Music and its Value in EducationIn my previous post, The Effects of Music on the Brain, we discussed how music helps develop the brain by building connectivity between the two hemispheres.  In this post, we discuss how this knowledge helps us to understand its value in Education.

Every stimulus that is inputted into our senses allows for us, as humans, to interpret information and to generate new information.  We can use all of our receptors or only one, but regardless of which one, the brain will allow us to interpret, deduce, recall or create information ourselves stimulated by external variables.  Also, different people interpret, create, and process this information in varied modes.  As humans we relate it to our environment, our experiences and our life.  What I have experienced is quite different from what another experiences.  When I smell the sweet scent of gardenias, my mind transports me to a place and time that reminds me of where and when the smell of gardenias had an impact on me.  I cannot expect that anyone else would have the same experience as I.  This thought can also be transferred to Music.  I can relate a song to a specific event in my life that no one else has experienced. Maybe that event was a negative occurrence and therefore, I find displeasure in listening to a specific song.  Others have a different reaction to the same song as well.  If information has a certain significance to me, how do I determine whether that significance is personal to me or whether it is actually conveyed in the external information and therefore available to others who receive the same information? How do we communicate those aspects of our knowledge that are personal?  We rely on a system of symbols that helps us communicate, our language.

The successful acquisition of reading and writing in early childhood depends on a solid background in oral language skills. Oral language is an interactive and social process, and music is a natural way for children to experience rich language in a pleasurable way.   Young children are naturally at ease with sound and rhythm.  Besides providing enjoyment, music can play an important role in language and literacy development.  Strong social bonds are encouraged through music and songs beginning in preschool.  Toddlers can begin to experiment with grammatical rules and various rhyming patterns in songs and other written text.

Establishing a sense of rhythm can be used to increase a student’s awareness of rhyming patterns and alliteration in other areas of reading and writing.  Through music, “memory skills can be improved, and aural discrimination increased” (Chong & Gan, 1997, p.98). Music can focus the mind on the sounds being perceived and promote learning through an interactive process.  It is important in teaching early childhood students to be conscious of auditory and discrimination skills.  Music and songs help increase these listening skills in a fun, relaxed manner. As Wolf (1992) stated,  “Listening skills are key in singing, language and expressive movement, and later reading and writing” (p. 92).

Music has always been a way for children to remember stories and learn about the world around them.  Using music as a stimulus can effect one’s emotions and make information easier to remember.  Music also creates an environment that is conducive to learning.  It can reduce stress, increase interest, and set the stage for listening and learning.  As Davies (2000) has noted, “The similarities between literacy acquisition and musical development are many, therefore, teaching that combines music with language arts instruction can be the most effective ”(p. 327).  Furthermore, it is important for emergent readers to experience many connections between literacy in language, music, and in print.

Language in music and language in print have many similarities, such as the use of abstract symbols.  Both oral language and written language can be obtained in the same manner “that is, by using them in a variety of holistic literacy experiences, and building on what the students already know about oral and written language” (Clay, 1993, p. 232).  For example, emergent readers will attempt to read along in a shared reading of a familiar text, just as they will join in a sing along to a familiar song.  Similar to emergent reading and writing which are acquired to drawing and pretending to write, musical learning is connected to song and movement. According to Jalongo & Ribblett (1997), “Children instinctively listen to music and try to identify familiar melodies and rhythms, just as early readers will look for words that sound alike, have patterns, or rhyme” (p. 86). For example, song picture books illustrate how the use of familiar text, predictability, and repetition can encourage children to read.  Using songs put to print can expand vocabulary and knowledge of story structure, as well as build on concepts about print.  Repetition in songs supports and enhances emergent literacy by offering children an opportunity to read higher-leveled text and to read with the music over and over again in a meaningful context.  Print put to music also allows children to build on past experiences, which in turn invites them to participate in reading and singing at the same time.  Brain function is increased when listening to music and studies have shown that music promotes more complex thinking. Basic skills are generally regarded as reading and writing for the communication of thoughts and experiences. Music learned and appreciated enhances the basic skills of thought processes inherent in critical reading and writing.  The positive link that is apparent between reading, writing and music also extends to mathematics.

Rauscher, Len and Shaw, while studying higher brain function found a connection to the brain linking music with improved spatial temporal reasoning abilities.  While music is viewed as a separate intelligence, as per Howard Gardner, there is a high correlation between mathematics and music.  Music involves ratios, regularity and patterns, which are all mathematical concepts.  An example of this is the musical scale, which is a “neat logarithmic progression of frequencies” (Harris, 2002,  p. 3).  There are also similar connections between patterns of notes and patterns of numbers.  With such connections the concept of odd and even numbers are also interplayed. In addition, music enables students to learn multiplication tables and math formulas more easily and through rhythm students learn the concept of fractions at a quicker pace.  The research conducted by Harris (2002) found that “students who were taught using rhythm notation scored 100% higher on fractions tests” (p.8).  Music is able to stimulate children in order to make new connections among music, math, and science activities by encouraging them to probe into what Jeanne Bamberger (2003) terms “underlying conceptual structures and problem-solving strategies”(p. 34) shared among these core subjects. Essentially, concepts embedded in musical activities and their representations can be used in elementary schools to facilitate new understandings of fundamental concepts, processes and representational systems utilized in core curriculum.

Within all academic subjects there are fundamental concepts and processes, which are present within music. There is extensive literature with these correlations and I have highlighted the ones for Language and Mathematics.  The reason for this is due in part that Language and Mathematics are viewed as the back to basic core subjects.  Other benefits and correlations are found in Science, such as “utilizing experimental methods, research skills, systems analysis, investigation and discovery, observation, metamorphosis, cause and effect, and classification” (New England LTM Conservatory, 2003, p. 11).  Such correlations are extended to History, Social Science and Art as well.   Processes such as “time line event ordering, diverse social perspectives, interpretation of events, understanding diverse cultures, expressivity, form, character, colour, design, movement and composition” (New England LTM Conservatory, 2003, p.12) are all found within the context of Music.

Again, we hope that you find this information and research valuable.  The 3rd part of this series is on Music and the Social and Emotional Development of the Child.  Let us know what you think thus far.


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