Tuesday Tidbits, November 2, 2010

Hope that everyone voted. Will be very interesting to see what tomorrow’s news brings.

OK: Not so much tidbits this Tuesday – more of a music post.

Music makes you smarter! In so many words that was on the cover of a handout that came home with my son a few weeks ago, as the school’s music teacher encouraged kids and families to sign up for band and orchestra. (Let me shout this out before I continue: Thank goodness we still have a music teacher! Thank goodness he can teach band and orchestra! Yes, we are a lucky school.)

I was curious about the music = smarter pronouncement, knowing little about the impact of its study on the brain, learning, success in school, etc., and so I went to the website of the National Association of Music Education and its page on the benefits of music study. It groups the benefits of music study into four categories – success in society, school and learning, developing intelligence, and life – and here’s just some of what I read. It’s all very powerful:

  • “A 2004 Stanford University study showed that mastering a musical instrument improves the way the human brain processes parts of spoken language. In two studies, researchers demonstrated that people with musical experience found it easier than non-musicians to detect small differences in word syllables. They also discovered that musical training helps the brain work more efficiently in distinguishing split-second differences between rapidly changing sounds that are essential to processing language.”
  • “Young children who take music lessons show different brain development and improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive musical training. The brains of musically trained children respond to music in a different way to those of untrained children, and that the musical training improves their memory.” See here for more info.
  • Another study showed that children “with music training had significantly better verbal memory than those without such training, and the longer the training, the better the verbal memory.”
  • In this 2006 paper, students in high-quality school music programs scored “higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs, regardless of the socioeconomic level of the school or school district.”
  • Data collected by the College Board show students “of the arts continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT…In 2006, SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 43 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework or experience in the arts.”
  • Lastly, a 2006 Harris poll of high school principals showed that schools “that have music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than do those without programs (90.2% as compared to 72.9%). In addition, those that rate their programs as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ have an even higher graduation rate (90.9%). Schools that have music programs have significantly higher attendance rates than do those without programs (93.3% as compared to 84.9%).”

I know that there’s much to parse here. I certainly get that music study is important and find it ludicrous that many school districts have removed it completely from the curriculum. It’s the kind of knee-jerk reaction that comes with budget-cutting. But I also want to avoid being knee-jerky about music study: Yes, yes, get it back in schools. And do so in a thoughtful manner that is balanced and integrated with all else that a school and its teachers must do day to day. I have a feeling that might be one reason music study is so readily cut when cuts happened: It needs to be a more normal part of that day to day, like the study of mathematics or The Great Gatsby. Let’s stop calling it a “special,” as music and art are often called. It’s not special; it’s just what a kid should get each and every day.

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