When we hear about music and other art programs in our school curriculum, most of us are guilty of putting it aside. For example, the focus is then put on the basic or standard studies in schools such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Little do a lot of us know that the importance of including music in that list is as crucial as the others.
Programs are being cut from school budgets at an alarming rate to save money, i.e. physical education, art and music classes. There is already a whole generation of teachers and parents who haven’t had the advantages of arts in their own education. Many teachers don’t know how to include any kind of art in their teaching these days and parents don’t know how to ask for it.
Studies have shown that including musical studies such as learning to play an instrument or class sing-alongs and even drama have impacted the way children learn and process knowledge. There’s lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests.
The connection of math and music is in the note reading for instance. Quarter, half and whole notes can be applied to fractions, and numbers as well as symbols can also apply to mathematics. The word reading in songs can apply to languages arts, just to mention a couple of ways music is useful in academics.
In 2006 a national survey found that in the five years after enactment of NCLB, that 44% of the school districts increased time spent on academic classes like English language arts and math and decreased time on other subjects. The follow-up analysis in Feb. 2008 showed that 16% of the school districts decreased class time for music and art. In California participation in music courses dropped 46% from 1999-2000 through 2000-2004 and total enrollment increased 6%
Music is an integral part of our everyday lives. It can come in the form of tunes sung by our children when they wander through the house, background music to a TV show or major motion picture, songs on the radio, or arrangements performed at a school orchestra or band concert. So why is it that something fundamental to and so impactful on our lives gets minimal attention at school?
Many scholars, educational leaders and supporters of the arts have often tried to answer this question. The research supporting arts education is overwhelming, and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 tried to establish the arts as a core academic subject, equal with other subjects such as English, reading, mathematics and science. However, time and time again, music and other arts classes are the first to get cut when school budgets shrink. Accordingly, the private sector must step up so that children everywhere can experience the academic, social and personal growth that music provides.
Researchers have studied the benefits of music education for decades, consistently finding strong correlations between music and academic achievement. In fact, a comprehensive series of skill tests run on 5,154 fifth graders found that kids who were learning to play an instrument received higher marks than their classmates who were not. The longer the children had been in the instrumental programs, the higher they scored.
Likewise, positive results have been noted in standardized tests. Regardless of socioeconomic background, according to a ten-year study that tracked more than 25,000 students, music-making students get higher marks on standardized tests than those who have no music involvement. The College Entrance Examination Board found that students in music programs scored 63 points higher on the verbal and 44 points higher on the math sections of the SATs than students with no music participation. Moreover, students performed better on other standardized test such as reading proficiency exams.
Research has clearly found that music instruction helps develop the capacity for spatial-temporal reasoning, which is integral to the acquisition of important mathematical skills. One explanation is music training in rhythm emphasizes proportion, patterns, fractions and ratios expressed as mathematical relations. U.S. Department of Education data showed that students involved in band or orchestra during their middle and high school years demonstrated significantly higher levels of math proficiency by grade twelve. The results were even more pronounced for low-income families. Those who took instrumental music were more than twice as likely to perform at the highest levels in math as their peers who were not involved in music (Catterall. 2002).
A meta-analysis of fifteen students involving 701 children ages three to twelve years (Hetland, 2000) suggested that children provided with music instruction score higher than controls on spatial-temporal tasks (Ability to perceive or solve problems associated with relationships between objects or figures, including position, direction, size, form, and distance). Children who begin music instruction very early in life are likely to show the greatest benefits. And longitudinal research suggests that at least two years of music instruction are required for sustained enhancement of spatial abilities (Rauscher, 2002).
Other studies demonstrating the correlation between music and academic performance include Cutietta (1998) who found that elementary school children who played in the orchestra scored considerably higher on math and spatial intelligence tests, and Costa-Giomi (1999) who found that piano students’ general cognitive and spatial abilities improved considerably over time. Similarly, in 2000, Gordon Shaw conducted a four-month study on the effects of piano instruction on making spatial and temporal distinctions. The second-graders who received piano instruction for twenty-five minutes each week scored 15% higher than the test cell and 27% higher on questions devoted to proportional math. Shaw concluded that piano lessons condition the brain and that spatial awareness and the need to think ahead reinforce latent neuronal patterns.
In the case of language development, the relationship between music and skill transfer is less obvious or direct. Nonetheless, what we write, read and hear involve words that are used and understood in specific contexts. These contexts can be seen as spatial networks where words are related to other words and expressions. Thus, overall reading skills improve with exposure to music, as does the quality of a student’s writing.
In 2000, Ron Butzlaff conducted a yearlong study on 162 sixth-graders to determine whether instrumental music instruction helps children acquire reading skills. At the end of the year, all the students were given the Stanford Achievement Test, which explores reading and verbal skills, and Butzlaff found that students with two or three years of instrumental musical experience performed significantly higher on the exam than the students without instrumental music instruction. Similarly, in 2000, using a sample size of more than 500,000 high school students, Butzlaff found a strong and reliable association between music instruction and reading test scores.
Not all benefits derived from a music education are academic. Longitudinal studies have found that involvement in music leads to positive personal, social, and motivational effects. As a result, music helps improve the overall quality of a young person’s life.
A Columbia University study revealed that students in the arts are found to be more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident and better able to express their ideas. As a result, researchers have found a reduction in aggressive and anti-social behavior as well as an increase in pro-social behavior (Bastian, 2000). Furthermore, students who participate in school band or orchestra have the lowest levels of current and lifelong use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs among any group in our society. Importantly, these positive behavioral effects steadily increase and persist over time.
Performing with others also helps students build critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students who play an instrument in a band need to acquire certain social and emotional skills necessary to be a contributing member, including discipline, collaboration, patience, persistence, and motivation (Adderly. 2003). In addition, performing in front of others helps boost children’s self-esteem and gives them the opportunity to overcome fears and see that they can succeed.
Despite the clear evidence, the arts remain on the fringe of education. Music classes are often the last to be added and first to be dropped in hard economic times. Roughly 20% of all US public schools fail to offer any music or arts classes, not even one day a week. And in schools that do offer music, as little as 25% of students may take part. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2008), private schools have better music education than public ones and suburban schools are better equipped than inner city and rural schools.
Sandra Ruppert from Education Week online echoed the inequities exposed in the National Assessment by stating, “Arts learning experiences play a vital role in developing students’ capacities for critical thinking, creativity, imagination, and innovation. These capacities are increasingly recognized as core skills and competencies all students need as part of a high-quality and complete 21st century education.
At Grace Lutheran School in Huntington Beach, California we not only beleive in the importance of music education but arts, foreigh language and physical education for all students. We offer music, arts, and Spanish for students in our preschool through 8th grade programs.