Researchers in various fields are now confirming what many musicians including myself have long believed – that music not only somehow moves us and expresses our emotions, it also has the potential to shape and develop our minds, to improve our mood and even our health.
In “Music – The 4th ‘R’”, a booklet compiled by the Music Education Council, the National Music Council and the Music Industries Association, there is a fascinating overview of the growing body of empirical evidence linking children’s learning of music with significantly improved abilities in other subjects. In short, learning music can help children improve their
- •reading ability
- •ability in maths, science and engineering
- •speech-fluency in native and foreign languages
- •memorising capacity
- •reasoning and problem-solving, as well as team working and social skills, ability to handle stress (performance pressures) and of course artistic ability.
“It has often been recorded that the left half of the brain is bigger in musicians than in non musicians. This part of the brain is important in verbal memory. Musical training before age 12 is now known to lead to better verbal memory. Music training expands the area of the brain used to play the instrument and also stimulates more general physical changes in the brain, benefiting other faculties”.
Ian Robertson, “Mind Sculpture” (Bantam Press), MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge.
There are many intriguing studies in this area. For example:
- •Kindergarten age children who were taught the rhythm and melodies of folk songs 40 mins a day for 7 months showed significantly higher reading scores than a control group.
- •Pre-school age children who received daily singing lessons and weekly keyboard instruction for 8 months performed significantly better on tests of spatial reasoning that those with no music tuition.
- •The College Entrance Examination Board recently announced that students who studied either music performance or music appreciation scored higher on both verbal and maths portions of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in 1995 than did those who had not studied music.
Studies are also being undertaken that show musical engagement has many benefits for the mature learner too, keeping the mind agile and providing a great method of relaxation.
Indeed it is not only our learning abilities that can benefit from a structured interaction with music. Music is also increasingly used as a therapy, proving an aid in treating common diseases and conditions including asthma, heart disease, ADHD and Alzheimer’s. (For more detail see “The Mozart Effect” by Don Campbell – there’s a copy in York library). It is also becoming accepted that engaging with a cultural pursuit such as music gives us a better chance at longevity.
The literature discussing the vast and varied benefits of musical activity is large and growing. It is not within the remit of this site to review the research but simply to bring attention to it for those who are interested. I’ve noted below some of the texts I’ve studied. They make fascinating reading.
- 1.Blacking, J. (1973) How musical is man? Faber & Faber.
- 2.Charness, N., Krampe, R. Th. & Mayr, U. (1986) The Road to Excellence: the acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, ed K.A. Ericsson, Erlbaum.
- 3.Davidson, J.W., Howe, M.J.A., Moore, D.G. & Sloboda, J.A. (1996) The role of parental influences in the development of musical performance. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 14:399-412.
- 4.Ericsson, K.A. & Charness, N. (1995b) Abilities: evidence for talent or characteristics acquired through engagement in relevant activities. American Psychologist, 50:803-804.
- 5.Feld, S. (1984) Sound structure as a social structure. Ethnomusicology, 28:383-409.
- 6.Hargreaves, D. J. (1994) Musical education for all. The Psychologist, 7:357-358.
- 7.Howe, M. J. A. (1975) Learning in infants and young children, Macmillan.
- 8.Howe, M. J. A., Davidson, J. W., Moore, D. G. & Sloboda, J. A. (1995) Are there early childhood signs of musical ability? Psychology of Music, 23:162-176.
- 9.Howe, M. J. A. & Sloboda, J. A. (1991c) Early signs of talents and special interests in the lives of young musicians. European Journal of High Ability, 2:102-111.
- 10.Lehmann, A. C. (1995) The acquisition of expertise in music: efficiency of deliberate practice as a moderating variable in accounting for sub-expert performance. In: Perception and cognition of music ed. I Deliege & J. A. Sloboda, Erlbaum.
- 11.Manturzewska, M. (1990) A biographical study of the life-span development of professional musicians. Psychology of Music, 18:112-139.
- 12.Marshall, C. (1982) Towards a comparative aesthetics of music. In Cross cultural perspectives in music, ed R. Falck & T. Rice, University of Toronto Press.
- 13.Miller, L. K. (1989) Musical Savants: Exceptional skill in the mentally retarded, Erlbaum.
- 14.O’Neill, S. (1994) Factors influencing children’s motivation and achievement during the first year of instrumental music tuition. Proceedings of the third international conference on music perception and cognition, University of Liege, Belgium.
- 15.Papousek, J. (1995) Musicality and infancy research. In Perception and cognition of music, ed. I. Deliege & J. A. Sloboda, Erlbaum.
- 16.Parncutt, R. (1993) Prenatal experience and origins of music. In: Prenatal perception, learning and bonding, ed. T. Blum, Leonardo.
- 17.Schlaug, G., Jancke, L., Huant, Y. & Steinmetz, H. (1995). In vivo evidence of structural brain asymmetry in musicians. Science, 267:699-701.
- 18.Sloboda, J. A. (1985) The musical mind, Clarendon Press.
- 19.Sloboda, J. A. (1991) Musical expertise. In: Toward a general theory of expertise, ed K. A. Ericsson & J. Smith, Cambridge University Press.
- 20.Sloboda, J. A. (1996) Deconstructing the talent account of individual differences in musical expressivity. In: The road to excellence: the acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, ed, K. A. Ericsson, Erlbaum.
- 21.Sloboda, J. A., Davidson, J. W. & Howe, M. J. A. (1994a&b) Is everyone musical? Musicians: experts not geniuses. The Psychologist 7:349-364.
- 22.Sloboda, J. A., Davidson, J. W., Howe, M. J. A & Moore, D. G. (1996) The role of practice in the development of performing musicians. British Journal of Psychology 87.
- 23.Sloboda, J. A., Hermelin, B. & O’Connor, N. (1985) An exceptional musical memory. Musical perception 3:155-170.
- 24.Sloboda J. A. & Howe, M. J. A. (1992) Transitions in the early musical careers of able young musicians. Journal of Research in Music Education, 40:283-294.
- 25.Sosniak, L. A. (1985) Learning to be a concert pianist. In: Developing talent in young people, ed B. S. Bloom, Ballantine.
- 26.Trehub, S. E. (1990) The perception of musical patterns by human infants. In: Comparative perception, vol 1: Basic mechanism, ed M. A. Berkeley & W. C. Stebbins, Wiley.