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Sunday, 10 November 2013

The importance of music in the classroom

Benefits of playing a musical instrument

Recent Research from St Andrews University  into the 'Improved effectiveness of performance monitoring in amateur instrumental musicians' has shown some very interesting results. The study was led by St Andrews psychologist Dr Ines Jentzsch, who compared the cognitive ability of amateur musicians versus non-musicians in performing simple mental tasks.

 The researchers say that the latest findings demonstrate the potential for ‘far reaching benefits’ of musical activity on mental and physical well-being. The most striking difference she found lay in the musicians’ ability to recognise and correct mistakes.  'Not only that, but they responded faster than those with little or no musical training, with no loss in accuracy. This is perhaps not surprising since musicians learn to be constantly aware of their performance, but to not be overly affected by mistakes.'

'The results showed that playing a musical instrument, even at moderate levels, improves the ability to monitor our behavior for errors and adjust subsequent responses more effectively when needed.'

My own humble findings:

I was very fortunate to be involved in one of the pilot phases of the Wider Opportunities programme which is a 1-year whole class programme for year 4 pupils who receive whole class teaching from a fully qualified music teacher and the free use of an instrument for a year. Instruments included in the scheme range from, Bb mixed brass and single brass instruments, mixed strings, violin and  recorders. As a complete novice I was given the opportunity to learn the 'clarinet' alongside my class at the time. I have since gone on to receive further tuition from one of the excellent teachers who came in to school to deliver the programme and have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. What I enjoyed the most though was witnessing the effect that learning an instrument had on the children in my then class. By the end of year 4 all of them could play at least three different notes, they could read music and were able to perform for their parents and the rest of the school. The most interesting aspect also came from witnessing pupils who did not excel at anything at all some of them with special educational needs suddenly excelling. It was pure magic. The resulting raising of their self esteem directly fed into the whole classes attitude towards learning as well as their overall behavior. They learned so many skills aside from the musical ones including that practice does indeed make perfect, and the importance of  working as part of a team especially when preparing for a performance.

So what about the benefits of listening to music? 


In recent research funded by Spotify Clinical psychologist Dr Emma Gray found that songs with 50 to 80 beats per minute allowed brain to learn and remember new facts more easily. Emotive pop songs, including Katy Perry's 'Firework' song, can produce 'heightened excitement that is likely to enhance creative performance'.Dr Gray said it is important to choose the right music for the topic a person is studying as it stimulates learning and can enhance concentration. Read more: 

Throughout my teaching career I have used music in class for a variety of purposes ranging from learning songs for assemblies and school plays and listening to music as part of the Big Write.

My own humble findings:

This comes from my present year 2 class. Those of you familiar with my blog will know that year 2 is somewhat of a new experience to me and I have found that listening to music for different purposes has had a big influence upon my teaching style and my classes learning. Since September we have adopted a Friday song which is played every Friday morning before register, the idea came from listening to Chris Evans on Radio 2. Our song of choice is The Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr. It was at the beginning of the year greeted by year 2 with a bit of trepidation, they really didn't know how to react at all. They would come into class and sit listening to the song quietly. Now, 7-8 weeks later? Complete transformation, they rush into class, with me trying to prevent them from tearing along the corridor and flinging their coats into the cloakroom. They then sit on the carpet in rows with arms around each others shoulders, swaying as they sing every single lyric of the song off by heart. The morning greeting in the register after that is 'Happy Friday' instead of the simple 'Good morning' of the rest of the week.It is now very rare for any of them to be ofF on a Friday! The day is a positive one right from the beginning. My next challenge is to find a Monday song which will have a similar impact! 

My next example of the power of listening to music comes courtesy of it is a maths song called Odd Bod and Even Steven and is used to help children remember the rule of odd and even. We had as a class been learning odds and evens with very mixed results, that is until I stumbled across the song. After listening to it and singing it over the course of a week the whole class were then able to identify a range of odd and even numbers. A simple example I know but it happened to coincide with visiting my Mum (who unfortunately has quite advanced Alzheimer's) in her residential home. She is unable to recognise me anymore, if she reads she just reads the same passage over and over again as she doesn't remember that she has read it, she doesn't watch the television anymore ....... However, play her a song on her radio or CD player, sing her, a few bars of a song and the response is amazing! She remembers every single words and sings along with gusto.

In conclusion I believe that music is an essential part of education, be it playing an instrument, performing  in a school play, singing a song to learn facts or listening to a song a the end of a school week. Music improves memory, attention, well being, self esteem. The list of benefits is endless. I know it will remain an essential part of my teaching and class routines, will it be in yours?