Sunday, February 14, 2016

Music To My Ears

Quite likely you’ve heard, somewhere in your teaching career, that music stimulates the brain.  The “research” on this comes from a magazine article that was published quite a long time ago.  Classical music, in particular, was said to enhance learning. Collections of classical music were marketed to both teachers and parents who wanted to give children a head start to the genius level.  The “news” was given wide distribution in the press and was quite a sensation.  What’s less well known is that in the very next issue of that magazine, a serious critique of the research was published, leading the author of the original article to disavow the findings of his own article.

What is less well-known and supported by quite a bit of research (Brain Rules, John Medina:  Brain Rule #10) is that music instruction really does have several benefits.  Of interest to education is that there is a relationship between formal musical instruction and language arts skills.  Students with musical training have been shown to develop vocabulary and nonverbal reasoning skills more quickly than peers who have none.  They listen and hear better and have a greater working memory.  They also tend to be better speakers.  Both effects seem to come from a heightened sense of auditory discrimination.

Also of interest interest is that people of all ages with formal musical training seem to demonstrate a few prosocial skills to a greater degree than their peers.  First, they are more able to understand the emotional states of others.  Again, this is thought to have something to do with auditory discrimination and a heightened ability to hear the emotional tone of people’s voices.  They demonstrate greater empathy than their peers.  Formal musical training, mostly with singing and banging on rhythm instruments has even been demonstrated to show measurable improvement in the the emotional makeup and nonverbal learning of infants compared to infants who only had classical music played to them. 

Medina is clear that these observations, though confirmed by multiple studies, have never been tested in a large research project, say by a school district committing to longterm musical training for all.  Though it’s unlikely that research data like this will loosen up the purse strings of our legislators to bring widespread music instruction into the classroom, it is should be interesting to both parents and teachers who have the opportunity to communicate with parents.

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