Why Music?

By McTamaney, Catherine | Montessori Life, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Why Music?


McTamaney, Catherine, Montessori Life


While most of us agree that music education is a valuable component of children's development, in many classrooms, it nonetheless becomes compartmentalized as "enrichment," separate from the "real work" of the curriculum. Music education is found in occasional group sing-a-longs or a set of headphones in the corner of the classroom. Research suggests, though, that music education is far more than an entertaining diversion. The effects of a comprehensive music education program integrated into the curriculum can be seen throughout the child's development.

MUSIC DEVELOPS THE INTELLECT

Music education has long been anecdotally linked to increased intellectual ability. Recently, though, controlled studies have supported that long-held belief. Music can, in fact, affect the development of the brain and enhance cognitive functioning.

In the 2001 book, A User's Guide to the Brain, Dr. John Ratey describes this development.

The musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling-training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. Dedicated practice of this orchestration can have a great payoff for lifelong attentional skills, intelligence, and an ability for self-knowledge and expression.

A1998 study published in The Journal of Research in Music Education links use of classroom bells, like those found in Montessori classrooms, to significant increases in spatial-temporal performance among 3- and 4-year-olds. Likewise, a study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly in the same year details a 48% increase in spatialtemporal performance for kindergarteners who received music instruction.

The 1998 McGill Piano Project found that pattern recognition and mental representation scores significantly improved for students receiving keyboard instruction over a three-year period. Likewise, a 1997 report published in Neurological Research indicates that students receiving piano lessons demonstrated significantly higher spatialtemporal IQ scores than students who had only casual singing or no music instruction, and a 1994 University of California study indicates that preschoolers receiving piano instruction showed a 46% increase in their spatialreasoning IQ scores after only 8 months of instruction. In 1994, researchers in Belgium demonstrated that brain scans of musicians showed a larger planum temporale (the region of the brain related to some reading skills) and a thicker corpus callosum (the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the two halves of the brain) in musicians than nonmusicians, particularly in those individuals who began their music instruction before the age of 7. In 1992 researchers at the University of Montreal showed that sight-reading music and playing music scores both activate all four regions of the brain simultaneously, and brain scans described in Neuroscience Letters in 2000 demonstrate more efficient brain processes for students with music education than those without.

MUSIC SUPPORTS SCHOOL SUCCESS

Music education provides the structure for the acquisition of a multitude of other skills. Language development is dependent upon auditory discrimination, which music enhances. Sequencing, right-to-left progression, and handeye coordination are necessary skills for both music and written language. Mathematical concepts, including spatial and fractional relationships, drive melodies and harmonies, and reappear in geometry, algebra, and architecture.

Further, while individual experiences with music affect the development of students' intellects, group experiences creating music support the work skills students need for success. Listening together requires a collaboration and an implicit agreement to remain quiet for the benefit of other listeners. Creating music requires a reliance on others in order for the music to be performed well. The ability to perform a piece of music together may be the most beautiful example of Montessori's society by cohesion. …

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