Every month we publish two articles on “Shady Oak Best Practices,” our favorite approaches to education and why they work. If friends ask why you send your kids to Shady Oak instead of a “regular” school, refer them to this series—and the science backing us up—for starters.
We teach young children the alphabet through “A–B–C–D” songs, but with older kids we frequently forget the value of music for improving concentration and mental absorption. Whether the beat relaxes or energizes, music conditions the brain toward improved concentration, clearer thinking, and a memory where things “stick.” Even where not everything can be taught to music, students do better in almost every topic when daily learning includes songs, rhythm-based activities, and/or time to listen as a group to various compositions.
“Mozart in the womb” controversies aside, there are several proven ways in which exposure to wholesome, well-chosen music improves overall learning:
• Words combined with poetic techniques and rhythm stick in the brain more effectively than words presented on their own. This is what makes “alphabet songs” a useful learning tool, but it works just as well with fully literate students. Before literacy (and the mass distribution of writing) became common, even adults learned history, literature and current events through songs and chants. Rhyme or “parallelism,” set to a “beat,” affects the brain on multiple levels and helps make neural connections that improve recall.
• Music education helps develop listening skills, emotional control, imagination, and motor skills. (And for schools that have thin walls or are located in noisy neighborhoods, music can also furnish “white noise” protection from outside distractions.) At the very least, listening to music provides opportunities to practice concentrating. Music can also open the brain to greater levels of emotional honesty and self-knowledge—perhaps leading students into more participation in class discussions, and greater initiative in other projects. And if the curricula include making as well as listening to music, students have opportunities to move about, improvise, develop new ideas—and even practice advanced concentration skills and muscle control by playing “real” instruments.
• Music can improve sociability and cooperation in a classroom. The shared experience of listening to and discussing a composition lets kids feel part of a tribe. When they experience music from a variety of generations and cultures, they also feel more in harmony with the world as a whole.
• Music is good for physical health. Various forms of music are medically known to reduce anxiety and depression, increase a healthy sense of pleasure, strengthen the immune system, and lower blood pressure—important considerations in a society where anxiety, distractibility, and obesity present increasing concerns.
• Music can be fun. Kids love catchy beats and singing games, for educational or any other purposes—so, if nothing else, incorporating music into curricula gives students a reason to look forward to school. Plus, they learn better when everyone is in a good mood.
At Shady Oak, we emphasize music in learning because when combined with music, learning becomes more effective and more enjoyable.
Science Backs Us Up! Further Resources on the Topic