We've had some requests from teachers about how to better support music programs. Here's an interesting article from our friends at Teach.com. We'll circle back soon with some resources that can be used to better support music education in your classrooms. If you have any great resources, please let us know!
The following article was originally posted on December 16, 2013 on Teach.com .
Whether students are
tickling the ivories on the piano or strumming a guitar, the hours they spend
in music lessons and rehearsals are worth every penny. According to Education Week, studies presented at a recent
Society for Neuroscience meeting pointed to the many academic benefits of
learning a musical instrument. According to the studies, time spent doing so
has been connected to a positive boost in creativity, memory, decision-making
and multitasking skills. As with any talent or skill set, the earlier students
get involved in music, the better.
One of the greatest
outcomes of music instruction is the pleasure that students get from listening
to beautiful sounds—an intrinsically rewarding experience. Gottfried Schlaug,
the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory director at Harvard University Medical
Center, claims that few activities are as rewarding as music instruction.
Students must organize and utilize multiple senses simultaneously and work with
others while receiving an emotional experience that offers regular, immediate
feedback. Schlaug said, “It’s really hard to come up with an experience similar
The ability to multitask
well is one of the most useful abilities that students gain from music
instruction. At the University of Montreal, researcher Julie Roy led a study to
test both musicians and non-musicians in “sensory processing tasks.” The
participants in the study listened to sounds while receiving touch stimuli to a
finger. The task was difficult because they needed to ignore the sounds in
order to report what they physically felt. When listening to more than one
sound, participants often believed that they felt more than one touch. However,
seasoned musicians had double the accuracy on these tests than their
The benefits of music
training don’t end there. At Beijing Normal University in China, Yunxing Wang
led a research team from the State Key Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience and
Learning in studying the brains of adults between the ages of 19 and 21. All of
the adults had music instruction for at least a year between the ages of 3 and
15 years old. The results showed that individuals who began their music training
prior to turning seven had more sophisticated development in the brain areas of
“language and executive function.” While starting instruction at younger ages
may lead to greater gains later on, researchers argue that music instruction is
beneficial at any age. Ana Pinho, a Karolinska Institute researcher in
Stockholm, firmly believes that it is never too late to learn an instrument.
She said, “Even after stroke and disease, starting musical training can still
help you get more from your brain. All of these findings show [musical
training] can create a lot of plasticity that can produce effectiveness across
the brain, in cognition and behavior.”
All of these findings are
good news for music teachers, who have long advocated for quality music
programs in schools. University of Southern California neuroscience Professor
Antonio R. Damasio shares in such advocacy as he has been studying students
from the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. In this orchestra, low-income students
are offered free instruments and training while researchers commit to studying
students for five years, beginning when students are only six or seven years
old. In the Heart of Los Angeles site, teacher/conductor Nikki J. Shorts is
impressed by how much the students, many identified as at-risk, mature over the
course of a few years. Students learn discipline and how to concentrate. Shorts
stated, “In order to cultivate the skills to sit and focus, they’re like
athletes: We exercise our brains and our bodies, and then we have to take a
break, relax, and come back to it. And over time, that skill builds up.” While
schools don’t require students to learn a musical instrument, it’s clear that
the benefits of quality music training are priceless.
--Michelle Manno is an Associate Editor at Teach.com where she writes about education reform and pop culture pedagogy.