Today as a guest blogger, I have a wonderful colleague, Deb Hewey.  She is our ELL teacher at the elementary level.  I know you will love her piece about the power of music on the brain. ~EMP

“Music making stands head and shoulders above other disciplines in its likely impact on overall learning” (page 45). If you are an educator that quote should grab your attention enough to at least ask why? And if you are a parent, how about this statistic: students who participate in half a year or less of art study (which could be music lessons) score an average of 487 on math and verbal SAT’s, one year of music increases those averages to a score of 510, two years brings an average of 512, three years of instruction shows an average of 514 and four years of instructions jumps the average SAT math and verbal scores to 538 (page 44). Have I got your attention?

Music integration is a purposeful merging of musical learning and academic content. It is not a catchy tune to remember the states or prepositions (although those have their rightful place in influencing the brain and memory). It is carefully looking into the music standards of singing, reading and notation, playing instruments, and critical response and pairing it with the benchmarks of literacy, math, science, and social studies to create lessons enriched with novelty and challenge for both student and teacher. It is another way of teaching a concept that requires a little more planning and “thinking outside the box”. The resulting lessons, however, surpass pencil and paper tapping into emotions, movement, creativity and extended learning.

The effects of a music integrated curriculum go beyond cementing a new concept into the mind of a student. It is actually changing the brain itself!  Music causes an increase in the number and strength of neural connections in the brain thus actually changing it. Increased studies and newer “brain watching” technology are revealing that several areas of the brain are triggered in the presence of music. This creates new neural connections and strengthens established pathways of the brain. Reading music uses “. . . an area of the brain in the right hemisphere that is normally associated with reading text” (page 55). “The key math areas of the brain, it turns out, have some overlap with areas highly involved with music” (page 33). One study reported “  . . . that the students with a heavier music curriculum became more cooperative and exhibited better social skills” (page 34). “When students play any musical instrument, even drums, they learn to listen” (page 57). If the goal is to educate the whole child and music has been shown to strengthen the brain in the areas of reading, math, social emotional behavior and listening then wouldn’t it be of great benefit for those making curriculum and budgeting decisions to consider such evidence?

All quotes taken from Eric Jensen’s text entitled Music With the Brain In Mind, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, California; 2000.