LEARNING ... the Beat Goes On

By Davies, Mary Ann | Childhood Education, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

LEARNING ... the Beat Goes On


Davies, Mary Ann, Childhood Education


Since the beginning of time, music has helped people remember stories. Today, music still facilitates our search for gaining knowledge of ourselves and the world around us.

Who can imagine a world without music? Music pervades our lives--in movies, on the radio, at church services and social gatherings. It touches and enriches each one of us. Yet the power of music to enhance learning is often underutilized.

Using music as a tool for learning is nothing new. Since the beginning of time, music has helped people remember stories. Early man sat around campfires sharing tales of great battles while accompanied by drumbeats. During the Middle Ages, bards who sang about national heroes were a primary source of news as they roamed the countryside. Today, music still facilitates our search for gaining knowledge of ourselves and the world around us.

MUSIC ENHANCES LEARNING

Recent research in neuropsychology suggests new ways music can enhance learning. Optimal learning occurs when the two hemispheres of the brain work together. Any teaching strategy, such as music, that integrates the functions of both hemispheres uses the natural design of the brain to make learning easier, faster, and more fun (Caine, Caine, & Crowell, 1994; Campbell, 1986; Healy, 1994; Howard, 1994; Williams, 1983).

Brain Growth and Integration

Music synchronizes the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Researchers report that the left hemisphere analyzes the structure of music, while the right hemisphere focuses on the melody (Breitling, Guenther, & Rondot, 1987; Campbell, 1986). The hemispheres of the brain work together when emotions are stimulated, attention focused, and motivation heightened. Rhythm acts as a hook for capturing attention and stimulating interest. Once a person is motivated and actively involved, learning is optimized.

Electroencephalogram tests reveal that music alters brain waves, making the brain more receptive to learning. Don Campbell, Director of the Institute for Music, Health, and Education, explains that music "rhythmically and harmonically stimulates essential patterns of brain growth" (Campbell, 1992, p. 53).

A number of recent research studies suggest other ways that music accelerates learning:

* Prelimary research at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine, shows that music enhances higher-brain functions. Subjects who listened to 10 minutes of music (in this case, Mozart) prior to taking the abstract reasoning portion of the Stanford-Binet ability test did better than those using a relaxation tape or meditating before the test. It appears that complex music may promote more complex thinking (Viadero, 1993).

* Playing music in the ear opposite the hand being used in a learning task helps students learn faster than those attempting the task without music. It appears to aid the brain in working more efficiently. Researchers found that subjects learned more quickly with dramatic, forboding music than with calm, positive music (McFarland & Kennison, 1988).

* Mary Jane Collett (1991) reports that the Learning To Read Through the Arts (LTRTA) program results in improved attitudes toward the arts, reading, and learning in general, and that it substantially improves academic achievement. This program uses the arts, including music, as a stimulus for teaching reading, writing, and higher-level thinking skills.

* Another study (Shaw, 1993) examined how learning to play an instrument or singing in groups affected children's learning. The preliminary results showed that music training improves preschoolers' performance on spatial-reasoning tasks, such as puzzles or mazes.

Evoking Emotions

Music's power to evoke emotions also enhances learning. Everything we learn contains a context of feeling, no matter how subtle. It might generate interest, boredom, anxiety, happiness, or anger. …

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