As an independent, private music teacher, I am always being forwarded studies and news articles about the benefits of music lessons. It definitely feels good to be on the right side of this issue! And it certainly validates my profession.
This weekend’s Wall Street Journal has an article, A Musical Fix for U.S. Schools, which puts music instruction higher than all other so called non-academic activities.
“Kids in sports also showed increased ambition, while those in theater and dance expressed more optimism. But when it came to core academic skills, the study’s authors found, the impact of music training was much stronger.”
Breaking the day into different activities just makes sense. You need a break from just constant focus of core curriculum of Science, Technology, English and Math. But what the WSJ article says is it’s not just a break, but actually a boost. And the most potent boost comes from learning, playing and practicing an instrument, so much so, that it could be a simple cure-all for all the ills of the school system. At a calculated cost of $187/student per year, a typical large suburban school system could turn itself around.
The list of benefits of musical training include:
Music raises the IQ
Music can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor
What is the most important factor in a student? Many people would say it’s talent, or effort, or persistence, or luck or some combination of these.
Behind all of this is something that is more important – the proper mindset. Recent research (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007) has shown that there are two different mindsets among students:
1) intelligence as a fixed, static trait or you got what you got
2) intelligence is a changeable, flowing trait, in other words: you can learn whatever you put focus and effort to
Most of my music students do have a growth mindset, but may need some extra encouragement. To do this I need to use a specific way of communicating.
The Dangers of Praise and How To Do It Right
Researchers have discovered that if you just praise the intelligence of the child, there are negative consequences. So just being positive and saying “Good job!” is actually detrimental and has a backlash because given a new challenge, the child would rather not participate (quit) in order to “save face” and live up to the expected standard. Rather if the child was praised for their effort, the next harder challenge was met with more effort.
Communicating Learning Goals
Almost daily I have a student who complains
“That’s too hard! I want to just stay on the same song!”
Here’s some things I say and you can too in your classroom, studio or with your own children. Though I’ve made these specific to music, you can apply a variation of these to any subject.
With all of my students, I stress the importance of memorizing their pieces, especially for performance at a recital. Here’s some of the reasons why.
Repetition is the Mother of Skill
How many times did Tiger Woods hit a golf ball before ever entering a competition? Apparently he was already golfing at age 2 when he made an appearance on the Merv Griffin show with his Dad. He turned professional at age 21 after winning many competitions along the way. That’s 19 years and probably 30,000 to 40,000 hours of practice! In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he discusses the theory that it takes an applied 10,000 hours of practice to mastery in any field. No wonder Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer that ever lived! He’s simply played 3 or 4 times much as anyone else before he even turned pro!
Now, I’m not demanding 8 hour practice days for my students, but five minutes the day before the lesson is just not going to cut it. It’s unfair to the student who is going to sound awful and not enjoy the wonderful process and sense of accomplishment of learning a song to a masterful level.
As we use our muscles to achieve the production of sound, we need to train them to move in specific ways. Fluidity can only be achieved by repetition. By consciously practicing the repeated motions at the same time being mindful of proper alignment of back, wrists, hands, we can create smooth, fluid motions that create beautiful sounds without repetitive stress injuries.
We had such a great recital last Saturday and it made me think of how important these events are for so many reasons.
Recitals are like so many things in life. It’s a due date when you need to really know something well and you need to show it in public, in this case 100 of your friends, families and peers. Think of the times when you had to present a paper or a case or a sales pitch at a specific time and day. The recital is preparation for that. It’s a deadline.
Discipline and Mastery
Preparing for the recital is also like life. The discipline required to learn, memorize and perform the pieces is the same discipline you use when you are in college working on a term paper, at your job preparing the big powerpoint presentation to your clients, presenting your court case to the judge and jury and so on. There’s a level of mastery that needs to be achieved in a recital. Nowadays, it seems there’s less encouragement or paths to mastery with all the instant gratification of digital downloads and games and apps. We don’t let our children go 5 seconds before we step in to help them with a frustrating problem. Mastery requires discipline and a commitment to “do it again…and again.” Self-help guru Anthony Robbins speaks of the 10,000 hours it required to master a skill. Malcolm Gladwell describes some great outliers including Bill Gates in Outliers: The Story of Success.
EVANSTON, Ill., July 21 (UPI) — Musical instruction can “prime” the brain to improve human skills in language, speech, memory and attention, U.S. researchers say.
A study at Northwestern University found the effects of musical training on the nervous system can build meaningful patterns important to all types of learning, ScienceDaily.com reported Tuesday.
Researchers studied music training’s effect on neuroplasticity, defined as the brain’s ability to adapt and change as a result of training and experience over the courseof a person’s life… read the rest at UPI.com
And here’s a snippet regarding the same study from The Sun UK.
Dr Nina Kraus, who headed the research at Northwestern University in Illinois, said: “The beneficial effects confer advantages beyond music. This argues for an improvement in the quality and quantity of music training in schools.”
Musical training has long been linked to intellect. But until now experts believed it was because children who played instruments were more likely to come from wealthier backgrounds where they got extra help.
The study showed musical training benefited children from all backgrounds.