Music could help close achievement gap between poor and affluent students

Dr Nina Kraus1

Photo of In Harmony student and researcher – with permission of Dr Nina Kraus

A study by Northwestern University researchers led by Dr Nina Kraus has looked at the impact of music education on at-risk children’s nervous systems and found that music lessons could help them develop language and reading skills.

The researchers spent two summers with children from poor neighbourhoods in Los Angeles who were receiving music lessons through the Harmony Project, a non-profit organisation providing free music education to low income students.

Music method used

First 6 months – group introductory musicianship classes (1 hour x 2 sessions per week) – identifying pitch and rhythm, performing, notation, basic recorder playing.

Following this – four hours a week of group instruction in strings, woodwind, brass (depending on availability of instruments, provided at no cost to participants).

Two years better than one

Students were divided into two groups. The first received two years of music education by the end of the study, the second received one year of lessons. Researchers discovered that children’s brains responded to the music education after two years of lessons. One year was not enough to have a definitive impact.

“Making music can have a profound and lifelong impact on listening and learning.” Dr Nina Krauss. “It is an effective strategy for helping to close the achievement gap … What seems to be happening is that this experience of making music is helping to create a more efficient brain, a brain that is going to be able to help a person learn and communicate, especially through sound.”

The origins of the study

Prior to the study, leaders at Harmony Project had noticed that students participating in their free music lessons were performing much better than other students in the area. More than 90 per cent of high school seniors who participated going on to college, in an area with high school dropout rates of up to 50 per cent.

SOURCES:

Dr Nina Kraus’s website: http://www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu/ 

Huffington Post: Harmony project music study

Pacific Standard: Music lessons enhance brain function of disadvantaged kids

BBC: Music training can improve language and reading

The original research report:

The Journal of Neuroscience: Music Enrichment Programs Improve the Neural Encoding of Speech in At-Risk Children

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
TARGET GROUP: DISADVANTAGED YOUNG PEOPLE
AGE: 6-9 YEARS
MUSIC TYPE: AFTER SCHOOL CLUBS
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 44
PERIOD OF STUDY: 2 YEARS
DATE: 2014
PLACE: United States

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