Articles about the benefits of music education.

The lifelong effects of music and arts classes

A study by Dr Kenneth Elpus from the University of Maryland has looked at the effects of school-based music education on later adult engagement with the arts, using data on 9,482 adults. He concludes that those who studied music and arts at school were more likely to continue to create art and to attend arts events.

“If one aim of music education, as many music educators report, is to engender a lifelong connection with the arts,” writes Dr Kenneth Elpus of the University of Maryland, “the results of this study suggest that music — and arts education more broadly — is achieving this aim for many alumni.”

For his study, published in journal Psychology of Music, Elpus analyzed data from the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, an ongoing project of the once-again-threatened National Endowment for the Arts. It included data on 9,482 American adults regarding “their childhood experiences with music and arts education.” A larger group of 35,735 were asked about their arts-related experiences over the past year, as an audience member and/or creator.

“Rather than disengage from art-making and arts attendance upon graduation, students of school-based music and arts education were significantly more likely (than their peers) to create art in their own lives, and to patronize arts events,” Elpus reports.

Pacific Standard magazine:
Psychology of Music:

‘Music education is now only for the white and the wealthy’

Following on from recent research by the University of Sussex which suggests that music as a subject could be facing extinction in England’s secondary schools, Charlotte C Gill’s opinion piece in The Guardian says schools in England need to embrace diversity and stop teaching music in such an academic way.

She says that while music education is deteriorating around the UK, in England there’s too much focus on the English baccalaureate which was introduced to boost the number of students studying science and languages.

Since 2010, when the baccalaureate was introduced, education has become harder and harder to access in England, and the number of students taking music at GCSE and A-level has dropped by about 9% as teachers homed in on “academic” subjects. Increasingly, the onus has been on parents – and children – to take up private tuition, putting those who cannot afford such lessons at a disadvantage.

According to Ms Gill, music has always been taught in a far too academic way, “meaning that theoretical knowledge is the main route to advancement. While there are routes into musical careers for the untrained, and many pop, rap and grime artists have never studied music formally, there are also dozens of choirs and amateur collectives that put a huge focus on musical notation”.

“Not every student will benefit from notation,” she continues, “some can learn aurally; others through letters or shapes. Sure, we may not be able to tell the difference between the bass and treble clef, but we can play our favourite songs. That is all I ever wanted from music”.

The Guardian: Login to read the comments.

New research shows music ‘could face extinction’ in England’s secondary schools

New research from the University of Sussex reveals that nearly 60% of teachers from state schools in England believe the controversial English Baccalaureate (EBacc) is having a negative impact on the numbers of students choosing to study music, while just 3% believe it has benefitted the subject.

Academics from the University’s School of Education and Social Work surveyed 705 schools (657 state and 48 independent schools) in England, over a five-year period. They discovered that 393 state schools claim the EBacc is having a negative impact on the provision and uptake of music within their own school and on the wider curriculum.

The current EBacc school performance measure, introduced by the Government in 2013, is awarded to schools when students gain a grade C or above at GCSE level across five subjects: English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a language. Other subjects such as music, drama and art are not included in the measure.

Findings include:

  • A decrease in schools providing music as part of the curriculum to year 9
    Music is a mandatory part of the curriculum up to and including year 9 – although academies are exempt from this. The number of schools providing music as part of the compulsory curriculum in year 9 is down from 84 per cent in 2012, to 62 per cent in 2016.
  • A decrease in schools offering music at GCSE level
    Down from 85 per cent in 2012 to 79 per cent in 2016.
  • A decrease in schools offering offering Music BTEC level 2
    Down from 166 in 2012-13 to just 50 in 2016-17
  • A decrease in music staff, more one-person departments
    39% of the teachers surveyed reported cuts to music staff numbers, while 17% reported increases. In 30% of secondary schools the music department consisted of just one teacher, up from 22% five years ago, the survey found.

Duncan Mackrill, a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Sussex, said: “Our research clearly shows the EBacc is having a detrimental effect on the uptake of music in state secondary schools. We also have evidence that the EBacc policy has resulted in a negative impact on the wider musical life of schools as well as curriculum provision.

“The future of music as an academic subject is precariously balanced with curriculum time having reduced significantly at Key Stage 3 in many state schools over the last five years. This Government needs to take appropriate action to prevent the further erosion of music in secondary schools – before we lose the subject in some schools for good.”

The results of the survey are in stark contrast to a recent report by the New Schools Network, which claimed that the EBacc has had “no discernible impact” on the popularity of the arts at GCSE. The New Schools Network research has been challenged by head teachers unions.

Dr Ally Daubney, from the University of Sussex, who co-authored the new research, said: “Already the threat of the Government implementing their policy of ‘at least 90 percent of pupils in mainstream secondary school to be included within EBacc by 2020’ is having a significantly negative impact across secondary school provision and means that music as a subject could be facing extinction.”

University of Sussex:


Analysis of DfE statistics by Dr Martin Fautley:
Fewer music teachers; reduced time for music on the timetable


Raise your child’s intellectual capacity with music education

A useful summary article about the benefits of music education, particularly for babies, toddlers and younger children, outlining the following benefits and referencing the research:

  • Musical development – Your child’s aptitude for learning music is at its strongest from birth to 18 months. Children learn more in this critical 18-month period than in any other 18-month period in their life. The second most important time for musical development in one’s entire life is from 18 months to 5 years old.
  • Intellectual development – Music is the only activity or subject matter that actively engages both hemispheres of the brain at the same time. Those who begin studying music before the age of 7 and continue through the teenage years will have an average IQ score of 7.5 points higher than those who don’t study music.
  • Language development – Music education advances the early development of the auditory processing network in the brain. This is the network used to make meaning of sounds and learn spoken language. Songs introduce new vocabulary words in rapid succession and in turn significantly boost a child’s working vocabulary.
  • Literacy development – Literacy levels have been shown to improve by between one and three grade levels with consistent music education beginning from birth with activities as simple as singing, musical games, listening to music, repeating rhythmical or tonal patterns, and learning an instrument at age 5-7.
  • Imagination – Life without music would be bleak. Music opens up an entirely new world to a child. It enables a child to gain insights into himself/herself, others and most importantly life itself. These insights help to develop and sustain a child’s imaginative creativity. Because a child hears and participates in some music every single day, it is to a child’s advantage to understand music as thoroughly as possible.

The writer Kathryn Brunner, has been a music educator for 17 years in the USA, and is also a parent and music business owner.


Truro Preschool and Kindergarten:

INFOGRAPHIC – music and brain development

A useful infographic about the relationship between music education and brain development, thanks to Ward-Brodt Music Store, Wisconsin, USA.









Our beliefs in musical ‘talent’ may hold back budding musicians

Girl playing piano


New music education research from the USA claims that children who have confidence in their own musical abilities are more likely to continue their music education than those with a poor ‘musical self-concept’. Early judgements about which children are ‘talented’ or not may therefore hold back those who have less confidence (and perhaps support).

Although music is a compulsory subject in elementary (primary) schools in the USA (5-10-years-old*), only 34% of students register for music instruction when they move to middle (or junior high) school (11-13-years-old*). [*]

To understand why so many students choose to opt out of music, Dr Steven Demorest, professor of music education at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, along with co-authors Dr Jamey Kelley, music education programme co-ordinator at Florida International University, and Dr Peter Pfordresher, professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo (The State University of New York), surveyed 319 sixth-graders from five elementary schools.

The students were asked about their family background, their attitudes toward music, their beliefs about themselves as musicians, as well questions relating to peer influence and other variables. Then the researchers waited until those same students had chosen their classes in middle school.

The study found that a combination of family background, musical self-concept, and peer influence predicted with 74% accuracy which students would choose to continue with music.

“This decision seems to be rooted in our mistaken belief that musical ability is a talent rather than a skill,” Demorest said. “Children who believe themselves to be musically talented are more inclined to continue to participate in music, and subsequently they get better and better. Conversely, children with a poor musical self-concept were inclined to quit, a decision people often grow to regret as adults.”

In the second part of the study, the researchers measured the singing accuracy of students drawn from the opt-in (to music education in middle school) and the opt-out groups. They found no significant differences in singing accuracy between the two groups. There was, however, a link between musical self-concept and accuracy.

“The data raises an alarming prospect that singing accuracy could be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the case of individuals with poor musical self-concept,” said co-author Dr. Peter Pfordresher. “If a child falsely believes he or she is a poor musician, for a variety of reasons that child may actually become one.”

The new findings are published in the Journal of Research in Music Education.

Northwestern University:
Sage Journals:

Better evidence needed about the value of arts in education

Image from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.

Image from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.

Education policy-makers and schools are adopting an increasingly evidence-based approach to teaching and learning, and the cultural sector needs better evidence about the value of the arts in schools, says Holly Donagh, Partnerships Director at A New Direction, on the Arts Professional website .

Two respected reports, the Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) 2016 report ‘Impact of arts education on the cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes of school-aged children’ and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) report in 2013, ‘Art for Art’s Sake: The Impact of Arts Education’, both call into question the basic tenets of the existing arts in education research base.

The bottom line is that the evidence that exists is not rigorous enough to be trusted and what is left is not particularly compelling when put in the context of other interventions. This is the case not only for academic impacts but also for behavioural or non-cognitive impacts.

In order to change this perception, Holly Donagh, partnerships director at A New Direction, lists three areas that she believes the cultural sector should engage with when conducting arts in education research:

1) Mechanism: many of the studies considered in the EEF report look at the impact of the arts on non-arts outcomes (eg visual arts supporting maths achievement). This approach is debunked in the OECD report. To understand the true impact in education the sector needs to spend longer thinking about the mechanism by which the arts impact on different factors and in what timeframe, with what intervention (which might in turn be linked to attainment or non-cognitive outcomes).

2) Design: the EEF says most studies looking at arts impact are weak or poor in terms of research design. We need to be intentional in our interventions and work at scale and across long time spans.

3) Quality: defining academic and non-academic outcomes may have distracted us from defining quality in arts education, and how this might be distinctive from arts in other contexts.

Ms Donagh concludes that the sector must make as coherent, reliable and compelling a case for the arts as it can before schools walk away from offering rigorous arts education within curriculum time.

Arts Professional enews

Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument

Image from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.

Image from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.

A useful article from UK’s The Guardian newspaper, collecting together many sources of evidence about the beneficial effects of music in developing brain function.

“Music reaches parts of the brain that other things can’t,” says neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday of the University of Westminster. “It’s a strong cognitive stimulus that grows the brain in a way that nothing else does, and the evidence that musical training enhances things like working memory and language is very robust.”

Studies show that learning to play a musical instrument not only increases grey matter volume in various brain regions, but can also strengthen the long-range connections between them. Other research mentioned in the article shows that musical training also enhances verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills, such that professional musicians usually outperform non-musicians on these abilities.

The article concludes that playing a musical instrument is a rich and complex experience that involves integrating information from the senses of vision, hearing, and touch, as well as fine movements, and learning to do so can induce long-lasting changes in the brain.

The Guardian:

The power of music-making

Image from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.

Image from Pixabay, reproduced under Creative Commons CC0.

“Music is universal, it is magical, and it is omnipresent. Would we want to live in a world without it? Why would we be okay with our schools not having music?” asks Suzanne D’Addario Brouder, director of U.S-based grant-making organisation the D’Addorio Foundation in her blog on the Violin Channel website.

The Foundation provides support to high-quality, sustainable music instruction programmes. It develops music education programmes in schools where music barely exists—or does not exist—and where children can’t afford to take lessons on their own.

These programmes are catalysts for positive social change, and music education has incredible power. Ninety six per cent of students in many of the community-based programmes supported by the D’Addario Foundation are graduating on time and attending college, despite living in some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the USA, where graduation rates hover at or below 50 per cent.

Active participation in music via community-based programmes gives children the power to overcome the challenges of their early years. It’s the ability to defy odds, attend college, and succeed in life. Ms Brouder concludes: “There’s nothing more heartwarming than to see children with that power, and there’s nothing more beautiful than using music as a powerful agent for positive change.”

The Violin Channel:

Investing in music for literacy is money well spent

Anita CollinsIn August 2016, Anita Collins, the well-known Australian music educator and researcher, presented the case that music education could raise pupils’ literacy scores in her home country.

Since 2008, Australia has implemented an annual assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 called the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). NAPLAN tests the skills that are essential for every child to progress through school and life, such as reading, writing, spelling and numeracy.

The preliminary results of the May 2016 NAPLAN tests were released at the end of August 2016, and presented a disappointing return on the country’s investment in education. So what next?

Anita Collins sees a clear way forward. Rather than concentrating primarily on literacy and numeracy teaching – which she accepts are vital areas of learning – more time should be given to music education which is currently under-used.

She points out that there is now two decades’ worth of rigorous scientific research proving that consistent music education from birth can improve literacy levels by between one and three years. And this improvement, she says, is based on NAPLAN results in Australia and can occur after just more than a year of implementation.

The reason why? Music education supports the early development of the human auditory processing network. This is the network we use to learn spoken language, and the better we can hear and make meaning of sound, the smoother the transition to reading written text and understanding the building block of grammar.

With such strong evidence of the connection between auditory development through music learning and literacy levels, she suggests the Australian government should base its funding on practices that are not just “more literacy more of the time”.

Anita Collins: