It calls to us all from our radios, MP players, and smart phones, and with such staying power that we sometimes can’t get the tunes and lyrics out of our heads. And that’s only the beginning… In fact, numerous studies back up the notion that there is a link between music and academic performance that goes well beyond the oft-touted but as yet unproven Mozart effect on intelligence.
When it comes to math, for instance, University of Maryland math professor puts it this way: “The connection is that-to my way of thinking, and I have thought about this for decades-there are patterns [in music], especially with Johann Sebastian Bach. There are a lot of patterns, and mathematics has a lot of patterns… In fact, mathematics is really about patterns.”
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine analyzed the brain scans of 232 healthy children, ages six to eighteen, concentrating on the brain development of instrument players. Their findings: More training on an instrument resulted in “an 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 the researchers at the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital who, using MRI brain imaging, discovered that playing a musical instrument promotes the development of something called Executive Functioning (EF). It’s apparently essential for negotiating the demands of school and life and is also said to be, “at the heart of all learning.” That translates, they say, to “focusing on a topic, memorizing information, cognitive flexibility, and paying attention to multiple ideas simultaneously.”
As lead investigator Nadine Gaab put it: “This finding supports the widely held perception that music performance and academic achievement go hand in hand.”
Further evidence was found in a smaller study of forty Chicago high schoolers conducted by neuroscientists at Northwestern University. They found that even just a small amount of instrument instruction-like two or three hours in band class each week-improves how brains process sound and auditory processing, too, and that’s evidently key to verbal processing.
Nina Kraus, director of the university’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, went so far as to say she believes that “regular music-making strengthens non-musical brain functions, such as memory, attention, language skills, and reading skills.” She’s also posited that absorbing and encoding differences in pitch, timbre, and rhythm boosts the ability to “decipher and interpret speech better.”
Getting convinced? Stay tuned as researchers continue to explore the effects of music education on intelligence and achievement. In the meantime, though, know that its’ a subject all-too-often cut by budget-strapped schools. Take, for example, the School District of Philadelphia. According to its music education director Frank Machos, about 25% of the district’s schools have no music offerings whatsoever. Plus, in 2004, Pennsylvania decided that elementary classroom teachers can teach music lessons on top of everything else, so kids are not necessarily taught by a certified music teacher until sixth grade.
Lack of funds has also impacted before- and after-school music activities in Philly schools. Meanwhile, district-supplied instruments stand in need of repair, while music technology at all levels and innovation suffer. This in a country that spends countless billions every year on standardized testing alone.
And no one appreciates the shame of all this more than Linda Septien, CEO of the Septien Entertainment Group and one of the most influential celebrity music coaches in the country. Now, she’s gratefully turning her attention towards getting parents to TUNE IN to music education as a way to raise test scores and boost overall intelligence.
As she says, “The benefits of music far exceed simply learning in a classroom.” Along with better brain function, she cites these other “paybacks” to music and performance education:
Learning to watch people, thereby learning the skills of a CEO
Learning a skill
Being part of the social world
Self-esteem building from successful performances
Dealing with business practices and discipline of a job early in life
She’s also found that children who engage in music programs and faithfully practice playing their instruments score 22% higher on English/language arts standardized tests and 20% on those covering math. Meanwhile, she 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 expert in the field of music that her Septien School of Music/Septien Entertainment Group was chosen to be part of The Talent Code, a New York Times bestseller by Daniel Coyle. In fact, he deemed its music training program as being one of the best in the world.
So, follow her lead and insist that music starts taking its rightful place in our schools. At the same time, encourage your kids to join the chorus and take up an instrument-and practice a lot, too. After all, as U2’s Bono reminds us, “Music can change the world because it can change people,”
P.S. Philly-area residents, if you care about music and music education, get to Clark Park, 4398 Chester Avenue, for Rock to the Future’s Fall Festival fundraiser on September 19. It runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will feature local bands, crafts, food, and raffles; it will be so worth your time and generosity. Explains program director, Josh Craft, “When school budgets are cut, music and art programs are often eliminated first.” His hope is to raise up to $1,000 to fill the program gap.