Angelica Durrell was a musician who taught a small group of high school students in Connecticut percussion skills ten years ago. The students were taught how to play the charango and the toys, instruments that are native to Central America and South America. They first learned how to play “Pachelbel’s Canon.” Then they learned how The Shirelles’ Sixties doo-wop hit “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”
Within a few years, after-school musical programs, which were designed to assist Latino students with academic challenges, had become a well-respected extracurricular. They have been transformed from something that was “nice-to-have” into a strategic tool for solving some of the district’s long-standing problems. Durrell’s school leaders, students, and teachers noticed that Durrell’s students were attending school more frequently, their English was getting better, and they made more friends.
Intempo, Durrell’s charitable program for students, currently serves more than 3,000 students each school year in Stamford or Norwalk. This highlights music’s profound influence on learning both from a cognitive and social and emotional learning perspective. Durrell explains that they changed their approach from one of music to an immigrant inclusion, language acquisition, grade-level reading-acquisition, and perspective.
Being exposed to music regularly, whether it’s learning to play an instrument, or taking voice lessons can strengthen certain academic and emotional skills that are crucial for learning. When the hometasks can damage mental health, music lessons can help to feel better such as help sources with college paper help. Research on cognitive neuroscience has shown that music learning is a powerful way to improve language skills, memory, attention, and reading ability in ways that are unparalleled by other pursuits such as athletics.
Experts hope this new evidence will help to change the current state, which is uneven and, at times, nonexistent, in schools. Americans for the Arts, a non-profit advocacy group, conducted a survey in 2014 that found nearly four million elementary school students didn’t attend music class. Recent data from the 2016 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows improvements in certain areas. But access and participation in arts vary by region. For example: While 68 percent had attended music class in 2016, Northeast students were twice as likely as students in South or West to have access to this class.
Following months of music-related disruptions from the pandemic, arts education tracking organizations such as funded Arts Education Partnership admit that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to determine who’s learning in school music.
Music – Cognitive Health Benefits
The solution to understanding music’s benefits, a researcher would say, is hidden in a way in which the brain processes sound, the raw material of music, language, and — perhaps counterintuitively — learning to read. The sounds we hear traveling along the anatomically complex auditory pathway. This path is closely connected to the brain’s parts that govern how we move, think, and talk, what we learn and what our attention is. Nina Kraus is a neuroscientist who wrote the Book Of Sound Mind. She explained that “the hearing brain can be vast.” “People view the hearing system as a small part of their brain. Our hearing activates our cognitive sensory, motor, reward, and motor systems. That’s huge. The evolutionary perspective of being able to make sense of sound is old. It has engaged all these perspectives.
The best thing about music learning is the fact that it brings together all those systems into one activity. To play the instrument of the violin, a student must use all three systems. The brain’s reward mechanism is activated when music plays. It is possible to engage all of these different systems, which makes learning how music can be one of the richest and complex brain activities. Kraus wrote, “Teachers tell me repeatedly that children who play musical instruments also do well in school.” Because they have spent more time engaging with sound, young musicians have stronger language and reading skills than non-musicians.
It doesn’t make a difference what instrument you have: flutes, accordions, pianos, voices, and even extensive exposure to music can all have an impact. Kraus explains that engaging with sounds changes and strengthens brain responses to sound.
Music in a role of Academic Strength Training
A music educator at Avenue School of Durban in Sussex County New Jersey, announces a specific rhythm. Her kindergarteners then use Boomwhackers as tuned percussion pipes that are of different sizes and colors. “Now only red! Do ‘I like pepperoni pizza,'” she calls, and the children play ta-tee-ta-tee-ta-ta. She says that they can only play when you hold up their color. They have to learn when they should wait and when they can play.
Research has shown that a child’s ability to predict the next beat and maintain a steady beat is an indicator of readiness to learn. Anita Collins (educator) notes that keeping a rhythm isn’t all that’s necessary for reading and language development.
Reading music, or decoding musical notes and connecting them to sounds, activates a “phonological loop” within the brain. This is similar to learning words. It strengthens sound-word connections. Collins explains it in her book.
- The eye recognizes a symbol, no matter what it is: an eighth note D or the letter t at a beginning of a phrase.
- The brain hears what is being said, using the information stored in the brain’s memory of music and speech sounds.
- The brain directs the body to produce that sound. It doesn’t matter if the body is using hands to play instruments or if the brain shapes the mouth to make a t sound.
- The brain makes adjustments after it has made the right sound.
Processing sound strengthens those same brain areas that teach language and read, and while neuroscientists are still trying to figure out how this happens, Collins writes that Collins has recently discovered that reading and music may well be complementary learning activities. Collins suggests that music could serve as a powerful tool to improve language learning.
The Sounds of Social Cohesion
Multiple videos show people in Italy singing from their balconies as Covid-19 lockdowns began to spread in March 2020. Italians used music to make connections with their neighbors in times of extreme stress.
Song and music are the basic means humans have used to connect with one another for thousands of centuries. Collins informs Edutopia: “Music lives within the oldest portion of our brain.” “Music is as old and as important as the spoken and written word.”
University of Toronto researchers found that when an adult sang and moved to a music beat with a one-year-old child, it increased social cohesion. This was because the child was more likely “accidentally” to drop an item. Collins writes that Collins replicated the study several times. Collins explains that music taps into a primal relationship that may encourage prosocial behavior, such as empathy, helping, and these are behaviors that adults desire for children to learn using the tenets that social and ethical learning.
It is a powerful way for students to build basic social bonds. Kindermusik’s vice-president of education, states that singing is a powerful tool to help children feel part of a community. Kindermusik has a curriculum that uses research-based music to teach early childhood learners.
Students might benefit from social singing, as well as music-making, in these days of high levels of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, like Italy’s balcony sing during the lockdown. Green says that children at school sing much less than they used. Collins remarks that most people think learning music is a way to become a musician.
Kids Receive Deep and Constant Engagement
Faced with tight budgets, increased academic expectations, testing, and a teacher shortage, some districts and schools are turning to community partners and charities for help. Save the Music Foundation and other groups provide grants for schools to buy instruments and teach. The Harmony Project is a program that provides intensive music education and support for students who are less fortunate in the Los Angeles region. The Soulsville Charter School is an American music-influenced middle/high school in Memphis. This school was established with the support and assistance of the Soulsville Foundation.
The Superintendent of Stamford Public Schools, says that “You need to be open to saying, ‘We cannot do this alone’.” Durrell’s Intempo is now an essential component of the district’s new arrivers program. Lucero explains that Stamford schools offered regular music programming. However, she says, “We were willing to openly consider the idea of how we could partner with an outside company to enrich our learning environment for students.”
Researchers are still trying out to determine the reason why music learning is so valuable to students. However, they do know enough that it’s not just about writing a song or listening to it for class. Students should learn to play an instrument or study voice in order for maximum brain benefits. Music education is recommended as a class for all children across grades.