Playing music with toddlers could benefit their development even more than shared reading, and helps get them ready for school, according to University of Queensland research. Their recent study has shown that music participation at home improves numeracy, prosocial skills and attention over and above the effects of shared book reading.
One of the study leaders and Head of UQ’s School of Music Professor Margaret Barrett said parents were asked to report on shared music activities when their child was two to three years old and a range of social, emotional and cognitive outcomes were measured two years later, when the child was four or five. “The study highlights that informal music education in early childhood is a vital tool for supporting the cognitive and social development of children,” said Professor Barrett.
The study is part of an Australian Research Council funded study ‘Being and becoming musical: towards a cultural ecological model of early musical development’. It aims to provide a comprehensive account of how Australian families use music in their parenting practices and make recommendations for policy and practice in childcare and early learning and development.
US music educator Walter Bitner writes in praise of the wholehearted attention displayed by students who make music, and how it can be applied to other moments in their lives.
He says that beyond the content of the music curriculum, there is something fundamentally different about the process of learning music to learning most other subjects that makes for dynamic, flexible, and responsive individuals:
Students who sing in choir or play in band or orchestra must simultaneously perform a complex set of operations that call on more aspects of the human being than any other activity they face in school. Only dance and theatre come close.
At its best, musical performance demands a complete absorption in the moment in which all other thoughts and concerns disappear. And the teacher must exhibit this wholehearted attention herself in the classroom, consistently modelling a kind of behaviour which may not be required of them in the other learning environments they are exposed to.
He continues that in our ever more distracted world, with so many stimuli vying for our attention, the ability to concentrate completely on the present moment sets an example for how one could live differently and may be the music teacher’s greatest legacy.
The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) in Washington DC published a useful advocacy document for music education in 2011, funded by the Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium. It was based on a review of an extensive body of high-quality, evidence-based studies that document student learning outcomes in and through music.
The results show conclusively that music education equips students with the foundational abilities to learn, to achieve in other core academic subjects, and to develop the capacities, skills and knowledge essential for lifelong success.
The document summarises the benefits around three main areas: (1) Music education prepares students to learn; (2) Music education facilitates student academic achievement; and (3) Music education develops the creative capacities for lifelong success.
Diagram from the Auditory Neuroscience lab of Northwestern University
Attention is a critically important aspect of education. Learners are constantly bombarded by a barrage of sounds and distractions, even in a quiet classroom, and so being able to focus attention has a direct correlation with your ability to learn and to enhance your performance. A study by researchers led by Dr Nina Kraus of Northwestern University suggests that music training can help people’s auditory attention to mature during pivotal developmental years and is believed to provide the first direct evidence of a ‘biological index for enhanced selective auditory attention in young musicians’. The researchers say that is an important consideration for educators and educational policy-makers involved in curriculum design.
The longest study of its kind has shown that musical training could help children to reduce feelings of anxiety, gain a greater control of their emotions and give a stronger focus to their attention. The study was led by Dr. James Hudziak, professor of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, and the participants were part of the National Institutes of Health Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Normal Brain Development. The results of the study were published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The authors of the study analysed the brain scans of 232 children aged 6-18, and found that playing music altered the behaviour-regulating and motor areas of the brain.