How Music Primes the Brain for Learning?

Bold Benefits of Musics impact on the brain for Learning 2023 | Future Education Magazine


According to recent studies in cognitive science, in order for children to experience Musics impact on the brain in positive way, they must engage in extensive musical practice.

In a tiny Connecticut high school ten years ago, musician Angélica Durrell started teaching a group of kids how to play a variety of percussion instruments, including the charango and toyos, which are native to Central and South America, from whence many of the students had just moved. After mastering Pachelbel’s Canon on the piano, they went on to The Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” a doo-wop song from the 1960s, and sang it in both English and Spanish.

The after-school music program became well-known in the school district within a few years, transforming from a “nice-to-have” activity to a strategic tool for addressing some of the district’s persistent challenges. The program specifically targeted Latino students, many of whom were struggling academically. It was noted by instructors and administration that Durrell’s pupils were more regularly present in class, their English was improving, and they were becoming more at ease socializing with others.

Musics impact on the brain has been shown to have a significant influence on learning from both a cognitive and a social and emotional learning (SEL) perspective, and Durrell’s non-profit program Intempo now serves over 3,000 kids each year in Stamford and Norwalk schools. As Durrell puts it, “we shifted from addressing it from a music viewpoint to approaching it from an immigrant inclusion, language learning, and grade-level reading-acquisition standpoint.”

Learning an instrument or taking voice lessons provides continuous practice of a set of academic and social-emotional skills crucial to success in school. Learning music, according to the most recent studies in the cognitive neuroscience of Musics impact on the brain, is associated with significant benefits for a person’s language abilities, reading ability, memory, and focus—benefits that are hard to find in other activities, such as sports.

The present condition of music instruction in schools is incredibly inconsistent and almost nonexistent in certain areas, so experts are hopeful this body of data will lead to change. According to a poll conducted in 2014 by Americans for the Arts, a non-profit advocacy group, instructors claimed that 1.3 million primary school pupils did not have access to music programs, and almost 4 million did not have access to visual arts classes.

Arts engagement and access also varied widely by location, although 2016 statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed advances in several areas. While 68% of eighth graders attended music class in 2016, kids in the Northeast were twice as likely to attend music class as students in the South and West, where only 33% of students had access to music lessons.

After months of school cancellations due to the epidemic, arts tracking groups like the federally funded Arts Education Partnership are saying it’s impossible to tell how many students are taking music classes.

Music’s positive effects on the brain;

How the Musics impact on the brain, the basic material of music, language, and (perhaps counterintuitively) learning to read, is the key to understanding music’s benefits, say experts. The sounds we hear are carried through a complicated “auditory route” in the brain, which is directly linked to regions responsible for human movement, thought, speech, knowledge, and focus. In an interview with Edutopia, neuroscientist and author of the new book Of Sound Mind Nina Kraus describes the vastness of the hearing brain.

Bold Benefits of Musics impact on the brain for Learning 2023 | Future Education Magazine

A common misconception is that the auditory cortex exists in a separate part of the brain. The act of listening requires the participation of many brain regions involved in cognition, sensation, movement, and reinforcement. That’s a very big deal. The ability to interpret sound is very old and has included many distinct evolutionary processes.

The strength of music education lies in the fact that it utilizes so many distinct brain regions simultaneously. A student learning to play the violin, for instance, must integrate their motor, cognitive, and sensory abilities to play the instrument correctly: the student must be able to read musical notes on a sheet of music and know what sounds they represent, as well as hear if the pitches and rhythms are correct and coordinate with the other players. The student’s reward circuitry in the brain may also be stimulated by musical stimulation.

A benefit Musics impact on the brain is learning an instrument is one of the most complex mental endeavors a person can do since it involves so many different parts of the brain. “Teachers tell me that kids who play music also perform better in school,” Kraus writes. Also, since their brains have spent more time “engaged with sound,” young musicians have better language and reading abilities than their non-musician peers.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re exposed to music on the flute, violin, accordion, piano, or voice; it will have an effect. Engaging with sound “changes and enhances how the brain reacts to sound,” Kraus adds.

Music as academic strength training;

While teaching music to kindergarteners at Durban Avenue School in Sussex County, New Jersey, Shawna Longo shouts out a rhythm, and the kids respond by playing it on their Boomwhackers, tuned percussion tubes that come in a variety of sizes and colors to represent various pitches. There are just red ones left now.” She yells, “Do ‘I want pepperoni pizza,'” and the kids all start playing ta-ta-tee-tee-ta-ta. She adds, “Their color is off limits until I hold it up.” They need to have the ability to balance waiting with play.

Among the most dependable markers that a youngster is ready to learn to read is whether or not they can hold a steady rhythm and anticipate the following beat. In her latest book, Musics impact on the brain, education expert Anita Collins argues that the ability to sustain rhythm is only one of several musical skills that lays the groundwork for learning to read and write.

Learning to read music (i.e., decoding musical notation and relating it to sounds) stimulates the same “phonological loop” in the brain as when children learn to read words, strengthening associations between sounds and words. In her book, Collins explains the procedure:

Whether it’s an eighth note D or the letter t at the beginning of a word, the eye perceives a sign on the paper.

Each individual’s brain has a library of musical and vocal sounds, and when it hears a particular sound, it retrieves that sound from that library and gives instructions to the body to produce it. That’s why Musics impact on the brain positively.

The brain first listens to make sure the right noise was produced, and then it makes the necessary modifications.

Collins writes that recent studies suggest “music and reading may well be complementary learning activities,” with music serving as a powerful tool to improve language learning. This is because the same areas of the brain are strengthened by processing sound as are responsible for learning language and learning to read.

Tone of social unity;

In March of 2020, when news of the Covid-19 lockdowns spread throughout the world, various films surfaced of Italians singing together on their balconies. Italians used music as a way to reach out to their community at a period of great stress and isolation.

As a species, we have used music and song to communicate with one another for thousands of years. Collins tells Edutopia, “Music resides in the oldest area of our brain.” It has been said that Musics impact on the brain and song predate written language and spoken by at least a thousand years.

Bold Benefits of Musics impact on the brain for Learning 2023 | Future Education Magazine

Researchers at the University of Toronto revealed in a seminal 2018 study that when adults sang and danced to music with children as young as one, the youngster was more inclined to assist after the adult “accidentally” dropped an object. Collins adds that the study’s replications prove that music’s ability to tap into a primordial relationship has the potential to promote prosocial conduct like empathy and assisting, which are qualities that both parents and educators value highly.

Singing the school song during basketball games or the clean-up song in kindergarten is a powerful exercise for fostering essential human social relationships. Kelly Green, vice president of education at Kindermusik, an organization that develops evidence-based music curricula for young children, says, “Singing is a really strong instrument to help youngsters feel in community.” SEL is a very serious matter.

In a time when youth rates of loneliness, anxiety, and depression are rising rapidly, the social benefits of singing and producing music together, as those experienced by Italian balcony singers during lockdown, may be of particular importance for today’s students. But according to Green, school-aged children now sing far less than their predecessors did. Collins observes that most of us believe “that studying music is simply to improve as a musician.” People just don’t have the nerve to sing in public anymore.

Underneath the surface of “I can’t sing, I’m not musical” lies a very real and crippling anxiety. Singing, as I discover when I begin singing with pupils, is a talent like any other that can be developed by repetition and exercise. These things begin to occur. They’re experiencing extreme happiness.

Kids benefit from deep and consistent engagement;

Because of financial constraints, increased standardized testing, and a lack of qualified music teachers, several school districts are reaching out to local nonprofits and community groups for assistance. The Save the Music Foundation and similar organizations provide funds to schools to help them buy instruments for students and train teachers.

Underserved youth in the Los Angeles region have access to The Harmony Project’s comprehensive music education and mentoring program. Memphis, Tennessee’s Soulsville Charter School, a middle/high school with a musical focus, draws inspiration from its location near the cradle of American soul music and the iconic Stax Records, thanks to funding from the Soulsville Foundation.

Bold Benefits of Musics impact on the brain for Learning 2023 | Future Education Magazine

As Tamu Lucero, superintendent of Stamford Public Schools, puts it, “You have to be ready to say, ‘We can’t do this alone.'” Durrell’s Intempo program is now an integral part of the district’s new-arrivals program. In spite of the fact that schools in Stamford already provided weekly music classes, Lucero says, “we were willing to be open to the notion of how we might engage an outside partner to expand the learning environment for children.”

Listening to music or producing a song for a class assignment just starts to scratch the surface, but researchers will continue to uncover some of the reasons why Musics impact on the brain is so helpful to children. Students may get the most cognitive advantages from music education by actively participating in musical activities, such as taking voice lessons or learning to play an instrument. There’s enough data to suggest that giving every child, in every grade, a dedicated music lesson is money well spent.

Put another way, music education should be mandatory for all kids, as advocated by Nina Kraus. Period.”

Bottom line

Music is the easiest way to enter someone’s soul and it could be an efficient technique in modern learning as well. It triggers those cells of the brain that works while learning something. As mentioned above there are various ways through which a Musics impact on the brain can become more productive and make studies more fun than before.

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