Overall Rating: 5.0 (of 5)
Educational Value of Music
By Sam Munro
Before tackling the subject of Music and its validity as a subject worthy of study within the educational curriculum, whether at Primary, Secondary or College levels. Certain terms I feel need to be clarified before a conclusion can be approached. Firstly: What is Education? And, What is considered a Value? What is Education? The word 'Education' comes from the Latin 'Ducare' - 'To bring out'.
As teachers our job is to feed and stimulate the minds of our students, to bring out understanding. We do this in many ways most obviously through verbal information. The teacher says, the student listens, the student understands this by rote*.
*Rote learning - Rote learning has as its basis the idea that the teacher has said it is so, it must be so.
Examples of rote learning can be found with in the curriculum of the Church of Scotland Sunday School were the child is asked to memorise the 'Ten Commandments' of God passed on to Moses on Mount Sinai or 'The Lord's Prayer'. Or in Primary school where the child commits to memory the order of the letters in the alphabet and the mathematical multiplication tables. But this is not the be all and end all of the learning process. Even though the teacher has imparted knowledge through verbal communication the student may not at first grasp this new information. Questions are asked and answered. Examples are given or demonstrated and eventually clarity comes as the student conceptualises the information and begins to understand and know.
There has now been a two-way communication between teacher and student that has been educationally beneficial to the learner, and there-by 'bringing out' a new understanding of his or her environment. What is considered to be of value? The best to understand what value is, is by way of analogy. The average price of a can of beans in the grocer you go to is approximately 33 pence but across town your friend tell you of a shop that is selling their cans of beans at 25 pence. It is good value for money to by your beans at the reduced price. If we apply this as an educational concept: 'A value is determined by the time and patience required to obtain a skill or knowledge within a subject in relation to overall benefits gained by the pursuit'. If the overall benefits gains are seen as worthwhile then the skill or subject matter has value. *In his book 'Curriculum and Assessment in the Scottish Secondary School - a Study of the Munn & Dunning reports  Gordon Kirk 1982' the author highlights the Eight 'Modes of Activity' within the education system.
These above stated 'Modes of Activity' were felt to be compulsory elements of education by both Joseph Dunning (Principle of Napier College of Commerce and Technology in Edinburgh) and James Munn (Rector of Cathkin High School in Glasgow), chairmen of their respective committee's of 1977. Music, within the educational curriculum falls into the category of Creative/Aesthetic.
Personally I feel that dividing up education into pre-defined activities is good as long as it is understood that these activities are not rock-solid in their definitions. By this I mean and must explain that common sense will tell you that the study of religion will hold with it moral and social implications.
Science and mathematics are equally partnered.
English falls equally well into the Creative/Aesthetic camp as it does into Literary/Linguistic.
Many subjects are found to be multi-disciplinary or integrated. Domains of Learning.
* Robert M. Gagne distinguishes learning into five domains. These are:
Motor Skills - Acquired skills of physical movement.
Verbal Information - Facts, Principles and generalisations we are told.
Intellectual skills - Ability to use knowledge accumulated within applicable settings or environments.
Cognitive Strategies - Self-management skills that govern the individual's behaviour in learning remembering and thinking, could also be called 'Personal Mind-Mapping' or as is sometimes called, psychological framework.
Attitudes (Motivation) - A student's view of like or dislike towards a subject will to a large extent determine whether or not he/she will make good progress.
If the endeavour is seen as a waste of time with no possible application in the 'real' world then time for practise and revision will not be made. *Summarised from 'HOW STUDENTS LEARN' edited by Noel Entwistle and Dai Hounsell 1975.
Music aids memory
At Nursery-Primary School level children are introduced to the alphabet by singing along to the "Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star" melody. Singing to a tune has been recognised as an aid to memory retention. A bond is formed within the brain between the "Little Star" melody and the alphabetical sequence of letters, so by humming one, the child finds it somewhat easier to recall the other. This is a form of cognitive strategy.
Musical skill transference
Studies have shown that pupils who are learning music have a marked improvement within their studies of other subjects. The skills required for song writing are the comparable to those required in poetry therefore knowledge of both would enhance and compliment each other. Within Mathematics and the sciences of Chemistry and Physics whose language is that of numbers and equations, music can help.
Time Signatures can be viewed as vulgar fractions. Partial bars at the beginning and the end of some pieces of music can be seen as a form of algebra, (e.g. if a piece in 4/4 has a lead-in bar of one beat or crochet, the final bar will be three crochets in length to compensate).
*It could be suggested that the motor skills involved in playing instruments such as the piano, guitar or to some extent the trumpet can be equally beneficial to those whose studies involve the 'QWERTY' keyboard such as secretarial or computing students.
Music can aid physical development
Muscular development as associated with the learning of a musical instrument can aid the body's physical development. It is taken to be fact that motor skills develop through practice and repetition. The small muscular movements involved in playing any musical instrument become more refined and precise.
Each time an action requires the use of specific muscle groups those muscles are coated in a special protein that enables the muscle to remember where it was and how it was being used. Every repetition of the movement engrains the action. This is why once abilities such as tying shoelaces or riding a bike have been mastered that ability will never be forgotten.
This is called muscle memory.
Hand-eye co-ordinations are greatly improved through instrumental tuition. Sufferers of dyspraxia can greatly improve their motor co-ordination through the discipline of learning a musical instrument due to the refined motor skills involved in playing and the repetitious nature of technical practice. Singing or the playing of a woodwind or brass instrument can help the child who suffers from asthma due to the breath control techniques and proper usage of the solar plexus and diaphragm. The muscles of the cheeks, lips, mouth, tongue and throat exercised by playing an instrument of the brass family may be of benefit to the student with minor speech defects.
All-round Good posture is cultivated.
As a personal after-thought on physical development through music I must point out that I my opinion physical development was not what first made me want to pick up a guitar and play.
To a certain extent it was my surroundings that developed in me a need to express myself through music. Both my older brothers George and Stuart played Tuba and Soprano Cornet respectively in the brass band at school, so music was in the household.
At home George would also 'noodle about' on the guitar, as did my Uncle Keith when we went to visit him.
It was these experiences of hearing my Brother and Uncle play that motivated me to learn.
Curiously though guitar was not my first choice of instrument that was to be the violin. I remember coming home from school one day to find Nigel Kennedy performing an excerpt of Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' on BBC 1. Something just made me think "I've gotta learn how to do that".
Emotional Development through Music
Music can be an outlet for expression of feelings of sadness and happiness. It can make us feel good it can make us remember times, friends and places that hold a special place in our hearts. A personal example of this would be Machair - by William Jackson (from his album 'Scottish Island'1998 Mill Records). I cannot easily listen to this west coast tune without feeling a need to cry, the tune was played at the funeral of my grandmother (who came from the west coast) and passed away in hospital holding my hand.
It's not that the music makes me feel happy or sad, but it encourages a remembrance of someone very dear to me. My point is that music has this ability to touch us and captivate us internally almost on a spiritual [soul - what Sigmund Freud called the "Id"] level.
Music as a catalyst for Social Interaction
It is a basic human need to interact socially with others. From our very birth we yearn for that tactile sensation that we experience from a mother's embrace. I myself was born almost blind so my first real experience of life was the sound of my mother's voice. When she went out of the room or I could not feel her close I would feel anxious and cry out for her.
Children that do team sports such as Football, Hockey or Rugby have at their disposal a ready means of social interaction with others. It is in this environment that they make friends with others with similar interests and learn to cultivate the social skills necessary for life after schooling. The school boards have for a long time understood the necessity for extra-curricular activities.
In many schools you will find activities held either during lunchtime breaks or after school hours like chess clubs, computer clubs or music appreciation used as vehicles for social interaction between pupils that may not have an aptitude for the above mentioned team sports. Music can also nurture and develop social skills. Children who play music together in a band have this outlet for social interaction and friend making skills. The brass player is a great example of this. He or she will, as part of their tuition play in the school band.
They will learn their parts together with the conductor/music teacher and then practice at home. With the end aim being the performance of the final piece of music in front of an audience.
The values of performance are: increased confidence and a sense of achievement. I would encourage teachers of other instruments like Guitar, Bass, Piano and Drums to work jointly with each other, and allow their pupils of similar levels of ability together to form small '4-piece' bands so they too can foster these skills.
Talk to the school board about the possibilities of an end of year talent show. That way musical practice will have an end goal or objective for each pupil to aim for.
In conclusion Music is a creative discipline that yields to the performer and listener alike a sense of aesthetic pleasure. It is human nature to create, find pleasure in beautiful things and find order in chaos. The human brain is a pattern finding/organising machine. It is for these reasons that we enjoy music. I feel music aside from as a vehicle for self-expression help us grow as individuals, ready to make our mark on the world and in history. It fulfils our need to express emotionally our feelings and interact with others on a social level. If something is enjoyable as well as being intellectually and socially beneficial is it not then a pursuit worthy of learning.