The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 1

2011Symposium_1_2Over the next days, I will be sharing a presentation I gave at two conferences of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). In this session, I gave an overview of what the very youngest human minds can do musically, and how early childhood educators who are not music teachers can still include music in their programs.

Before I go into the specifics of what a newborn and infant brain is capable of musically, and you may be surprised to find that those brand new brains are already quite musical, I’d like to highlight why teachers who aren’t music teachers should even give notice to music in their classrooms. Tom Barnes recently wrote a piece on the subject, and I will quote from him now. “An epic longitudinal study by researchers at the German Institute for Economic Research concluded in no uncertain terms that music training “improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance.” All the way back in 1999, James Caterall, an arts education policy analyst at UCLA, found that students who studied music had higher grades, higher test scores, better attendance records and higher rates of community engagement than other students. That has a neurological basis too. Mathematics, especially, are aided by music education because it targets a very specific set of brain activity: the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Highly developed spatial-temporal faculties are imperative for working through solutions to the complex problems in fields such as architecture, engineering, science and, obviously, mathematics. Even more compellingly, UCLA’s study found that these benefits were even more pronounced in students from low-income families, proving once again that music education plays a major role in closing the achievement gap. Disadvantaged students who performed with their school band or orchestra were more than twice as likely to be performing at the highest levels of math than peers who did not receive musical training.” When we ignore or minimize children’s access to music education, so much cognitive development simply never takes place. When you include music in your classroom, and encourage your parents to provide a musical environment at home, you are beginning furthering your children’s aptitude, their capacity to learn, literally for the rest of their lives.

There is also the matter of intelligence. The days of defining intelligence as an I.Q. score arrived at from primarily choosing-beautiful-musicmathematical and linguistic data are fortunately a thing of the past. Those tests assumed a definition of intelligence that we now know was incomplete and misleading. The idea that a person possesses a single measurable intellectual capacity called intelligence is no longer defensible. Instead, people possess many autonomous intellectual capacities, among which are linguistic and mathematical ones. Howard Gardner, author of “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” wrote that to be considered an intelligence, the competency must entail the skills of resolving genuine problems, and finding or creating problems as a beginning for acquiring new knowledge. These, according to Gardner, are the hallmarks of “intellectual strengths that prove of some importance within a cultural context.” Besides mathematical and linguistic intelligences, people also possess a musical intelligence. People who possess a high musical intelligence are good at recognizing musical patterns and tones, good at remembering songs and melodies, and have absorbed from their environment a rich understanding of musical structure, rhythm and pitches. Such people can utilize these dominant skills to use rhythms and patterns to assist learning, and such people are particularly skillful in performing and composing music, and are skillful at understanding musical forms and structure when listening to music. Because this view of intelligence is based on skills, and because skills can be learned, intelligence can be increased through learning and practice, but only within a limited time window. Gardner also wrote that, “of all the gifts with which individuals may be endowed, none emerges earlier than musical talent. …except among children with unusual musical talent or exceptional opportunities, there is little further musical development after the school years begin.” Research done by Edwin Gordon, author of Music Learning Theory, support Gardner’s statement. Do you see what we come to here? There is a window of opportunity for children to develop their musical brains, and to take full advantage of developing their musical thinking potential, and that window shuts at the very moment in their lives when they are beginning kindergarten. The problem is that for many children, kindergarten is the first opportunity children are given to receive formal musical training, yet by then, it is already too late to recapture musical growth that was still possible during preschool years. If you and your parents don’t engage your children musically during the pre-school years, it will be too late to recover the learning and growth potential that could have been realized during those years.

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One thought on “The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 1

  1. Reblogged this on Ugly Bass Face and commented:
    Here’s part one of a series of posts from Mr. A about the neural/cognitive benefits of learning music from an early age. If you have kids, especially toddlers and those starting school, read this. One standout point to me was that music training “improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance.”

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