Why Music Matters

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I’m not a musician. Not even close. I can’t hold a tune, and for anyone who has witnessed me dancing at a wedding…I’m sorry, so very sorry. I wish I had rhythm, pitch…all that good stuff! So the best that I can do is live vicariously through my kids.

What I am is an educator, so I do recognize and value a well rounded curriculum, and know from training and experience how cross curriculum skills build on one another. We’re big on STEM education for our brood (science, technology, engineering, math), and a fantastic way to pump up the building blocks to excelling in these areas and improving certain brain functions like abstract reasoning skills, verbal memory and math abilities is through music education.

Spatial-Temporal Awareness

Music education has been linked to an increase in spatial-temporal awareness, aka abstract reasoning skills. These skills give us the ability to mentally manipulate images. (Think puzzles, design, engineering.) In a study involving 78 preschool children, 34 children received private piano lessons, 20 had private computer lessons, and 24 children were subjects for other areas in the testing. Kids given piano lessons showed a large improvement on the spatial-temporal test. What can you take from this? Music education can train a little one for abstract thinking, a skill necessary in math and science.

Verbal Memory

Can being a musician “change” a brain? It seems so. A study using MRI’s compared the brains of musicians to non-musicians. Sixty college students with similar educational backgrounds were given identical visual and verbal tests. Thirty of these students of them had least six years of music training before age 12, and the other half had zero training.

The findings? The musicians had enlarged “left” brains when compared to the non-musicians, and scored higher on the verbal test than the non-musicians by an average of 16%, with no significant difference found between the groups when given the visual test. What’s key to understand here is that the left side of the brain are attributed with verbal memory, and the right side of the brain is for for visual memory. This study’s findings suggest that music education can train a brain and impact verbal memory.

The Math – Music Connection

Is there a math and music connection? You bet, and there are plenty of studies to back them up. One such study involved two groups of second graders; one group of children had piano lessons as well as training in a math program, and another group received English training and piano lessons. Dr. Gordon Shaw of the University of California, Irvine, demonstrated that after four months of this training, the second-grade students in the math + music group scored 15-41 percent higher than the students in the group that received English + music training on tests that involved ratios and fractions.

If you’re interested in music education for your child, Sue On, our girls’ violin instructor and an incredibly talented musician and educator, has some fantastic advice:

How can parents encourage music education at home?

“Parents are already encouraging music education everyday without realizing it. Ask any adult or child how they learned the alphabet and they will start singing it for you. Teaching the basics is just listening to music to help develop their ear so that when they do pick up an instrument, they are already familiar with what it’s suppose to sound like.”

How old should a child be when starting formal music lessons?

“Between the ages of 0-5, most experiences are still first time experiences. With that in mind, everything is fascinating in their eyes and learning something new at every music lesson is no different. At such a young age, a lot of repetition is needed to comprehend the motions required to play an instrument but most of the activities can be disguised as games.”

How do I choose an instrument for my child?

“For children 6 and under violin or piano are great options just to get the ears training. Even if this isn’t your child’s first choice, either will most likely be a good transitional instrument due to the fine listening that is required. For an older child, 7 and up, there are more options because the lung capacity for air is larger for those interested in singing or wind instruments.”