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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Music Education Is Vital to Learning, but Often Lands on the Chopping Block

Photo: Mia Chung

"As a 7-year-old pianist, I experienced the joy of learning Beethoven’s Für Elise. My eyes deciphered the notes on the page, my ears guided me to depress the right keys, and my fingers translated the symbols on the page with the right speed, rhythm, and expression. The benefit in my mind was the pleasure of making music. What I didn’t know was that I was wiring my brain for classroom learning." according to Mia Chung, concert pianist and professor of musical studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Yet in the years since music fed my young mind and laid the groundwork for further intellectual growth, the country has steadily moved away from music instruction. Too many schoolchildren are learning without this effective discipline. Instead, the noisy national debates bounce from one “fix” to the next, whether No Child Left Behind or Common Core. Left on the cutting-room floor are music lessons — yes, music — that new research shows is essential for brain development.

Playing a musical instrument develops an important neurocognitive skill known as executive function. Strong EF is critical for the brain to operate in school and in life. Focusing on a topic, memorizing information, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, and paying attention to multiple ideas simultaneously are examples of it. It is at the heart of all learning.

Acquiring these skills starts in early childhood and is crucial for healthy brain development through early adulthood. In fact, recent studies from the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital indicate that EF is a strong predictor of academic achievement, even more than IQ.

The solution to weak academic performance isn’t simply standardized testing or tutoring during the elementary years and beyond. It is music performance starting in early childhood, which promotes EF skills. A study from the Boston Children’s Hospital this past summer demonstrated through MRI brain imaging that musical training promotes the development and maintenance of these abilities. Lead investigator Nadine Gaab says the brains of musically trained children display more activation and “more mature executive function networks.” This finding supports the widely held perception that music performance and academic achievement go hand in hand.

Additional resources
Mia Chung, Interpretive Analysis (Curtis Institute of Music)
Dr. Mia Chung (Coursera)

Source: Valley News