Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Case for Music Education; Beyond Face Value

       When most people think about music education, the first and often only thoughts that come to mind are of musical performances. Many Americans have seen, heard, or even been a part of these memorable community events. What most people fail to realize is that performances such as those are merely the public face of music education, and that its true nature, and the benefits thereof, run deeper than most have cared to notice. It is not the performances, but the process that truly matters, and the impact it has on young students. Research has been coming forth, looking into virtually every conceivable aspect of what is involved in the musical education of our youth. No stone has gone unturned, and there is a vast wealth of subject matter to consider: neurological, emotional, academic, psychological, and even societal benefits seem to be abound. Yet, while some studies fail to produce impressive results, the majority of the truly relevant studies illustrate the unmistakable benefits that music education classes can have on young students. It is time for the teachers, parents, and policymakers to take heed so that they do not neglect the children of something that can have such an immense positive effect on them, personally and academically. The knowledge from these vast and varied studies, including the ones which seem to be in opposition, clearly illustrate why one of the most beneficial things that we can do for the American schoolchild is to make music education a priority in every school, and make it part of the standard required curriculum for grades K-12.
          As education is the main focus here, let us first begin by examining some of the brain-based research with implications for music education; countless hours have gone into developing and carrying out studies to test the benefits of receiving music education on essential academic skills, such as reading. An overview of only the results of multiple researches and experiments on the topic reveal quite varied results. On the one hand, there are studies whose results are unpromising, and claim that musical instruction yielded very minimal changes in the young students’ reading ability (Cogo-Moeira, 6), or signs of other cognitive benefits (Mehr, 9). On the other hand there are studies whose results show extremely marked improvement in multiple areas of the students’ cognitive functions, as a result of music education. A thorough comparative review of these research sources reveals not so much the opposing viewpoints as you might think, but actually reveal the methods, and timespans of music education that account for more dramatic, and permanent neurological results. Indeed, “the design parameters of those studies (is) needed before the findings (can) be translated in the school contexts and for effective advocacy of music education” (Collins, 1).
          For example, the study by Cogo-Moreira and others used only a short term, five month intervention which specifically states that it did not emphasize “Western and classical sheet music reading or to a high aptitude for a particular musical instrument,” but that it instead “focuses on musical improvisation, composition and interpretation . . .” (Cogo-Moreira, 4). However, it is precisely those and similar activities which this study neglected which other studies prove to be most effective in improving the reading skills, and academic success of children. One such similar study, which also showed unremarkable cognitive benefits, even states in its conclusion that “we might have observed cognitive benefits of music classes had the classes continued for a longer time” (Mehr, 10). In fact, one of the authors of that very study, Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University, also participated in another study in which she and multiple other scientists stressed that “the training must be prolonged” for many years and that “prolonged music instruction can strengthen the areas of the brain responsible for geometry skills” (Cole, 2) . Other studies found that prolonged music education “has been found to speed up literacy skills” (Eerola, 89), “improves recall and retention of verbal information” (Music Matters, 1), and “supports better study habits” (1). In Cole’s article reviewing multiple brain-based studies on music education she also cites a study by Brian Wandell of Stanford University when she says that “there is also a relationship between reading fluency and the amount of music training a child has” (2). Other studies, such as the ones thoroughly examined by Cole and Collins reveal that it is only very prolonged musical education, begun at an early age which show very encouraging improvements in students’ reading skills, as well as geometry, language acquisition and syntax, memory, attention, executive function, brain plasticity, and even go so far as to note actual structural changes in areas of the brain such as the auditory cortex and corpus callosum, as a result of very prolonged musical instruction (Collins, n. pg.).
          However, regardless of several promising studies authored by well-respected academic scholars and neuroscientists, there are also other factors which have hindered the stronghold that brain-based research ought to have on the interest of educators; these include extremely over-sensationalized studies such as the one in 1995 whose conclusions coined the term ‘The Mozart Effect.” The results and scope of such studies are often exaggerated and misrepresented by the media and thus, once even partially debunked, contribute to a large and general skepticism towards music-related neurological research (Breen, 6). This type of disinformation is precisely why a whole new wave of research has been performed in the years since The Mozart Effect, and it is the information from these more credible and relevant studies that should be carefully analyzed when considering musical school curriculum and standards. Now, if only scientists and educators could open more productive dialogues so that we could provide American schoolchildren with the means to make the most use of their developing brains, through very prolonged musical instruction. In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, Nina Kraus of Northwestern University  concluded that “our findings support efforts to reintegrate music into public schooling as an important complement to science, technology, math and reading instruction” (Music Ed., n. pg.).
          As an almost inseparable aspect from the intellect of schoolchildren, there are also many credible sources to suggest benefits in the areas of emotion and social experiences. The close connections between mind and emotion first seem to come to light through scientific theories of Multiple Intelligences presented by academic scholars such as Howard Gardner (Kaschub, 9). Though each multiple intelligence theory is slightly different than the last, one such principle reflected in many “include(s) knowledge of the self and others” (10), which run nearly parallel with Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence theory, which can be summed up by the statement that “success results from an awareness of one’s emotional state and awareness of another’s emotional state that lead to productive action” (10) by regulating one’s own response to their emotional state and thereby also being able to “relate meaningfully” (10) to the world around you. To further stress the important and often overlooked emotional aspects of the students, an article from the Arts Curriculum Review goes on to state that “feeling is an integral part of the thinking process,” (12) and vice versa. It is this type of emotional intelligence which is enriched by social interactions in a musical, educational environment.
          Not only does prolonged music education enrich the mind and emotional capacities of young students, but it also improves their overall quality of school experience (Eerola, 98) and social inclusion. According to Graham Welch, social exclusion means that a person, because of their social, or educational status, discrimination, or other reasons, is unable to truly be a part of collective society that they would otherwise belong to. To be socially included is therefore to be given the means and opportunity to participate fully and achieve a higher level of wellbeing and standard of living. In other words, to be socially included is to have a more equal opportunity for personal success within a culture or society (Welch, n. pg.). These higher levels of social inclusion have been remarkably reported in those who participate in group musical activities, such as one found in public school choruses, bands, and orchestras. Musical courses, and especially group classes, have been shown to help counteract the effects of an otherwise poisonous environment, which involves gang activity, poverty, substance abuse, and other social disadvantages (Music Ed., n. pg.; 20, n. pg.; Welch, 2). In addition, according to the National Association for Music Education, those students receiving music education also learn to work better with others, build confidence, and results in children being more engaged and interested in school.
               If American schoolchildren are to be given every advantage to reach their full personal, and academic potential, then parents, educators and policymakers are in a dire need of reevaluating their academic priorities. Listen not only to the music that these young students may create, but to the innumerable voices of scholars, and scientists speaking out for music advocacy. To not look beyond the public face of music education is to allow American schoolchildren to only skim the surface of their true potential for fulfilment, happiness, and success. The evidence is out there, if we are only willing to search for and carefully interpret it, to make the best decisions on behalf of America’s youth. Such a search will surely lead others to also recognize that we would be doing a disservice to our children and educational system, by not making music education a lasting and top priority in the public school system.

Works Cited:

"20 Important Benefits of Music In Our Schools." National Association for Music Education (NAfME).
             NAfME, 21 July 2014. Web. 06 Nov. 2014. <

Breen, Sean. "Making Sense Of Neuroscience Research." Kodaly Envoy 41.1 (2014): 4-9.
             Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.

Cogo-Moreira, Hugo, Clara Regina Brandão De Ávila, George B. Ploubidis, and Jair De Jesus Mari.
           "Effectiveness of Music Education for the Improvement of Reading Skills and Academic   
            Achievement in Young Poor Readers: A Pragmatic Cluster-Randomized, Controlled Clinical
           Trial." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine,
            27 Mar. 2013.

Cole, Katie. "Professional Notes: Brain-Based-Research Music Advocacy." Music Educators Journal
           98.1 (2011): 26-29. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Nov. 2014

Collins, Anita. "Music Education And The Brain: What Does It Take To Make A Change?.     
           "UPDATE:  Applications Of Research In Music Education 32.2 (2014): 4-10. Academic 
            Search Complete. Web. 4 Nov. 2014

Eerola, Paivi-Sisko, and Tuomas Eerola. "Extended Music Education Enhances the Quality of School
            Life."Music Education Research 16.1 (2013): 88-104. Taylor & Francis. Routledge. Web.
            02 Nov. 2014.

Kaschub, Michele. "Defining Emotional Intelligence In Music Education." Arts Education Policy
 103.5 (2002): 6.  Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Nov. 2014

Mehr, Samuel A., et al. "Two Randomized Trials Provide No Consistent Evidence For Nonmusical
            Cognitive Benefits Of Brief Preschool Music Enrichment." Plos ONE 8.12 (2013): 1-12.
            Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.

"Music Education Helps Stimulate And Maximize Brain Development In Children." Curriculum
 54.2 (2014): 9. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

“Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn, Achieve, and Succeed.” Arts Education
           Partnership, September 2011. Web. 06 Nov. 2014 <

Welch, Graham F., et al. "Singing And Social Inclusion." Frontiers In Psychology 5.(2014): 211-222.
               Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.

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