A Brief Survey of Research into the Benefits of Music in Education
Mandy Stefanakis and Assoc Prof Robin Stevens, of the MCA’s working group for a National Strategy for Research in Music Education, have conducted a national and international survey of research in music education to identify research projects demonstrating a broad range of benefits of music education. The references below are to research outcomes supported by research methodology assessed as producing highly reliable results.
Where research reports are available online, links have been given. Otherwise, readers can seek them through the list of references at the end of this report.
Music provides the opportunity for aesthetic experiences. An aesthetic knowledge can be described as a deep perceptual understanding in which the senses, the emotions and cognition are combined to make meaning through the experiences of creating, making and interpreting aesthetic forms. (See Australian Curriculum: The Arts, 2013; Seidel et al )
Personal, Social, Cultural Expression and Identity Formation
Music through performance and creative experiences provides a means for personal expression, communication and personal, social and cultural identity formation (See McPherson and Welch, 2012; Damasio, 2012; Bowman; Australian Curriculum: The Arts; Seidel et al; Dissanayake; Bresler; Storr; 1992; Green, 2011; Hargreaves et al, 2012; Gupta; Campbell et al 2008; McPherson et. al, 2012; Stefanakis)
Music provides an opportunity to experience and differentiate emotional responses (see Juslin and Sloboda, 2001; Hodges; Storr, 1992; Seidel et al)
Music contributes to students’ personal well-being through developing self-image, self-confidence, self-esteem, etc. (see Deasy; National Association for Music Education, President’s Committee on the Arts and in the Humanities; Seidel et al.)
With the introduction of more precise techniques to scan different areas of the brain, there has been a massive interest and increase in the amount of neurological research into brain function when engaged in a whole range of musical activities from passive listening to performing on individual instruments. Research specifically shows that both older and newer areas of the brain inclusive of sensory-motor, emotions, cognition, fine motor, equilibrium, aural centres, and both hemispheres of the brain are used to varying degrees and in different ways when engaged in musical activity with dependence on a range of factors. These include gender, age and experience of the musician, the task being undertaken, for example aural, performance, conducting, individual task, group task, and even the kind of music or sound used in a study. Additionally there are variations among individuals.
Importantly, evidence demonstrates that there is a more pervasive effect on the development of the brain (brain plasticity) when a child starts learning an instrument than learning that takes place as an adolescent or adult, but there is still plasticity in the adult brain. Sustained, structured practice with delineated outcomes enhances this plasticity. (Of note is the work of Levitin, 2012; Damasio, 2012; Evans et al, 2009; Hodges, 1996; Hodges and Gruhn, 2012; Juslin and Sloboda, 2001; Merrett and Wilson, 2012; Peretz and Zatorre, 2003; Asbury and Rich, Winner and Hetland)
Music contributes to students’ cognitive development including abstract thinking, aural and spatial awareness, verbal understanding (see above)
Music contributes to students’ kinetic / motor skill development (see above)
Music contributes to students’ creativity when engaged with composing, arranging, improvising tasks which call upon the individual or group to imagine, plan, organise, experiment with and develop sound in an abstract way (see Barrett and Tafuri, 2012; Harwood and Marsh, 2012; Seidel et al; Arts Ed Search, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities).
Learning Outcomes across Disciplines
It is still not fully understood why, but music enhances learning in a range of non-musical domains. Current thinking centres around the fact that music stimulates so many different brain regions, or that it motivates learning through the brain chemical ‘rewards’ (such as dopamine hits), the joy that music provides, (McCarthy) or that the social connections and self-esteem it establishes in students has a carry-over effect. Although the reasons are not fully understood there is a great deal of evidence to show that there is a correlation between music learning and enhanced abilities in a range of areas:
· Music contributes to students’ rational thinking—reasoning, critical thinking, logistical thinking and interpretive skills (see McGarity, 1986)
· Music contributes to learning in other knowledge and skill areas such as numeracy, literacy (see Bahr, 1996; Geoghegan, 1993)
· Music contributes to students’ concentration, memory, time management. A plethora of short-term and longitudinal studies, particularly in the US, demonstrate these effects as a result of Arts Education and the suggested sources list many of these studies (see Burnaford, Arts Ed Search, Fiske, Deasy, Nafme for the above).
Social Cohesion and Skills
Music connects people through sound, so that there is a sense of physical and emotional camaraderie and shared experience. It is what is most unique about the musical experience (see Todd, 2002; Brown, 2000; McNeill, 1995). This ‘shared sound’ leads to a greater sense of communication with others, team cooperation and enhances social confidence (see Welch and McPherson, 2012).
Music contributes to students’ social skills—communication with others, social confidence, team cooperation, leadership potential, etc. (see Stevenson and Deasy, McCarthy).
Music has therapeutic applications in relation to mental, physical and social disabilities (Stevenson and Deasy, Gupta, Catterall et al., Schlaug, McDonald, 1999; Stacey, 1983; Weidenbach, 1981).
Music provides a vocational outcome for some students (McPherson and Welch, 2012).
Barrett, M. S. and Tafuri, J. (2012) ‘Creative Meaning-Making in Infants’ amd Young Children’s Musical Cultures’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Bahr, N. (1996). Relationships between Musicianship and Mathematical Skill. MEd thesis, University of Queensland, Queensland.
Brown, S. (2000) ‘The “Musilanguage” Model of Music’, in N. L. Wallin, B. Merker, and S. Brown (Eds.) The Origins of Music (pp. 271-300). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Campbell, P. Connell, C., and Beegle, A. (2008) ‘Adolescents Expressed Meanings of Music in and Out of School,’ in Journal of Research in Music Education. Fall 2007, Volume 55, Number 3, pp.220 – 236.
Damasio, A. (2012) Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. New York: Vintage.
Evans, A. C., Forgeard, M., Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Schlaug, G. and Winner, E. (2009) ‘Effects of Musical Training on Structural Brain Development: A Longitudinal Study,’ in The Neurosciences and Music III: Disorders and Plasticity: Annual New.York Academy of Sciences. 1169: 182–186.
Geoghegan, N. (1993). Possible Effects of Early Childhood Music on Mathematical Achievement. MA thesis, Macquarie University, New South Wales.
Green, L. (Ed.) (2011) Learning, Teaching and Musical Identity: Voices Across Cultures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Hargreaves, D. J., MacDonald, R. and Miell, D. (2012) ‘Musical Identities Mediate Musical Development,’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Harwood, E. and Marsh, K. (2012) ‘Children’s Ways of Learning Inside and Outside the Classroom,’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Hodges, D. (1996) ‘Human Musicality,’ in Hodges, D. (Ed.) Handbook of Music Psychology. San Antonio: Institute for Music Research.
Hodges, D. and Gruhn, W. (2012) ‘Implications of Neurosciences and Brain Research for Music Teaching and Learning,’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Juslin, P. and Sloboda, J. (Eds.) (2001) Music and Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Levitin, D. J. (2012) ‘What Does it Mean to be Musical?’ in Neuron 73, February 23, pp. 663 – 637.
McDonald, L. M. M. (1999) The Response to Classroom Music Experiences of Students who have Learning Difficulties and/or Behaviour Problems. MEd research paper, Deakin University, Victoria.
McGarity, B.M. (1986) Relationships among Cognitive Processing Styles, Musical Ability and Language Ability. MEd thesis, University of New England, New South Wales.
McNeill, W. (1995) Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
McPherson, G. E., Davidson, J. W., & Faulkner, R. (2012) Music in Our Lives: Rethinking Musical Ability, Development and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McPherson, G. E., and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volumes 1 and 11. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Merrett, D. and Wilson, S. (2012) ‘Musicianship and the Brain,’ in Brown, A. (Ed.) Sound Musicianship: Understanding the Crafts of Music. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Peretz, I. and Zatorre, R. J. (Eds.) (2003) The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music. New York: Oxford University Press.
Stacey, B.J. (1983) Music Education and the Hearing-Impaired Child: An Experimental Program. MMus thesis, University of Queensland, Queensland.
Storr, A. (1992) Music and the Mind. New York: Free Press.
Todd, N., Lee, C. and O’Boyle, D. (2002) ‘A Sensorimotor Theory of Temporal Tracking and Beat Induction’. Psychological Research, Volume 66, Number 1 / February pp: 26 – 39.
Weidenbach, V.G. (1981) Music in the Education of the Young, Multiply Handicapped Deaf / Blind Children. MA thesis, Macquarie University, New South Wales.
Welch, G. F. & McPherson, G. E. (2012) ‘Introduction and Commentary: Music Education and the Role of Music in People’s Lives,’ in McPherson, G. and Welch, G. (Eds.) (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Music Education Volume 1. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.