Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Music Can Boost Results, Creativity and Students' Self-Esteem

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Music Can Boost Results, Creativity and Students' Self-Esteem

Article excerpt

Lang Lang, the world's leading classical pianist, says that schools need to recognise the broader impact of music education

In a large, white classroom in Harlem, New York, 30 kids sit in front of their electric pianos playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star together. They're 10-years-old and as they come to the end of the lullaby, they spontaneously applaud themselves.

They have these lessons twice each week at PS46, always using their own piano and always under the instruction of a dedicated piano teacher. They will continue to have them for the next three years, with curriculum time dedicated to it.

Those that work at the school will tell you that these sessions are changing these kids. The catchment is an area of deprivation where 75 per cent of students are eligible for free school meals and more than 50 per cent do not hit state test standards. Since introducing the piano curriculum, students that did not come to school now attend every day, children have begun engaging with learning like they never had before and there was a transformation in the attitude, motivation and application that all students demonstrated in class.

"It makes us feel much more proud of ourselves," explains fifth-grader Lindell Raison. "[The piano lessons] give us inspiration, hard work and dedication."

The programme, Keys of Inspiration (see box, opposite), runs in six schools in the US and positive feedback like this makes the man who came up with the concept, who financed it and who is pushing for the programme to be further expanded, feel two distinct emotions.

First, he's happy that a conviction he has - that music is transformational educationally and personally - is being proven.

But secondly, and more acutely, he feels disappointed that the education system does not see the worth in music that he does. And budget cuts, he fears, will make the problem of getting music into schools even worse.

"Music tuition looks easy to cut," he says. "That's because people don't understand why we need music. It's not about learning to play an instrument. It is about opening minds, cultivating imaginations, learning to communicate. It can influence every aspect of your life."

He should know. Music has taken 33-year-old Lang Lang from a one-bedroom flat in Beijing, one that contained just a bunk bed and a piano, to a private jet that transports him between headline shows around the world. He is widely seen as the greatest living classical pianist, he has been credited with inspiring 44 million kids to play piano in China and he is a UN Messenger of Peace.

Education, as you may have guessed, is a major focus and he has some ideas about music and education - about character and resilience and creativity - that provide an interesting reflection on the government's plans for schools in England.

Feel the rhythm

That Lang Lang believes that music tuition is essential to schooling is to be expected. What is more interesting, however, is how he thinks that schools are getting music tuition wrong. Teaching children about music is not just about playing an instrument, he insists, or about detailing theory. Instead, it's about understanding music as an art.

"You need to let children interpret for themselves," he explains. "You need them to have their own vision of the content - it's about more than what is on the page, it is about feeling the music.

"If you only have technique, you feel empty. You can't deliver. You have the language but you cannot speak it. It's frustration."

Just as irksome for Lang Lang is that the broader benefits of music teaching are not appreciated by some schools.

"As long as music tuition is done properly, you will see students learn how to focus, learn how to commit, learn how to be creative," he says. "It teaches you logic. …

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