children capable of pulling off the live musical elements of the show.
Instead, he said, "we could have found five bands to play".
"The depth of musical talent that we auditioned is something that I have to admit I didn't think we would find. I kind of feared they'd all be into their computers, but this proves that they aren't."
The role of Dewey Finn will be played in London by David Fynn, currently starring in US sitcom Undateable.
He said working with three rotating casts of children helped give the show spontaneity.
"It keeps me on my toes and, as a result, it helps them stay engaged."
The show begins previews at the New London Theatre on 24 October before opening night on 14 November.
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
By the time you read this, I’m afraid, it’ll be too late to attend the Christmas concert of the community choir to which I’ve belonged for a while now. I know, I know, you’re gutted. But maybe it’s better that way: the weekly rehearsals have become such an oddly transporting highlight of my week that it almost feels too personal to mention in public. I’m not alone in this, I realise. These days, with amateur singing exploding in popularity, there’s no happiness advice less original than “Join a choir!” So it’s strange that we still don’t really understand why it feels so good.... Read the full article
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Illustration: Thomas Pullin for the Guardian
Number one - make sure the Musical Director is a genius. Fortunately the MD of the Warwickshire Choristers is one. Number two, create an organisation where the parents are totally committed and supportive. Number three, remember that boys are not girls and they need a unique approach to rehearsals and concerts. Number four, work incredibly hard.
Garry Jones is a genius. He is a great friend of mine and a former Director of Warwickshire County Music Service. Since he retired from that job he has been working virtually full time creating the Warwickshire Choristers and, more recently, the County Male Voices; an equally excellent choir made up of all the boys that started singing with Garry 6 years ago.
The Choristers have been in the final of Music for Youth 5 times in the last 6 years and have received Choir of the Day in every BBC Choir of the Year competition since reaching the televised final in 2010. They produce CDs, go on tour and have featured on radio as well as television. They regularly perform at major concert venues including Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Truro Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral and the University of Warwick Arts Centre.
It is perhaps two things that stand out for me as I watch and admire Garry at work. A concert last night is a good example. The care he takes over the choice of repertoire for the boys is extreme - but utterly worth while when you hear them. Yesterday's concert started with a sublime rendition of Ubi Caritas by Albrecht. The pure young voices of two solo choristers soared around the Parish church of Leamington Spa and set the tone for the rest of their performance; including music by Jefferson, Poulenc, Frank and Schwartz.
The boys, aged between 7 - 12, perform music that you would not think they have the maturity to manage. Le Chien Perdu by Poulenc was simply sensational; unaccompanied and without a conductor.
The reason they can do this is because of the unique relationship that Garry builds with them. This is developed in no small part by his rehearsing style. I have sat in many rehearsals and it is not unusual for Garry to spend up to 10 minutes on one sound. The boys come into a choir where excellent is simply taken for granted and the hard work needed to achieve that is there for all to see.
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.