There is something to be said about everything in moderation. For example, the temptation to make cuts to arts lessons such as music would not be moderation, it would be like taking away vital nutrients to enable growth. Music is a key ingredient to successful learning progress and development, especially in maths and literacy it seems. Learning a little bit of everything at school is a good thing – the science behind music and brain development should be more widely recognised.
Opera North have been running a music programme with Windmill Primary School in Belle Isle, Leeds, and Bude Park Primary School in Bransholme, Hull, both who have seen a up to 20% increases in the Key Stage 2 SATS results this year, after studying music for up to 3 hours a week. This has been a fantastic breakthrough for the schools, whose leaders strongly believe that the music programmes enhance not only academic progress, but also personal
Andy Gamble Executive Headteacher of Windmill Primary explains “The confidence, concentration, self-motivation, self-esteem and dedication that music lessons create transfer to the classroom, and that’s where we see the improvement”.
If music has such a positive impact, why is this not being fully harnessed within the curriculum? Education Secretary Nicky Morgan quoted in an interview that she wanted to “dispel the common myth” that some people were gifted with a “maths brain” and others not. Let’s work on developing those lesser maths brains then! So often the arts subjects are squeezed in at the end of the year to tick boxes requested by Ofsted, and appear as token gestures thrown in, because there are so many other priorities that are pressed upon. After understanding a little more about how the brain is exercised by learning music, I do think that some brains are more maths able than others, just like some people are naturally stronger in some ways than others. Those maths muscles can be trained if worked on in the right way, and regularly, but the natural maths muscles do happen to get there quicker to start with.
The effect that learning music has on the brain, and the development that occurs is fascinating. Northwestern University researchers pulled together converging research from scientific literature linking musical training to learning. It seems musicians’ brains are prepared to distinguish meaningful sensory information from noise – helping to fine tune the brain. This in turn helps to enhance cognitive abilities such as learning, language, and neuroplasticity of other brain areas – neuroplasticity being the brains ability to adapt and change through training. Some dyslexic children find it difficult to hear speech in noise, and learning music helps them to strengthen this ability.
The Northwestern University researchers concluded that some serious investing of music training in schools is required. It sounds to me like a no brainer, investing in the improvement of maths and literacy with a dollop of personal development on top – something that all children would benefit from. The researchers said “The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development.” Quite right, you can strengthen and develop your brain just like you exercise and strengthen your muscles physically. So when you’re learning, it’s important to help children to access their potential by exercising their brains in ways we don’t yet see as vital fitness at school.