Music News

I’ve been “reading” the great new book by Daniel Levitin called This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. The book examines scientific observations about how music affects our brains and vice versa. It’s especially fascinating for music teachers.

I recommend it very highly, though not the way I’m trying to “read” it, which is by listening to it. My new mp3 player came with a free month of Audible.com so I chose this book, but I found it pretty hard to follow a nonfiction book read out loud. No chance to flip back a few pages and reread a few key points. (And don’t dare daydream or you miss a page!)

I’d like to mention here just a few interesting points raised in the book–about practicing, ear training, and the effect of music lessons on brain development. I hope to refer again to this book in some future blog posts as well.

Practicing

Levitin describes an experiment where researchers tried to define “talent.”  They examined music students who were regarded as most talented, and invariably found that those students who were the best musicians [···]

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Yet another study has come out this month, demonstrating the value of music in general education. Click here to view a summary of the study.

The study looked at 4,739 elementary and middle school students in four U.S. regions, and found that across all areas, students scored significantly better (17-33%) in English and math if they attended schools with high-quality music programs. Schools with higher-quality music programs showed better results than schools with lower-quality music programs, and both showed better scores than schools without music. Oddly, schools with what the study called “deficient choral programs” scored worse than the others. It seemed to be the instrumental programs that lifted the student’s learning across the board.

The study was funded by NAMM, an association for companies in the music products industry, and was published the week of June 10 in the Journal for Research in Music Education.

There are, no doubt, many reasons for these findings, and all of us music teachers probably have our pet concerns about it. One unheralded reason that I think music helps performance in other subjects is that music teaches communication skills: no one can be well understood, face to face with other people, unless they have a good sense of rhythm and timing in their speech. Just try saying something forcefully and you will notice how clear your rhythms are. Kids do not learn this in academic subjects or on a computer; only in music and drama are these skills essential for success. In addition to rhythm, musicians also learn sensitivity to others, and an ability to perform in real-time situations.

Sometimes it seems that school systems are so focused on management, administration, budgeting, test scores, and legal paperwork, that the only people who really seem to care about kids anymore are the parents and teachers. Let’s hope more official studies about the benefits of music can push administrators to step up to the plate and fund and improve music programs for the sake of our kids, and our society as a whole.

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Are you a member of any of the music organizations listed below? Maybe you can recommend a group that’s not on the list. Is there an organization, whether national or local, that you especially like (or dislike)? Please feel free to tell us, by adding a comment at the end of this article; we’d all appreciate hearing about your experiences.

Music teachers and performers are necessarily people-oriented, and yet many are freelancers, running their own teaching studios, and spend precious time alone practicing, listening, composing, arranging, preparing materials.

Bringing them together is the goal of professional music organizations, which offer networking opportunities, educational workshops and conferences, publications, grants, awards, competitions, insurance, websites, with annual dues ranging from $35 to $120.

Before listing some organizations and their websites, I must confess that the reason I first joined a national music organization was to get half-price instrument insurance.  [···]

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