An Analysis of Reading and Content Area Skills Improvement through Music Instruction

Article excerpt

This paper provides an analysis of reading and content area subject improvement through music instruction and examines the issue of teaching music in today's schools. The music curriculum is sometimes the victim of economic hard-times. The article argues numerous benefits and advantages derived from music instruction. The study discusses the use of music to increase cognitive development. It also examines the benefits of music in curriculum areas such as reading but also examines improvements in the content areas of math and social studies. It highlights the benefits to reach the whole student: social and academic.

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The founder of our American School system, Horace Mann, believed that music was necessary for the development of aesthetic appreciation, citizenship, and thinking. (Hedden, 1982).

In today's schools, music as a subject of study is just as important as it was in Mann's day, but far too many school boards and administrators do not consider the study of music to be one of the basics of education. Music is valued more as entertainment than for its contribution to the development of our cultural life. Additionally, during times of budget worries music class is one of the first areas to be cut, sometimes followed by reducing classes in art and physical education.

Here are some thoughts on music included in what some people call conventional wisdom or just plain common sense. Music has been said to "Soothe the savage Beast." It is used in celebrations and in hardship and is certainly an expression of emotion. Throughout history, music was used to bolster the morale of troops in combat and to ridicule or intimidate the enemy. Some doctors believe that music can help in healing the sick. Now, it is thought that music can boost academic performance. Most people will recognize the fact that learning is reinforced through music and rhythm, if they are reminded that children can sing the "ABC's" song long before they can recite the alphabet. Memorization is enhanced by rhythm. Observe the ease with which one can recite the ingredients that make up a McDonald's "Big Mac" sandwich.

A contemporary education publication recently gave a "thick" description of a school-wide use of music to increase cognitive development in Kantrowitz (1997).

 
   Two years ago Charles R. Bugg Elementary in Raleigh, N.C., was a school in 
   trouble. Test scores were below the county average, and there was 
 
      Little parental involvement. But now the school sings--literally. 
 
   In a science 
 
   Class, students grasp the vastness of space by listening to Gustav Holst's 
   symphonic suite "The Planets." Third graders studying language arts create 
   original poems with a writer-in-residence, and learn how to choreograph a 
   dance to go with their verses. In music class, pupils learn about fractions 
   as they study whole, half, and quarter notes. Bugg Elementary is one of 27 
   schools in North Carolina experimenting with ways of using the arts to 
   improve basic skills. It's too soon to make any definitive judgments about 
   whether the four-year pilot program, that began in the 1995-96 school year, 
   will boost reading and math scores, but school officials say there's 
   already plenty of evidence that integrating music and poetry into the 
   curriculum stimulates kids' interest in other subjects. "Attendance is up 
   and behavior problems are down," says Jim Fatata, Principal of the Bugg 
   School. 

The teachers were able to teach "music in the content area" or integrate the principles of music instruction within each subject taught. Successful teachers of students with learning differences have used music and rhythm to reinforce math rules, grammar rules, science facts, spelling, geography and other concepts for years. Here are even more reasons to keep music instruction in today's schools. …