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By Rob Baedeker
Math: If you've ever tried to read even a simple piece of music — or bang a drum in time to a beat, you know that music requires you to preform mathematical processes (like division) on the fly. But research has also shown a link between music education and success in school math. A study by The Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada, for example, concentrated on the effects of arts education on elementary school students, and found that students in the arts program "scored significantly higher on mathematical tests of computation and estimation" than did students in a control group.
Self-Awareness: Dr. Frank Wilson, a neurologist and an authority on the relationship of hand use to human cognitive development, explains that the study of music teaches children to "self assess," rather than to rely on external rewards. While much of our schooling focuses on grades and prizes, music can foster an internal motivation. The precision and attention required to play an instrument — the instant feedback loop that requires you to adjust your own performance — encourages an "ongoing surveillance of yourself," Wilson says. "It leads you to become a critic of your own work, to not be satisfied with anything less than achieving what it was you intended to do."
Social skills: Takako Fujioka, of the Rotman Research Institute, points out that the benefits of playing music go beyond academic applications: "When you participate in music in a community or a school, you develop shared memories during musical activities. It's a bonding experience."
That bonding can also develop kids' ability to work together. Sharon Burch, an elementary school music teacher who developed the "Freddy the Frog" series of books and activities to teach the fundamentals of music to children, has also seen the effects of music on students' social well-being. "I teach 450 kids per year," she says, "and I notice that the kids involved in music are the most well-behaved, have the most confidence, and are doing well in their academic classes."
Academic success: With all the benefits that music brings to kids' language, math, memory and self-assessment, it's little surprise that there is a strong correlation between music and general academic success. Studies have shown that students in music programs scored higher in English and math than students who had no music at all, and high school students with music training scored higher than their non-musical peers on the SAT, according to the College Board. A 1994 survey even found that music majors, as a group, had the highest acceptance rate to medical school.
Long-term success: Students with music training tend to rank higher in common measures of long-term success such as educational attainment and income: a 2007 poll by Harris Interactive found that nearly nine out of ten people with post -graduate education had participated in music while in school, and 83 percent of those with incomes of $150,000 or more had had music education. The College Board's 2006 study also found that high school students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of drugs and alcohol.
Bringing music back to schools
Marion Atherton efforts to integrate music into the early grades at her child's school were ultimately successful. She applied and received a grant from the California Arts Council to bring in a music teacher for regular instruction. The schools' teachers who would be adding music to their classrooms initially were wary. After all, already they had more lesson plans and requirements than they could cover in a given school day.
But, like Atherton, they came to see that music was not an "extra" activity, but one that was integral to education in general.
"The teachers were a little resistant at first," Atherton recalls, "but over time they actually became hugely supportive of it. They saw how it gave certain kids a confidence or a joy they didn't see in other ways. And it was a great way for a classroom to feel a sense of community — and that carried over into the other things their classroom did."
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