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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 11, No. 1

Music and Kids: A Natural Pair

by Salimah Shivji / September 22, 2005

Version française...

Plato once said, "Music training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul."

Taking their cue from Plato are the many parents who enroll their young children in music lessons with the hope that this education will greatly benefit them in future years. The positive aspects of studying music have been researched extensively over the last decade: it improves self-esteem, promotes creativity and discipline and, essentially, makes people feel good.

"I know my sons have huge amounts of fun and a great social life. They're learning a universal language beyond words," says Ros Asquith, mother of two boys who study music.

The publication of the widely popular and equally controversial study "Music and Spatial Task Performance" is, in part, responsible for promoting the idea that music has positive effects on kids. Since 1993, when Nature published the study, labeled the "Mozart Effect" by the media, the public has been scrambling to push classical music on children.

The study found that college students performed better at spatial-reasoning tests after listening to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major for 10 minutes. The Mozart Effect quickly gained mass acceptance, seducing adults around the world and sparking a renewal of interest in classical music, especially among parents who were led to believe that Mozart could make a big difference in their children's lives.

Dean Jobin-Bevans, former director of the McGill Conservatory, has seen many parents arrive at the institution with this idea in mind. "I don't think it's all malarkey, but personally, I don't subscribe to it," said Jobin-Bevans. Instead, he prefers to concentrate on the other rewards of music, because, as he points out, "there's much more to it."

Further experiments testing music and the brain failed to reproduce the results of the 1993 study. Other scientists have also expressed doubt over the fact that listening to Mozart makes kids smarter.

Despite the controversy over scientific proof, many music teachers are certain that music is good for children, regardless of whether it affects their intelligence.

"Music is an entirely different discipline," says Jobin-Bevans. "If studying a solo instrument, the student has to learn to practice in a disciplined way. It's about learning to focus." Playing in ensembles helps children develop vital skills such as teamwork, where they are taught to give up their own desires in the interest of the group.

Music is also an instinctive part of a baby's early development, claims "Smarter Than The Rest Of Us", a recent documentary on CTV's W5 that revisits how sound and music affect babies.

Citing the historical and cross-cultural tradition of mothers and guardians singing to children in order to soothe them, the program, written and directed by Robert Duncan, goes on to prove that music is a positive infiuence.

Babies are very receptive to melodies, according to Dr. Laurel Trainor, a professor of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour at McMaster University. In her study of perception of sound in infants, she found that people who were happy prior to performing the spatial task test achieved better results. She believes that these results are not specifically related to Mozart and could be infiuenced by any kind of music.

However, the benefits of music, particularly at a young age, are tangible. Music affects memory and brain development. Kids who follow the Suzuki method, which likens music instruction to language acquisition and insists on children starting young, are usually ahead of their school classmates. They excel in pre-reading skills such as matching, rhyming, motor skills and language.

Many schools and private teachers around the world have adopted the Suzuki method, despite the criticism that it produces imitators who play by ear and do not learn how to read music properly. "Music becomes a part of your life and children get the value of learning a certain instrument through this largely successful approach", says Jobin-Bevans, whose former school offers courses based on the Suzuki style.

Other institutions take a slightly different course, but also show signs that the benefits of music are at the forefront of new methods of teaching. The Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada's oldest independent arts educator developed Learning Through the Arts in 1995. The program, which teaches history, math and social studies through songwriting, dance and visual art, has grown exponentially in the last ten years. There are now 100,000 students taking part in 300 schools across the country.

Promotion of social and emotional development through music and the arts, which may in turn lead to academic improvement, is the order of the day in this experimental program. Its creators believe that music helps with memory and focus. The emphasis is on advancing communication, which aligns with the broader benefits of music for young children: better self-expression, teamwork skills, and discipline.

Programs like these indicate that the philosophy of music instruction and its perceived benefits continue to grow with time. Whether children learn to play the piano or the violin, listen to Mozart or Mendelssohn, they will be better equipped to deal with social situations as they get older. Clearly, music is always in good order when it comes to kids. *

5 concrete benefits of music lessons

  • Teaches the importance of persever-ance and hard work to perfect a performance.
  • Improves teamwork skills and disci-pline.
  • Promotes creative thinking and the search for alternate solutions to problems that may arise.
  • Gives children a concrete means of self-expression and improves self-esteem.
  • Helps conquer fear and builds confidence.

For more information and details on other advantages, visit the Music Education Online website at www.childrensmusicworkshop.com

(caption photo) :

Éric Favreau avec son élève à l'école

des Jeunes musiciens du

monde de Québec

Version française...

(c) La Scena Musicale