The Effects of Music Instruction on Learning in the Montessori Classroom

By Harris, Maureen | Montessori Life, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Effects of Music Instruction on Learning in the Montessori Classroom


Harris, Maureen, Montessori Life


The value of music in educating the young child is not being recognized, particularly in the area of mathematics. Despite the amount of literature available regarding the effects of music instruction on academic achievement, little has been written on different Montessori music pedagogies and their effects on students' math scores. If research of students in the school system indicates that learning through the arts can benefit the "whole" child (Upitis & Smithrim, 2001); that math achievement scores are significantly higher for those students studying music (Rauscher & Shaw, 1998); and that Montessori education produces a more academically accomplished child (Clifford & Takacs, 1991); then what is the potential for the child when Montessori includes an enriched music curriculum?

Education Today and Tomorrow

At the outset of the 21st century, many educators and parents are considering the kind of education young people need to become responsible and productive members of a global society. Major changes globally are making it increasingly difficult to prepare our students to be responsible citizens of the future. Recognizing that schooling should enhance the development of creative and responsible citizens, we need to consider how such development takes place and provide rich opportunities for learning for all students (Landsberg, 1997; Eisler, 2000). In response to this crisis in education, studies have been conducted to assess the importance of arts in education (Dewey, 1934; Eisner, 1994; Gardner, 1983; Greene, 1995). The research evidence clearly states the benefits of learning through the arts (Dewey, 1934; Gardner, 1973; Upitis & Smithrim, 2001).

Music and Brain Development

The role music plays in the education of the child is the focus of much discussion in education today. The baby at play is sculpting a brain that will be used for the rest of his or her life (Olsho, 1984). Research results indicate that the learning and remembering of a melody can occur not only before birth, but actually before or at the beginning of the third trimester (Hepper, 1991). The first 3 years in a child's life is a period when music can be used to stimulate the development of nerve connections between brain cells necessary for optimal cognitive development (Hodges, 2000), and the natural beneficial outcomes of the effects of music on brain development are evident in the area of academics (Catterall, 1998). Music has been a mainstay of early childhood education for more than a century, as songs became part of the daily routine; children clearly find pleasure in singing such favorites as "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," among others.

Music and Math

While studying higher brain function, Rauscher and Shaw (1997) found a connection linking music lessons to improved spatial-temporal reasoning abilities in 4- to 6-year-olds. Professor Larry Morton duplicated the Mozart Effect study (Shaw, 1993), substituting the music of Pink Floyd for Mozart's piano sonata, and found similar results (Morton, Kershner & Siegel, 1990). While music is viewed as a separate intelligence, there is a high correlation between mathematics and music (Yoon, 2000), and it is more than a coincidence that math and music are noted for their crossover talents. Music involves ratios, regularity, and patterns, all of which parallel mathematical concepts (Gardiner, Fox, Knowles & Jeffrey, 1996). For example, the musical scale is similar to a neat logarithmic progression of frequencies. There are also similar connections between patterns of notes and patterns of numbers (Marsh, 1999). Reading music requires an understanding of ratios and proportions. Arithmetic progressions in music correspond to geometric progressions in mathematics (Hiebert, 1999). Music enables students to learn multiplication tables and math formulas more easily (T. Mickela as cited in Kelstrom, 1998); rhythm students learn the concept of fractions more easily; students who were taught using rhythm notation scored 100 percent higher on tests of fractions; and a child may use the ability for logical thinking that was developed in music class to solve problems quite unrelated to music (Kelstrom, 1998). …

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