Northwestern University

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*). [*http://www.fulbright.org.uk/study-in-the-usa/school-study/us-school-system]

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.

SOURCES:
Northwestern University: https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2017/01/childrens-beliefs-about-talent-influence-music-participation/
Sage Journals: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0022429416680096
Psychcentral.com: https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/01/21/kids-who-believe-they-cant-sing-tend-to-quit-music-education/115443.html

The Rock ‘n’ Read Project – ‘If you can’t read, you can’t succeed.’

rocknread-banner-camera

The Rock ‘n’ Read Project in Minnesota uses proven, research-based strategies which help children to read at their grade level through singing. Singing is the fastest way to learn new vocabulary and increase comprehension and fluency.

Neuroscientists have found that making music, moving, and creative play develop a brain that is more able to acquire language, improves reading, helps in understanding mathematics, and many other executive functions such as planning, creating, and focusing. Neuroscientists such as Dr. Nina Kraus at Northwestern University are calling for schools to get children singing and moving daily. Keeping a steady beat and singing can remediate ineffective areas of the brain.

Children who cannot read at their grade level struggle to keep up, and often drop out of school. Reading is the most important factor in closing the achievement gap, and the Rock ‘n’ Read Project’s strategies have shown a dramatic improvement in reading achievement.

Founded by Bill Jones and Ann Kay, the Rock ‘n’ Read Project is a non-profit organisation run by a board of directors.

Source:
The Rock ‘n’ Read Project: http://www.rocknreadproject.org/

Researchers link ability to keep a beat to reading and language skills

The findings of a Northwestern University study in 2013 demonstrate that accurate beat-keeping involves synchronization between the parts of the brain responsible for hearing as well as movement. Where previous research investigations focused on the motor half of the equation, Dr Nina Kraus and co-author Adam Tierney focused on the auditory component.

The research involved 124 Chicago high school students who visited Dr Kraus’s laboratory and were given two tests. In the first, they were asked to listen to a metronome and tap their finger along to it on a special tapping pad. Their tapping accuracy was based on how closely their taps aligned in time to the tick-tock of the metronome.

In the second test, the students were fitted with electrodes measuring the consistency of their brain response to a repeated syllable. The more accurate the adolescents were at tapping along to the beat, the more consistent their brain response was to the speech syllable.

The study – the first to provide biological evidence linking the ability to keep a beat to the neural encoding of speech sounds – has significant implications for reading, according to Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.

“Rhythm is an integral part of both music and language,” Kraus says. “And the rhythm of spoken language is a crucial cue to understanding. Musicians have highly consistent auditory-neural responses. It may be that musical training – with its emphasis on rhythmic skills – can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential to learning to read.”

SOURCES:

The Journal of Neuroscience: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/38/14981.full

Medicalxpress.com: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-09-importance-link-ability-language-skills.html

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: READING & LANGUAGE SKILLS
TARGET GROUP: YOUNG PEOPLE
AGE: 14-17 YEARS
MUSIC TYPE: GENERAL
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 124
PERIOD OF STUDY: UNKNOWN
DATE: 2013
PLACE: USA

Music to their ears: How creativity can reach incarcerated teens and offer hope

A blog posted by Professor Maud Hickey on the Huffington Post website in December 2015 extols the value of music classes to teenagers at a detention centre in Chicago.

Professor Hickey is an Associate Professor and the Co-ordinator of Music Education at Northwestern University, and has been facilitating a computer music composition class for the past five years at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago.

The nearly 700 residents who have been students in the classes have been composing prolifically and passionately about their hopes and dreams, their past and future lives, and their everyday distresses. For most of them, this was the first time they were asked – and allowed – to share feelings through a creative outlet. For nearly all of them, it was the first time they had stood proudly in front of their families, teachers and detention centre staff to play music they created after weeks of hard work.

“Research on the effectiveness of arts education in detention centers is scant but growing,” said Professor Hickey. “In the recently published Oxford Handbook of Social Justice in Music Education, my review of the research literature on music programs in detentions centers found that music programs produced extra-musical psychological outcomes, such as improved confidence and self-esteem, improvement in learning skills, as well as improved behavior and reduced recidivism.

“Harnessing the work around arts education in detention centers in order to organize and advocate for the integration of creative art making in these facilities is worthwhile. These programs provide humane and positive outlets for incarcerated youth. However there is a need for more research to show the effectiveness of these programs in order to get the attention of policy and curriculum writers.

“Though providing creative arts education in detention centers may not save lives, it will change lives. And that gives all of us hope.”

SOURCE:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maud-hickey/music-to-their-ears-how-c_b_8684604.html

Music training started in secondary school can have an impact on teenager’s brains

teenage brain image

Thanks to Mr Brock at Pizitz middle school for the image http://www.quia.com/pages/brockgifted6.html

The results of a research project by Northwestern University, published in July 2015, suggest that music training, begun as late as high school, may help improve the teenage brain’s responses to sound and sharpen hearing and language skills.

The research indicates that music instruction helps enhance skills that are critical for academic success. The gains were seen during group music classes included in the schools’ curriculum, suggesting in-school training accelerates neurodevelopment.

Professor Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the School of Communication, and her colleagues recruited 40 Chicago-area high school freshmen (14-15 years-old) in a study that began shortly before school started, and followed them until their last senior year (18-19 years old). Nearly half the students had enrolled in band classes, which involved two to three hours a week of instrumental group music instruction in school. The rest had enrolled in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC), which focused on fitness. Both groups attended the same schools in low-income neighbourhoods.

All participants improved in language skills, but the improvement was greater for those in music classes, compared with the JROTC group. According to the authors of the report, high school music training might hone brain development and improve language skills. The stable processing of sound details, important for language skills, is known to be diminished in children raised in poverty, raising the possibility that music education may offset this negative influence on sound processing.

SOURCES:
Northwestern University: http://www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu/documents/Tierney_Krizman_Kraus_PNAS_2015.pdf
The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/21/the-science-of-why-music-improves-our-memory-and-verbal-intelligence/?postshare=611437745950827

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: BRAIN DEVELOPMENT & LANGUAGE SKILLS
TARGET GROUP: YOUNG PEOPLE
AGE: 14-19 YEARS
MUSIC TYPE: INSTRUMENTAL BAND CLASS
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 40
PERIOD OF STUDY: 4-5 YEARS
DATE: 2015
PLACE: USA

Music and language: relations and disconnections

Music, communication, emotion, researchA report by Dr Nina Krauss and Jessica Slater of Northwestern University once again reinforces the very fundamental importance of music. This time, the research points to its possible role in the development of human cognition, by providing social bonding and shared emotion.

The study concludes that music and language are two sides of the human communication coin. While language is effective for semantically precise communication, the great strength of music lies in its facilitation of social bonding and shared emotion.

Both systems of communication are derived from the fundamental building blocks of sound, its inherent harmonic properties, and its temporal patterns. In many senses music and language are sewn from the same cloth, but their complementary strengths may have played distinct and important roles in the emergence of human cognition and learning.

SOURCES:
Brainvolts (Northwestern University): http://www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu/documents/Kraus_Slater_2015.pdf

Learning music gives you biological advantages

Musicians biological differences research paperA study by Dr Nina Krauss and Dana L Strait at Northwestern University concludes that musician children and adults who make music demonstrate biological distinctions in auditory processing when compared with non-musicians.

For example, musician children and adults have more robust neural encoding of speech harmonics, more adaptive sound processing, and more precise neural encoding of acoustically similar sounds; these enhancements may make musicians better at hearing speech in amongst noise (see also this post here about focused attention), and reading.

Although it isn’t possible to separate the effects from the demographic and innate qualities that may pre-distinguish musicians, because the lab works with community music programmes involving a wide range of young people including those in challenging circumstances, the outcomes indicate that many of musicians’ auditory-related biological enhancements can develop through musical training and so this may well promote the acquisition of language skills, including in ‘at-risk’ populations.

SOURCES:
Brainvolts (Northwestern University): http://www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu/documents/Kraus_Strait_NYAS_2015.pdf

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT
TARGET GROUP: CHILDREN & ADOLESCENTS
AGE: 5-16 YEARS
MUSIC TYPE: GENERAL
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 69
PERIOD OF STUDY: ONGOING
DATE: 2014
PLACE: USA

Music training develops neural mechanisms needed for focused attention

Auditory brain image

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.

SOURCES:

Brainvolts (Northwestern University): http://www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu/documents/Strait_DCN_2015.pdf

DETAILS:

BENEFIT: COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT, ATTENTION
TARGET GROUP: CHILDREN & ADULTS
AGE: 3-35 YEARS
MUSIC TYPE: GENERAL
TYPE OF STUDY: ACADEMIC RESEARCH
NOs INVOLVED: 78
PERIOD OF STUDY: Unknown
DATE: 2014, published Jan 2015
PLACE: USA

Dr Nina Kraus interviewed about the effects of music on the brain

 

Dr. Nina Kraus discusses ongoing work in the Auditory Neuroscience Lab examining the benefits of music making on the brain. See also the following pages on this website:

Music can help close the achievement gap between poor and affluent young people

Active participation in music can rewire young people’s brains

Search under ‘Nina Kraus’ in the search bar at the top of this website for the latest updates from her research.

Active participation in music can rewire young people’s brains

In Harmony students

Photo of In Harmony students – with permission of Dr Nina Kraus

Dr Nina Kraus’s longitudinal study into the effects of music training on disadvantaged young people in Los Angeles , has been looking at the importance of active participation in music.

The research concludes that the level of participation – attendance at classes, practice – affects the changes that result in the brain and the related reading scores.

SOURCE:

Time Magazine: http://time.com/3634995/study-kids-engaged-music-class-for-benefits-northwestern/#