Music Lessons Are Beneficial to the Brain

By DeZarn, Guy | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 8, 1997 | Go to article overview

Music Lessons Are Beneficial to the Brain


DeZarn, Guy, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


When residents of Alexandria decried the excess of sex and violence in our public schools, the School Board apparently thought they spoke of the proliferation of the sax and violins.

How else to describe a decision to budget a measly $25,000 for musical instrument repair and purchase, while splurging on a $25 million white elephant - Apple computers and the Internet?

Yet with the stroke of a pen, the board did just that. What makes the actions all the more reprehensible is that they fly in the face of all recent studies on how learning occurs.

Scientific support for teaching children to play an instrument at an early age is now trumpeted by medical journals, brain researchers and major medical centers.

It turns out that the brain, while young and malleable, actually changes its makeup when exposed to music training. Brain cells that would otherwise be sloughed off are used to wire the brain in a way that improves the spatial-temporal abilities critical to solving math and science problems.

For a system steeped in low achievement, particularly in math and science, here is a solution. For a system seeking tools to teach mental discipline and physical responsibility, here is the violin, the piano and the saxophone.

Given what we know of music's unique ability to teach formation of mental imagery and the ability to reason in sequence, why have the leaders of our school system ignored this approach? Why, when the very skills needed to excel in science and math are literally at our fingertips, do we look elsewhere?

Studies confirming the remarkable success of music instruction also expose the computer for what it is - a powerful, albeit oft-abused, machine, ill-suited to instruction in elementary schools.

In research highlighted by the medical journals, 78 preschoolers of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds were divided into four groups. Those children given two 15-minute piano lessons weekly scored an average of 34 percent higher on tests of spatial-temporal ability than groups given computer instruction. Those given no instruction revealed no improvement.

Little surprise that amid the money and influence of the city's snake-oil salesmen, their pitches amplified by their school board mouthpieces, these compelling facts are drowned out.

Big money is riding on the "wiring" of our schools. The violin lobby is easily muted.

And while you rarely see a trumpet case toted into the offices where decisions are made, Alexandria can claim a glut of purveyors of peripherals championing high-tech policies that are as expensive as they are flawed. …

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