Music Lessons Make Children Smarter


Food of the Gods

Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work.
We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to a human mind.

- Lewis Thomas

Bad news for philistines everywhere.  Just as governments on both sides of the Atlantic are advocating core educational curricula that emphasise reading, writing and 'rithmetic, two studies - one carried out in America and the other in Switzerland and Austria - suggest that training in music and the visual arts is no mere frippery, but may help the assimilation of more "serious" subjects.

The American study, the work of Martin Gardiner, of the Music School in Providence, Rhode Island, and a group of his colleagues, looked at 5- to 7-year-olds in the state.  Four classes, in two schools, were enrolled in a special program me that emphasised the systematic development of musical and artistic skills.  They did this in addition to the standard curriculum.  Two other, less fortunate, classes - acting as controls - merely suffered from normal lessons.

After seven months, all 96 pupils involved in the experiment were tested.  At this point Dr Gardiner discovered that his experimental group had, according to their kindergarten records, been under-achievers, rather than being the random sample a statistician might have preferred.  Nevertheless, the tests showed that they had caught up with their less artistic peers in reading, and were outperforming them in mathematics - an outperformance that lasted until the study ended the following year.

The Alpine experiment, in a sense, picked up from there.  Its subjects were older children - from 7 to 15 - and there were more of them {around 1,200).  But it came to similar conclusions.  Maria Spychiger, then at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and ]ean-Luc Patry, from Salzburg University in Austria, again had twice as many subjects as they did controls.  Seventy classes of children had the number of music lessons they took increased from one or two to five a week - an increase that was made at the expense of teaching mathematics and languages.  Thirty-five classes continued on the old syllabus.

After three years, and despite the reduction in the amount of teaching they had received in the subject, the "musicians" were as good as the controls at maths, and better at languages.  They were also more co-operative with each other.  Music truly has charms to soothe a savage breast.

Source: The Economist 1 June 1996

Learning Music Helps Verbal Memory, Study Shows

London - Although musical training may not seem to be the most obvious way to improve one's memory, scientists in Hong Kong have shown that musicians have an advantage over their non-trained compatriots.  In other words, music lessons can improve long-term verbal memory.  Studying notes and scales seems to enlarge a region of the brain called the left planum temporale, which is involved in remembering words.

Agnes Chan of The Chinese University of Hong Kong tested the verbal memory of 60 female college students, half of whom had at least six years of music training before the age of 12.  They divided the students into two groups, read them 16-word lists three times and asked to repeat what they could remember.  "We found that adults with music training learned significantly more words than those without any music training," Chan and her colleagues said in a letter to the science journal Nature.  They believe the music may be advantageous because it is easier to engage children in music lessons than other memory strategies.  It could also be useful for people with language impairment.

The research is consistent with previous studies linking music training with an enlarged cerebellum, which forms the bulk of the brain.  Scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that the cerebellum of expert musicians was 5% larger than people who had not studied music.  Another American study also showed that piano lessons increased children's ability in learning mathematics and science.  The researchers said studies into the impact of the age when music lessons are started and their duration should provide more information about verbal memory.

Source: NandoTimes 11 November 1998 © Nando Media and Reuters News Service

Scientists Say Singing Boosts Immune System

Singing strengthens the immune system, according to research by scientists at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, published in the latest edition of the US Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

The scientists tested the blood of people who sang in a professional choir in the city, before and after a 60 minute rehearsal of Mozart's Requiem.  They found that concentrations of immunoglobin A - proteins in the immune system which function as antibodies - and hydrocortisone, an anti-stress hormone, increased significantly during the rehearsal.  A week later, when they asked members of the choir to listen to a recording of the Requiem without singing, they found the composition of their blood did not change significantly.

The researchers, who included Hans Guenther Bastian from the Institute of Musical Education at Frankfurt University, concluded singing not only strengthened the immune system but also notably improved the performer's mood.

Source: Monday 19 January 2004

Brain Secrets of Music Melody

Parts of the brain responded to certain melodies

The difference between a catchy tune and a dirge may be which part of the brain the notes activate, says a scientist.  Professor Peter Janata, of Dartmouth College, in the US, played a group of volunteers a series of keys and watched the way the brain responded.  He told the BBC: "One chunk of the brain was responding when the melody was in G major or E minor and another part of the circuit was responding when it was in E major for example."

Professor Janata said that composers had always known how to manipulate their audience, but said that their research was looking at how.  "In some sense psychologists are merely playing catch up to explain how music works.  I think composers are masters at manipulating music.  I think music is a marvellous mystery and the brain is also a marvellous mystery, so ultimately we are just trying to explain two wonders of nature and how they react."

Roderick Swanston, of the Royal College of Music, told the BBC's Today programme that the research did pose some interesting questions.  But he said that even if composers knew what particular notes to strike to tug on the heart strings of their audience, that they were unlikely to write their music solely for this purpose.  He said he would like to see more research carried out, particularly on babies which have a blank canvas for musical taste.  "Why is it that this purely abstract series of tones can have an incredibly emotive power on us?  Is it because we have learned that it should have an emotive power, does it apply to all of us?  If you come from New Guinea would you be powerfully affected by the last duet out of Aida?"

Source: Friday 13 December 2002

Music Preferences Linked to Personality: Study

by Natalie Engler

New York - The music you listen to may say more about you than you think, according to new research findings that suggest that our choice in music reflects our personalities.  Do you enjoy blues, jazz, classical and folk music?  You may be intelligent, tolerant and politically liberal, researchers report.  Meanwhile, country and religious music fans tend to be cheerful, outgoing, reliable and conventional, while alternative and heavy metal music lovers tend to be physically active, curious risk-takers.  As for rap/hip-hop and dance music fans?  They are often outgoing, agreeable people who generally eschew conservative ideals, according to a report in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The findings help explain why people who meet at parties often ask one another about their favourite music or bands, study author Dr Peter J Rentfrow (a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin) said.  "It assumes that knowing the answer tells you something about who they are" and whether or not to pursue a relationship.  The results could have implications for not just dating and friendships, but for marketing, too.  Already advertisers use music to entice certain types of people to buy their products.  "We might come up with typologies comprised of music preferences, socioeconomic status, and age," he said.  Online merchant, among other websites, tracks customers' purchasing history and browsing patterns and compares their habits with those of others in order to come up with product recommendations.  While the company chose not to disclose data indicating the success of this approach, a spokesperson said it is "well suited to music, where tastes don't change much over time."

Common sense?  Perhaps.  On the other hand, said Rentfrow, the study may reveal insights into "the mundane.  Sometimes the most obvious things are hardest for researchers to see.  That's why there's so little research on music preferences and personality.  Because it's something we take for granted."

To look at the relationship between music preferences and personality traits, Rentfrow and Texas colleague Dr Samuel D Gosling conducted six studies on over 3,500 students.  They examined the students' beliefs about music, their music preferences, self-perceptions and cognitive abilities.  Their findings suggest that personality, self-perception and cognitive ability each play a role in the "formation and maintenance of music preferences," they write.

Source: Reuters Health Friday 6 June 2003 from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2003;84:1236-1254

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