Does Music Really Create Better Students Education Essay

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In 1981 Bob Marley died of malignant melanoma, a dangerous cancer found in the toe. "He was a big musical figure to the world: his music spoke to an exhausted and oppressed generation that had experienced unbelievable poverty, racism, hunger, and violence" (HistoryWorld 2).  Bob Marley's lazy, relaxing reggae music connected not only with his Jamaican fellows, but also to the youth in the United States and Western Europe so effectively that he was looked upon as one of the most influential political figures in the western world.  Bob Marley, a poor Jamaican Rastafarian of thirty years, was lifted to a position of unofficial but vastly significant political power by nothing more than his spiritual, socially aware music.  Bob Marley is one of many musicians that have proved that music can have a profound effect on many aspects of humanity.

Music is the most common language in the western world.  Books must be translated, speeches interpreted, symbols and hand-gestures explained.  Music, on the other hand, is different.  American, Chinese, Russian, Italian, and German musicians all "read" and "hear" the same music, "spell" chords the same way, and know the same musical "alphabet."  The unique uniformity of music makes it the only language that can be understood at face value by, quite literally, everyone who hears it.  While music is heard, on the most basic level, uniformly by every listener, it is completely open to interpretation.  It is almost certain that each and every listener who hears the exact same composition, in the exact way, at the exact same time, will interpret it in a completely original way.        

The uniformity of language and originality of interpretation that music provides causes it to combine both the logical "left-brain" and the creative "right-brain" in ways which no other medium renders possible.  For example, Miles Davis's legendary free jazz album Bitches Brew was captured in one recording and is entirely improvisational with absolutely zero prior planning.  The opposite, however, can be seen in the precision and technically pristine playing of the great classical violin virtuoso, Itzhak Perlman.  Both Davis and Perlman are playing nothing but the standard twelve notes found in the musical alphabet.  Both spent countless hours for the vast majority of their lives practicing their craft, honing their skills, studying the intricacies of music theory, and the physics of their particular instruments.  The results of all of this pain-staking research and practice, when interpreted and utilized by two different minds, are total opposites.  On the one hand, the result is musical perfection - on the other, its opposite.  Both are brilliant, both are rooted in a very scientific and precise study of music, both are completely originally and are very different from one another.  This unusual combination of logic and creativity becomes increasing evident when music is utilized in the learning process and makes music vital part of a child's education due to its effect on reasoning abilities and potential as a learning tool in many settings.

"Music is a powerful tool and as seen can dramatically improve and enrich everybody. It makes sense to push music education and to allow young generations to gain these wonderful benefits - higher intelligence through increased creative thinking, problem solving and physically stronger brains, a higher perception of life including better attitudes, strong desires to achieve and fulfill and higher self esteem, better developed discipline, study skills, concentration, communication and team skills which transfer from education through to career and a better understanding of communities and society" (Guth 1).

  Music holds enormous potential for assisting in the educational process.  At the root of music's potential as an educational tool is the unique way that affects the human brain.  In recent years, scientists have made astounding discoveries showing that music has a substantial effect on a listener's reasoning abilities.  Scientists have been studying the effects of music on individuals' reasoning abilities since the French scientist Dr. Albert Tomatis began studying the effects of music composed by Amadeus Mozart on autistic children in the late 1950's.  Children were trained to test out how music effects their performances. At the end of training, all the children were able to perform simple melodies by Beethoven and Mozart. When they did "they were then subjected to spatial-temporal reasoning tests calibrated for age, and their performance was more than 30% better than that of children of similar age given either computer lessons for 6 months or no special training." (Bridgett 3)

Since then numerous scientist at the helm of numerous studies have concluded not only that music has a positive effect on the brain's capacity to think critically, but that music can provoke drastic changes in mood and attentiveness. A study published in May of 2001 by Atkinson College's Psychology Department examined the validity of the Mozart Effect.  The researchers tested the effects of listening to a bright, up-tempo piece of music on spatial reasoning and compared them to the effects of listening to a slow, sad piece of music.  They measured not only the participants' ability to reason following listening to the piece but also the effect that the piece had on their mood.  They found that those who listened to the sad music experienced feelings of boredom or sadness and performed significantly worse on the reasoning test. The study concluded that music's effect on reasoning and test-taking abilities is actually a by-product of the effects music has on mood.  They concluded that the Mozart Effect resulted in "an enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning performance after listening to Mozart's music for 10 minutes depends on the individual and the special tasks chosen." (Bridgett 6) Then In 2008 the Osaka School of Medicine conducted a study that expanded on this concept.  The 2008 study examined subjects' brains as they listened to music.  This study focused on the tonality of the music and its effect on the brain.  The study found that music composed in a major mode (which tends to sound "happier") reduces stress levels and can greatly reduce mental fatigue which can hamper the brain's ability to process information and make decisions.  Music composed in a minor mode (which tends to sound "sad") also had a positive effect on the brain but not to the same extent.  

While the music does affect the human brain remarkably and positively, the potential benefits music can bring to students are not limited to its measurable impact on the brain.  Music is also an effective tool for learning a variety of skills that are beneficial to students' everyday lives in the long term, including reasoning and analytical abilities, teamwork, and discipline. One skill that music helps to teach that is very closely related to its previously mentioned effects on brain chemistry is by conditioning students to look at and analyze situations creatively.  Music presents an unusually interactive and entertaining way of teaching students to think critically and to solve problems that are often abstract and subjective in nature. 

"The substance of play in very young children is usually comprised of the environmental objects and experiences to which they have been exposed. If the music environment is sufficiently rich, there will be a continuous and ever richer spiral of exposure to new musical elements followed by the child's playful experimentation with these elements." (Suda 6) Music immediately teaches students to make abstract associations between what their fingers do and what they hear come out of their instrument.  Students can immediately begin, just by learning a simple melody that they hear on a regular basis (Happy Birthday, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, etc.), learning to coordinate and make these associations.  Once students learn to read music an entirely new realm of possibility is opened.  Students then begin making associations between what they read on the piece of music, what note they are to play (A, C#, D, Bb, etc.) what their fingers should do to properly play the note (on many instruments this may involve a decision between to viable methods of playing the same note), and what the note will sound like in context.  When reading music, however, this melodic reading is accompanied by an equally important rhythmic reading.        

Rhythm is extremely important to any piece of music and is an effective tool for teaching fractions and division.  Being able to divide is vital to being able to read rhythms.  The basic rhythmic pulse of a piece of music is called the beat.  You may notice a performer's foot tapping as he plays.  Performers often tap their foot on each beat or every other beat.  The speed with which the beats pass is called the tempo. Throughout a work, the music will be notated with a series of specific types of notes.  Among these are whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes.  In 4/4 or "common time," if a note is marked with a whole note the note will be held for four beats.  If marked with a half note it will be held for half of four beats.  In order to properly read a rhythm a student must learn how to divide.  According to a recent study on a school, "76 percent of children enrolled in the music program performed above average on their mathematical examinations" ( 2). This clearly makes rhythm an effective tool for learning particular mathematical skills.

More important than the specific skills that reading music and rhythm help to teach is the fact that performance of a piece of written music requires repetitive and constant exercising of these skills.   While reading a piece of music a person must go through all the associations necessary to play a note that they see written and simultaneously analyze the particular rhythmic marking and hold the note for the proper duration.  Before the note has been sounding for its full duration, the performer or student must already be processing the next note and determining its proper rhythmic value.  A piece of music as simple as "Jingle Bells" will require a student to make this association over one hundred times.  Scientists have discovered that learning to read music or play a musical instrument develops higher thinking skills. "The child who is skilled at music excels at problem-solving, evaluation, and analysis. Music reading uses the same portion of the brain that's used in mathematical thinking" (Schellenberg 4). That's why so many adept musicians are also quite good in math. Music requires constant mental exercise that can prepare the mind with the ability to make split-second analyses in any situation.

   Not only does music encourage a student to work independently, it also encourages students to collaborate with others and work as part of a team.  For most children, sports teams are the only opportunity to learn how to work as part of a team.  Sports, however, are extremely limited in their ability to cater different ability levels.  Sports tend to offer teams for very specific age levels and, at each interval, there is a very limited range of skill levels.  This frequently results in the exclusion of children who, due to their physical attributes or skill level, cannot keep pace with the rate at which other children their age learn.  Sports, by nature, are also extremely competitive.  This competition results in competition not only between teams, but between team-mates and results in the exclusion of children who cannot effectively help their team win.  "Music allows people of all ages and skill levels to participate and collaborate" (Guth 1). Unlike sports, which is limited to athletic peoples, music is something that ensures people that no matter what their ability level or when they began to learn about music, can enjoy the educational benefits that music offers.       

            Music may also be used to benefit students in the study of History.  It is crucial for a student to have a thorough understanding of the social and cultural context of a historical event if he or she is to understand it completely.  For this reason CollegeBoard has stated that the studies of "cultural, economic, political, and social developments and artistic expression and intellectual discourse are the chief objectives of their Advanced Placement European courses" ( 1).  Music is a microcosm of the society that produces it, and is, therefore, reveals much about the ideas and philosophies of a time period.  The late 17th century and the mid 18th century were know as the "Age of Enlightenment" a time of progressive thought and philosophy.  This is evident in the music of the time.  Around the turn of that century came the dawn of the Classical Period.  This was a time of complex, yet subdued music.  Composers like Wolfgang Mozart and Franz Shubert composed stunningly complex and intellectually stimulating music that reflected the meditative, subdued philosophical nature of much of European society. In short, music is intended to be a vehicle for self-expression and in a world where so much history is left off the official record, music is the only insight we have into the intricacies of society that would otherwise be lost forever.  Exposure to the music of different cultures and even different classes or societies within a particular culture shows us how the world looked through the eyes of those who were there and helps us to understand the social context of the events that we study in history class.

            Music is also useful in the study of English, much in the same way that it's useful in the study of History.  Literature and music, over the course of history, both evolve as parts of larger artistic movements.  Romanticism, Impressionism, Realism, and other artistic movements all have distinct characteristics that are visible through the examination of all artistic media.  For instance, Romantic writers wrote about the extremes of human emotion.  Edgar Allen Poe wrote of horror and mystery and many other writers wrote of freedom, joy, hatred, fear, and the entire spectrum of human emotion.  "Music of the Romantic period explored the same full range through the use of complex, modulating harmony and wild swings in tempo and dynamic" (HistoryWorld 8)  Through the observation of music of various time periods and cultures, much can be learned about the larger artistic movements of which works of literature were a part.

Music's potential educational benefits are innumerable, but making these benefits accessible to children can present quite a challenge.  There are, however, several ways that music can be made more readily available to students.  The first and most straightforward way to promote music education is to make instruments more available to students outside of the classroom.  Music education is frequently available through private instructors but, due to financial or other constraints, is often not a viable option.  In the past fifty years, instruction in the arts have alternately ascended and descended in their popularity, vitality, and support, especially in the K-12 grades. "Music has taken some of the biggest and more frequent cuts among the arts due, in great part, to the high costs of sheet music and instrument purchase and repair. Other arts instruction such as visual arts, dance, and choir have suffered greatly from time to time, but music seems to have taken the greatest hit" (Guth 2). Many of these institutions, are sustained by government money or the donations of private citizens.  This greatly limits the funding that is available for new extracurricular activities or the expansion of those that are in place already.  

            Integrating music into the current education system would allow for the enhancement of the core subject matter upon which elementary, middle, and high school education is based.  While music's uses as a teaching aide make it extremely useful, integrating musical analysis into the core curriculum would allow students to enrich their educations and would also expose them to a language that is truly universal and is proven to enhance their minds ability to analyze and reason.  The use of music in the education in some form or another will expose students to a sophisticated universal art-form that is both aesthetically and practically valuable.