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Prioritizing Music Education and Its Link to Achievement
It calls to us all from our radios, MP players and smartphones, and with such staying power that sometimes we can’t get the tunes and lyrics out of our heads. And that’s just the beginning… In fact, numerous studies support the notion that there is a link between music and academic performance that goes far beyond the oft-touted but still understated Mozart effect on intelligence not tested
When it comes to math, for example, the University of Maryland math professor puts it this way: “The connection is that the way I think, and I’ve thought about it for decades, there are patterns. [in music], especially with Johann Sebastian Bach. There are a lot of patterns, and math has a lot of them… In fact, math is really about patterns.”
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Vermont School of Medicine analyzed brain scans of 232 healthy children, ages six to eighteen, focusing on the brain development of instrumentalists. Their findings: More training on an instrument resulted in “accelerated cortical organization in attention skills, anxiety management, and emotional control.” The cortex, by the way, is the outer layer of the brain.
Then there are researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Cognitive Neuroscience Labs who, using MRI brain imaging, discovered that playing a musical instrument promotes the development of something called Executive Functioning (EF). It is apparently essential for negotiating the demands of school and life and is also said to be ‘at the heart of all learning’. This translates, they say, into “focusing on a topic, memorizing information, cognitive flexibility, and paying attention to multiple ideas simultaneously.”
As lead researcher Nadine Gaab said: “This finding supports the widespread perception that musical performance and academic achievement go hand in hand.”
More evidence was found in a smaller study of forty high school students in Chicago conducted by neuroscientists at Northwestern University. They found that even a small amount of instrument instruction, like two or three hours of band class each week, improves the way brains process sound and hearing, and that’s obviously key for verbal processing.
Nina Kraus, director of the university’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, went so far as to say that she believes “regular music-making strengthens non-musical brain functions such as memory, attention, language skills, and reading skills.” . He has also posited that absorbing and encoding differences in pitch, timbre and rhythm increases the ability to “decipher and interpret speech better”.
Convince yourself? Stay tuned as researchers continue to explore the effects of music education on intelligence and performance. In the meantime, though, know that it’s a subject that is often cut short by schools on tight budgets. Take the School District of Philadelphia, for example. According to its director of music education, Frank Machos, about 25 percent of the district’s schools have no music offerings. Also, in 2004, Pennsylvania ruled that elementary classroom teachers can teach music classes in addition to everything else, so kids aren’t necessarily taught by a certified music teacher until sixth grade.
The lack of funding has also affected before- and after-school music activities in Philly schools. Meanwhile, district-supplied instruments need repair, while music technology at all levels and innovation suffer. This in a country that spends billions every year on standardized tests alone.
And no one appreciates the shame of it all more than Linda Septien, CEO of Septien Entertainment Group and one of the country’s most influential celebrity music coaches. Now, thankfully, she’s turning her attention to getting parents to TUNE in on music education as a way to boost test scores and increase general intelligence.
As she says, “The benefits of music far exceed simple classroom learning.” Along with better brain function, he cites these other “rewards” to music and performance education:
Learn to observe people, and thus learn the skills of a CEO
Learning a skill
Be part of the social world
Building self-esteem from successful performances
Dealing with the business practices and discipline of a job early in life
It has also found that children who participate in music programs and faithfully practice playing their instruments score 22% higher on standardized tests of English/language arts and 20% higher on tests covering math. Meanwhile, he reminds us that “deep practice, which requires hard work, mental struggle, and extreme attention to detail, is best understood and automated through music.”
Ms. Septien is so skilled in the field of music that her Septien School of Music/Septien Entertainment Group was chosen to be part of The Talent Code, a News from New York Daniel Coyle’s bestseller. In fact, he considered its music training program to be one of the best in the world.
So follow their lead and insist that music begin to take its rightful place in our schools. At the same time, encourage your children to join the choir and take up an instrument, and also to practice a lot. After all, as U2’s Bono reminds us, “music can change the world because it can change people.”
PS Philly-area residents, if you’re interested in music and music education, head to Clark Park, 4398 Chester Avenue, for the Rock to the Future’s Fall Festival fundraiser on September 19th. It will last from 11 to 19 and will feature local bands, crafts, food and raffles; it will be worth your time and generosity. Program Director Josh Craft explains, “When school budgets are cut, music and art programs are often cut first.” Their hope is to raise up to $1,000 to cover the gap in the program.
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