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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Music Education Improves Academic Performance

Music Education Improves Academic Performance

Music educators have always believed that a child’s cognitive, motivational, and communication skills are more highly developed when exposed to music training. Now, study after study proves that music instruction is essential to children’s overall education because it improves their academic performance. The positive effects of music education are finally being recognized by science, verifying what music teachers have always suspected.

Music enters the brain through the ears. Pitch, melody, and intensity of notes are processed in several areas of the brain such as the cerebral cortex, the brain stem, and the frontal lobes. Both the right-brain and left-brain auditory cortex interprets sound. Feza Sancar (1999) writes that the right-brain auditory cortex specializes in determining hierarchies of harmonic relations and rich overtones and the left-brain auditory cortex deciphers the sequencing of sound and perception of rhythm.

Many studies have been performed to examine the affect of musical instruction on the brain. For example, researchers at the University of Munster, Germany, (1998) reported that music lessons in childhood actually enlarge the brain. The auditory cortex is enlarged by 25% in musicians compared to those who have never played an instrument. According to the study by Frances Rauscher of the University of California, Irvine, (1997) links between neurons in the brain are strengthened with music lessons. Dr. Frank Wilson’s study (1989) involving instrumental music instruction and the brain reveal that learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system.

Curriculum areas that music instruction affects most include language development, reading, mathematics, and science. Music itself is a kind of language full of patterns that can be used to form notes, chords, and rhythms. Exposure to music helps a child analyze the harmonic vowel sounds of language as well as sequence words and ideas. Another curriculum area enhanced by music participation is reading. A child who participates in music activities experiences sensory integration, a crucial factor in reading readiness. Wilson’s study (1989) reveals that music instruction enhances a student’s ability to perform skills necessary for reading including listening, anticipating, forecasting, memory training, recall skills, and concentration techniques.

Mathematics is the academic subject most closely connected with music. Music helps students count, recognize geometric shapes, understand ratios and proportions, and the frameworks of time. Researcher Gordon Shaw (1993) found that piano instruction enhances the brain’s ability for spatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to visualize and transform objects in space and time. This translates into a student’s heightened ability to understand fractions, geometric puzzles, math problems, and math puzzles. T. Armstrong (1988) reports that music educator, Grace Nash, found that by incorporating music into her math lessons, her students were able to learn multiplication tables and math formulas more easily. Teacher Eli Moar (1999) believes that arithmetic progressions in music correspond to geometric progressions in mathematics and that the relation between the two subjects is logarithmic.

At every age, exposure to music training effects academic performance. Susan Black (1997) reports that newborn babies have mechanisms in their brains devoted exclusively to music. These mechanisms help the newborns organize and develop their brains. Rauscher’s study (1997) indicates that just fifteen minutes a week of keyboard instruction, along with group singing, dramatically improved the kind of intelligence that is needed for pre-school students to understand higher levels of math and science. Her test results showed a 46% improvement in the spatial IQs for the young musician compared to only 6% for non-musicians.

Grade school music students also show increased learning in math and reading. The Public Schools of Albuquerque, NM, conducted a study (n.d.) which found that instrumental music students, with two or more years of study, scored significantly higher in the California Test of Basic Skills, (CTBS), than did non-music students. High school students also achieve greater academic excellence when exposed to music training. A study by Mission Veijo High School in Southern California (1981) shows that the overall grade point average of music students is consistently higher than the grade point average of their non-music peers. The music students achieved a 3.59 average while the non-music students achieved a lower 2.91 average.

Almost every college bound high school student must take the SAT college entrance exam. The College Entrance Examination Board at Princeton, NJ, (1999) reports that music students continue to out perform their non-arts peers on the SAT. The students with coursework in music study or music appreciation scored 61 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 42 points higher on the math portion than students with no reported music coursework. Additionally, music majors have the highest SAT scores in all areas.

High SAT scores are necessary for acceptance into college, but according to Nancy Biernat’s study (1989), those scores do not necessarily predict collegiate success. Success in college can be more accurately predicted by individual levels of achievement in student activities such as drama, debate, and music. Also, the students with the least amount of participation in school activities such as music have the highest drop out rates.

The scientific evidence is abundant, obvious, and compelling; there are strong connections between music instruction and greater student achievement. Regardless of age, exposure to music helps to develop and fine-tune the workings of the brain. Music training, whether instrumental, vocal, or music appreciation, helps develop a child’s cognitive and communication skills. Music education is linked to higher test scores, grade point averages, and success in college. Franz Roehman (1988) tells of one researcher, Dr. Jean Houston, who goes so far as to say that children without access to arts programs, such as music education, are actually damaging their brains. After reviewing the scientific evidence, it is clear that music instruction is essential to children’s education because it improves their academic performance.


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