Do we need music education programs in schools? Since scientists Raucher and Shaw first introduced the Mozart Effect in a 1993 issue of Nature magazine, the effects of music on students’ brains have been heavily researched and documented. For many years beforehand, music education had been viewed as optional, or “elective,” in contrast to core subjects like math and reading – and the first to go in times of crisis or budget shortfall. The latest education research shows, however, that learning music may actually work to improve learning, especially spatial reasoning skills associated with math. According to the most recent data, music education not only teaches students about notes and scales, but makes them better learners as well – and in response, music programs in schools across the nation are making a comeback.
Music Education Programs Offer Students a Wide Range of Skills.
Learning an instrument teaches students the “marriage of hand and mind,” spatial hand-eye coordination that is critical for mechanics, engineering, and surgical medicine (not to mention the ability to fix your own car). Playing music also uses a large part of the brain: according to Dr. Lawrence Parsons at the University of Texas in San Antonio, who studied the brains of expert musicians using magnetic imaging technology, “Music is represented in mechanisms widely distributed throughout the brain rather than localized in a single region, as are other kinds of information, such as visual or movement information.”
The Mozart Effect & its Impact on Learning
Then there is the famous Mozart Effect. In the study, college students listened to a Mozart piano sonata for 10 minutes before performing spatial-reasoning tasks, like identifying patterns in numbers or objects. Listening to the music beforehand greatly improved their skills; this led to a follow-up study using preschoolers who listened to Mozart before assembling a puzzle. Again, those who listened to the music beforehand performed better than those who did not.
Music Education Programs Are About More than Academics
And yet there is more than academics at stake. Music also brings a better understanding of the students’ world. John J. Mahlman, Executive Director of the National Association for Music Education, says in an essay titled Why We Need Music in Our Hearts,
“Most parents… conclude that many, many children stay engaged in school and rise to new heights as students because of involvement in the music program. Students are drawn into the unique mix of group identity and personal accomplishment offered by the experience of playing music with others in an ensemble. And they soon learn something of the nature of work as they strive to make the group sound better and be better by the collective and individual efforts of each musician—a learning process that they carry over into their other studies.”
Musics Ability to Improve Negative Feelings
The joy that music brings – whether playing or listening – is undeniable. Music’s ability to lift spirits, improve negative feelings, and touch lives goes beyond the basics of math and science. Music feels good, and sometimes it’s just fun. “Music is like a break in the day,” says one first grader at Lakewood Elementary in Dallas, Texas. “It makes me happy to sing and play. It’s relaxing.” Learning and understanding music brings a happiness that many, even as adults, cannot name, and creates memories and feelings unreachable through a math problem. That alone is reason enough to keep strong music programs in schools.