Music Lessons Were the Best Thing Your Parents Ever Did for You, According to Science – Tom Barnes

If your parents ever submitted you to regular music lessons as a kid, you probably got in a fight with them once or twice about it. Maybe you didn’t want to go; maybe you didn’t like practicing. But we have some bad news: They were right. It turns out that all those endless major scale exercises and repetitions of “Chopsticks” had some incredible effects on our minds.

Psychological studies continue to uncover more and more benefits that music lessons provide to developing minds. One incredibly comprehensive longitudinal study, produced by the German Socio-Economic Panel in 2013, stated the power of music lessons as plain as could be: “Music improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance.” The study found that kids who take music lessons “have better cognitive skills and school grades and are more conscientious, open and ambitious.” And that’s just the beginning.

The following list is a sampling of the vast amount of neurological benefits that music lessons can provide. Considering this vast diversity, it’s baffling that there are still kids in this country who are not receiving high-quality music education in their schools. Every kid should have this same shot at success.

1. It improved your reading and verbal skills.

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Several studies have found strong links between pitch processing and language processing abilities. Researchers out of Northwestern University found that five skills underlie language acquisition: “phonological awareness, speech-in-noise perception, rhythm perception, auditory working memory and the ability to learn sound patterns.” Through reviewing a series of longitudinal studies, they discovered that each these skills is exercised and strengthened by music lessons. Children randomly assigned to music training alongside reading training performed much better than those who received other forms of non-musical stimulation, such as painting or other visual arts. You’ve got to kind of feel bad for those kids randomly assigned into art classes.

2. It improved your mathematical and spatial-temporal reasoning.

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Music is deeply mathematical in nature. Mathematical relationships determine intervals in scales, the arrangement of keys and the subdivisions of rhythm. It makes sense then that children who receive high-quality music training also tend to score higher in math. This is because of the improved abstract spatial-temporal skills young musicians gain. According to a feature written for PBS Education, these skills are vital for solving the multistep problems that occur in “architecture, engineering, math, art, gaming and especially working with computers.” With these gains, and those in verbal and reading abilities, young musicians can pretty much help themselves succeed in any field they decide to pursue.

3. It helped your grades.

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In a 2007 study, Christopher Johnson, a professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, found that “elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22% higher in English and 20% higher in math scores on standardized tests compared to schools with low-quality music programs.” A 2013 study out of Canada found the same. Every year that scores were measured, the mean grades of the students who chose music were higher than those who chose other extracurriculars. While neither of these studies can necessarily prove causality, both do point out a strong correlative connection.

4. It raised your IQ.

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Surprisingly, though music is primarily an emotional art form, music training actually provides bigger gains in academic IQ than emotional IQ. Numerous studies have found that musicians generally boast higher IQs than non-musicians. And while these lessons don’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be smarter than the schlub who didn’t learn music, they definitely made you smarter than you would have been without them.

5. It helped you learn languages more quickly.

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Children who start studying music early in life develop stronger linguistic abilities. They develop more complex vocabularies, a more nuanced understanding of grammar and higher verbal IQs. These benefits don’t just impact children’s learning of their first language, but also their ability to learn every language they attempt to learn in the future. The Guardian reports: “Music training plays a key role in the development of a foreign language in its grammar, colloquialisms and vocabulary.” These heightened language acquisition abilities will follow students their whole lives and will aid them when they need to pick up new tongues late in adulthood.

6. It made you a better listener, which will help a lot when you’re older.

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Musical training makes people far more sensitive listeners, which can help tremendously as people age. Musicians who keep up with their instrument enjoy a much slower decline in “peripheral hearing.” They can avoid what scientists refer to as the “cocktail party problem” in which older people have trouble isolating specific voices (or musical tones) from a noisy background.

7. It will slow the effects of aging.

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But beyond just auditory processing, musical training can also help delay cognitive decline associated with aging. Some of the most promising research positions music as an effective way to stave off dementia. Studies out of Emory University find that even if musicians stop playing as they age, the neurological restructuring that occurred when they were kids helps them perform better on “object-naming, visuospatial memory and rapid mental processing and flexibility” tests than others who never played. The study authors add, though, that musicians had to play for at least 10 years to enjoy these effects. Hopefully you stuck with it long enough.

8. It strengthened your motor cortex.

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All musical instruments require high levels of finger dexterity and accuracy. The training works out the motor cortex to an incredible extent, and the benefits can apply to a wide range of non-musical skills. Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2013 found that kids who start learning to play before the age of 7 perform far better on non-musical movement tasks. Exposure at a young age builds connectivity in the corpus callosum, which provides a strong foundation upon which later movement training can build.

9. It improved your working memory.

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Playing music puts a high level of demand on one’s working memory (or short-term memory). And it seems the more one practices their instrument, the stronger their working memory becomes. A 2013 study found that musical practice has a positive association with participants’ working memory capacity, their processing speed and their reasoning abilities. Writing for Psychology Today, William R. Klemm claims that musicians’ memory abilities should spread into all non-musical verbal realms, helping them remember more content from speeches, lectures or soundtracks.

10. It improved your long-term memory for visual stimuli.

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Music training can also affect long-term memory, especially in the visual realm. Scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington reported last year that classically trained musicians who have been playing more than 15 years score higher on pictorial long-term memory tests. This heightened visual sensitivity likely comes from parsing complex musical scores. The study makes no claims for musicians who learn to play without reading music.

11. It made you better at managing anxiety.

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Analyzing brain scans of musicians ages 6 through 18, researchers out of the University of Vermont College of Medicine have found tremendous thickening of the cortex in areas responsible for depression, aggression and attention problems. According to the study’s authors, musical training “accelerated cortical organization in attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control.” That’s why you’re so emotionally grounded all the time, right? Right.

12. It enhanced your self-confidence and self-esteem.

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Several studies have shown how music can enhance children’s self-confidence and self-esteem. A 2004 study split a sample of 117 fourth graders from a Montreal public school. One group received weekly piano instruction for three years while the control received no formal instructions. Those who played weekly scored significantly higher on self-esteem tests than those who did not. As most of us know, high levels of self-esteem can help children grow and develop in a vast number of academic and non-academic realms.

13. It made you more creative.

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Creativity is notoriously difficult to measure scientifically. All measures generally leave something to be desired. But most sources hold that music training enhances creativity “particularly when the musical activity itself is creative (for instance, improvisation).” According to Education Week, Ana Pinho, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, found that musicians with “longer experience in improvising music had better and more targeted activity in the regions of the brain associated with creativity.” Music training also enhances communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. And studies show musicians perform far better on divergent thinking tests, coming up with greater numbers of novel, unexpected ways to combine new information.

Originally published here. 

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3 Ways Music Instruction in Schools Teaches Grit

3 Ways Music Instruction in Schools Teaches Grit (and Why Children Need it So Badly Now)

The “self-esteem movement” in this country is coming to an end.  We have learned that giving a trophy to all kids just for participating hasn’t worked, and — even worse — has undermined the natural grit that our nation is built upon.

We are also at a crossroads in education, where people are starting to finally wake up to the fact that passion and perseverance matters more than intelligence when it comes to being successful.  Hard work and stick-to-itiveness trumps “talent” and “good genes” every time, and usually gets most of us to where we want to be in our life and in our work.  Grit is what we want our children to cultivate during their time in school, not just good test scores.

What is grit?

I write about grit quite a bit on this blog.  Grit is the result of struggle, risk-taking, determination, embracing failure, working relentlessly toward a goal, and perseverance to accomplish tough tasks.  Make no mistake about it: Like talent, grit can be learned and cultivated.  In my opinion, developing grit should be one of the core goals of raising and educating our children, and sadly is missing from our test-rich school culture these days.

Failure in a safe environment is how our children learn.  Considering that failing is the worst thing that can happen in school (think red pens, slash marks, and standardized test scores), we need music instruction now more than ever to help our children cultivate grit throughout their K-12 education.

Here are four ways students learn grit through music — perhaps more than any other subject in school:

It takes guts to perform.  Once the honeymoon is over with choosing an instrument or singing in choir, students must engage in performing, both alone and in an ensemble.  And it takes some guts to “put oneself out there” for all to hear — blemishes and all — even if things aren’t going to go that well.  It’s up to parents and teachers to use performance as a future motivator in order to increase the opportunities for students to build up their grit.  Think of how great you would feel knowing that your child is building confidence for the tough road ahead that we call life.

With the right help from adults, children learn resilience through music study. Playing a musical instrument does not yield a lot of immediate gratification — at first.  This is a new concept to our ever-connected young generation, yet it’s more crucial now than ever before that we create a culture in our schools that allows our students to embrace failure and frustration in a safe environment.  Parents’ whose first instinct is to protect their child from embarrassment or setback must develop grit of their own and remember the struggles they had that led them to their successes.  Teachers must constantly reinforce the concept of resilience and give students the tools to succeed as the result of some sweat equity on their part.

Initiative and perseverance are traits we want all our children to learn.  Learning a musical craft helps children learn to take initiative.  As long as parents and teachers give ownership of learning to their students, children — over time — will become self-starters.  We are all trying to educate future leaders, and taking initiative is one of the primary determinants of leadership.

Once children begin their musical journey, they must stay focused on it.  It’s this perseverance that is at the core of cultivating grit.  We see it all the time: someone has a setback and overcomes it only to be stronger moving forward — as long as they don’t quit.  That said, arguments I hear from colleagues about how testing also develops grit mostly falls on my deaf ears.  There is much choice involved when it comes to music as opposed to tested subjects; children choose which instrument they want to play and make music with others — this concept of student choice is a stark difference music has from other subjects.

Today’s digital age is eroding grit in all of us.  At the end of the day, children still need focused attention for an extended period of time to realize their full potential in any subject in school, and also as human beings.  We need to teach our children that working harder and smarter is something they can control — and music consistently gives them rewarding feedback through sound as to how they are doing.

We know more now about how the brain works than we ever have before.  Psychological studies of children have finally shown us that “talent” and “intelligence” is not always what leads to success.  It’s clear that it’s not only a small percentage of us who are destined to rise to the top.  Grit is something that we can cultivate in all our children, regardless of race or socio-economic status.  While education reform will hopefully catch up with this old yet often-neglected idea, music education has been providing children the opportunity to cultivate grit for ages — and every school in our nation must embrace music education in its curricula for music’s beauty and its benefits in this regard.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students around our nation start studying music in school.  What if administrators, teachers, and parents used this opportunity to not only commit to supporting their child’s potential lifelong love of music, but to also cultivate their children’s grit that will serve them well throughout their lives by simply not giving up when times inevitably get tough?

A Lost Art: The Power of Solitude Through Music Instruction in Schools – Tony Mazzocchi

DSC00827As a public school music supervisor, I saw firsthand the shift in our education system toward an emphasis on “constant student engagement” in the classroom.  To this day, there still is this push to keep students busy from the moment class begins to the dismissal bell.  Teachers are worried about the possibility of moments where students don’t have something specific to “do” and aren’t producing something concrete — especially when a supervisor walks in.

Ultimately, there is a huge problem with this education model.  Schools have become too concerned with the business of keeping students busy and labeling it “engagement.”  In a culture of immediate gratification, smartphones, social media, and streaming everything, I believe we are perpetuating a fast pace of life that will prevent our children from thinking slowly and critically, and hinder their ability to think and reflect independently on any topic.  Students expect to be put to work at every moment, and don’t get used to what it really takes to learn something challenging.  Even homework is an exercise in multi-tasking alongside listening to music, watching TV, and streaming shows.

Often it takes silent effort, reflection and mindful thought to truly learn something — habits of mind that are difficult to qualify as “engagement” on an observation report or a report card.

Luckily for schools and the communities they serve, musical instrument instruction provides students the time and space to devote themselves completely to the study and understanding of one specific thing.  In order to improve on an instrument, students (and parents) must carve out time each day for solitude —something that is definitely becoming a lost art in our culture.

The constant connection that technology provides makes it even harder for children (and their parents) to spend time completely alone.  The thought of going into a room all by themselves is enough to prevent a child from practicing altogether, yet the importance of overcoming distractions through concentration and even separation may be the most important skill they can learn in school.

Here are a few ways parents and teachers can build their students’ tolerance for solitude through music instruction:

Make sure students have a clear goal for each practice session.  Solitude without a purpose slowly kills creativity, especially in young people.  No one wants to sit alone and work all by themselves without a reason to deal with the initial discomfort that comes with it.  Students should start with one goal and put a timestamp on it — and teachers should be clear with their goals for each student.  For instance, a teacher can assign 4 measures of an etude at a specific tempo for the week; each evening the child’s goal could be to work it up to X tempo in X number of minutes.

Slowly build up tolerance for solitude.  Depending on the person, one minute may be the threshold for sitting alone on the first day they try it.  But they can work up to two minutes the next day, then three, and so on.  Anyone can handle one minute of alone time — an instrument can be put together and cleaned; music can be perused and listened to, etc.  Children should work up to ten minutes a day of practicing in solitude, then extend it to a new comfortable time.  Ten minutes a day of solitude and mindful practice of an instrument will yield amazing results over an extended period of time.

Explain the importance of solitude.  Whether you have a child who really is driven at a young age to be great at something or a child who is just starting their musical journey, it’s important to explain that solitude and deliberate practice are absolutely necessary to becoming great at any craft.  Solitude is not about being a hermit and avoiding other people — at least not for great lengths of time. But the solitude and concentration applied in music practice is key for musicians to develop their skills and become mindful learners in general. There is no substitute for solitude and spending time alone with things; mindful time spent thinking about concepts and working on a craft with clear and specific goals in mind is the only way to become great at anything.

Interestingly, it is a decrease in external stimuli and an increase in solitude that can facilitate creative play.  What initially may seem like “boredom” soon can become a beautiful leap into a child’s inner creative space.  When a child can’t watch TV or play video games and isn’t over scheduled by their parents, imagination and creativity takes over — they are capable of dealing with the alone time that it takes to become great.  Instrumental music practice creates a bit of this space in every child’s day with help from schools and families.

It is rare to find ourselves alone in this world of constant interconnectedness.  Children need more solitude and less external, electronic, and structured adult-world stimulation.  That said, solitude should not be confused for being completely alone — we are never lonely when our mind is engaged, and there is much strength that is derived from relying on our own mental resources.  Making music instrument practice in solitude a daily part of childrens’ lives will help build strong musical skills, cultivate creativity, and build self-reliance — three priceless gifts that they will treasure forever, whatever field they choose to pursue in life.

 

Original from: http://www.musicparentsguide.com/2015/12/15/a-lost-art-the-power-of-solitude-through-music-instruction-in-schools/