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Benefits of Music Education

December 14th, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Music Class USA

For the past couple of years, the link between music education and increased test scores has been the main focus of advocates and politicians who wish to promote music education in schools, but they may be talking about the wrong benefits. In a 2013 study done by Kenneth Elpus, an assistant professor at the University Maryland, it was found that after including variables such as prior academic achievement, demographics, and IEP status, music students did not score better on the SAT than non-music students, and that music students only scored better when these variables were not included, meaning that an omitted-variable bias would exist if that data was used by researchers (Elpus 185). The knowledge that politicians and music education advocates are using inaccurate statistics is extremely disconcerting. As a former music student, I know there are more benefits to music education than just the possibility that it may raise test scores, and these benefits are the ones that politicians and advocates for music education should be using to promote music in schools. Music education should be promoted for its social, neurological, and intellectual benefits.

Music education provides students with many social benefits. School can be a hard time for many students, but a study done in Finland by Tuomas and Päivi-Sisko Eerola showed that students that participated in a music class exhibited a more positive reaction to objects associated with a classroom climate (Eerola 98). It is well known that students generally dislike attending school, but if participating in a music class creates more positive feelings towards school then children will be more likely to do well because they enjoy school. The same study also found that students in the music class were more likely to believe that school offered them achievement and opportunity than students not in a music class (Eerola 98). Other social benefits were observed by Dr. Susan Hallam in her review of music education’s impact on different aspects of life. Through the analyzation of many studies she found that music students are more likely to converse with parents and teachers, and that these conversations could lead to increased self-esteem (Hallam 278). She also observed that the increases in self-esteem lead students to become more motivated (Hallam 278). A student that is happy in class and believes that their education is an opportunity is much more likely to be motivated in their studies, and a student who is motivated is most likely going to do well in their classes. Two of the studies which Dr. Hallam reviewed indicated that students that took music also showed increased social skills and increased social adjustment (Hallam 278).

Music education has also been found to have a plethora of neurological benefits for students. In an article published in 2014, Anita Collins reviewed multiple studies on the effect of music education on brain development (Collins par. 12). In her review she cites multiple benefits of music education on brain development. Dr. Collins states that often musicians are found to have increased long and short term memories, and possess better memory retrieval and storage than nonmusicians (Collins par. 8). It has also been found that music education allows musicians to acquire and understand language better than those who do not play an instrument because of possible similarities between music and language processing in the brain (Collins par. 9). Collins states that musicians are also often found to possess increased levels of Executive Function (Collins par. 10). In her article, Collins defines Executive Function as “a group of interlinked tasks which include planning, strategizing, setting goals, and paying attention to detail” (Collins par. 10). The last benefit that Collins describes in her article, which she states is what caused investigations into the benefits of music education, is brain plasticity, or the ability of the brain to change and continue learning throughout the lifespan (Collins par. 11). All of these benefits could be extremely beneficial to students. While brain plasticity is more of a long term benefit for students, better memories and better language acquisition would be immediately beneficial to students, mostly on the secondary level. Increased long term memory could greatly help students who take classes that build off of each other, such as high school math courses (Geometry, Algebra 1, Algebra 2, etc.), and an increased ability to acquire language would also benefit secondary school students, many of which are required to take language courses in order to graduate.

While its affect on test scores is debatable, music education has been found to have an affect on intellect. Increased intellectual development could be very advantageous for children. It could provide with with the ability to go farther in their studies than they might have had they not taken part in music education. Dr. Susan Hallam outlined multiple affects to intellectual development in her review of different research studying the affect of music education on a plethora of elements. In one study she reviewed, it was found that after seven months of five music lessons per week, a group of first graders had higher reading achievement than their classmates that were not taking music lessons (Hallam 275). Being on a higher reading level than classmates could allow students to learn more and at a faster rate than other students due to being able to understand harder texts. Seven of the studies Dr. Hallam reviewed found that students actively engaged with music exhibited measurably impacts on the visual-spatial intelligence (Hallam 275). Another one of the studies in her review found that when given music lessons for a year, two groups of children experienced greater increases in their general IQ than what the researchers were expecting from children that were still growing and developing (Hallam 276). The notion that music education could positively affect the intellectual development of a child is extremely important, and should be further investigated by researchers. If music education can truly affect the intellectual development of a child in the way these studies found, then music could become an activity that can open doors for children that previously would have been firmly shut and locked. An increased intellect could be the difference between a child one day receiving enough scholarships to attend college or being stuck in a minimum wage job with no degree.

            In a world in which everything seems to become a political debate, music education has become a hot topic as of late. Arts programs are often the first programs to go when school districts begin to make budget cuts. Many take this as an opportunity to begin preaching that music classes will raise students test scores so we can cut that, but if the studies are to be believed, as they should, then these people should be focusing on the other benefits that music education can yield for students. Studies have found that music education can lead to social, neurological, and intellectual benefits for students, and it is these benefits that we should be using to fight for music education in schools. In recent months, colleges have started to make standardized testing optional for admission, if people continue to campaign for music education on the basis that it improves test scores then it will soon become an irrelevant issue. School districts would no longer be as willing to keep those programs running. Music education in schools should be fought for not on the basis that it will increase test scores, but on the basis that it can be socially, neurologically, and intellectually beneficial for students.

Work Cited

Collins, Anita. “Music Education And The Brain: What Does It Take To Make A Change?” Update: Applications Of Research In Music Education 32.2 (2014): 4-10. ERIC. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Eerola, Päivi-Sisko, and Tuomas Eerola. “Extended Music Education Enhances The Quality Of School Life.” Music Education Research 16.1 (2014): 88-104. ERIC. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Elpus, Kenneth. “Is It the Music or Is It Selection Bias? A Nationwide Analysis of Music and Non-Music Students’ SAT Scores.” Journal of Research in Music Education 61.2 (2013): 175-94. SAGE Journals Online. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

Hallam, Susan. “The Power of Music: Its Impact on the Intellectual, Social and Personal Development of Children and Young People.” International Journal of Music Education 28.3 (2010): 269-89. SAGE Journals Online. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Music Class Usa. 2011. N.p.

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