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Five Ways Music Improves Learning Across the Curriculum

At The Elisabeth Morrow School, music has always been one of the disciplines at the core of our school community. We embrace Plato's philosophy that we should "teach children music, physics and philosophy, but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning."

Modern research shows that Plato was right on the money. Sustained music instruction has a powerful and indelible effect on children, strengthening their ability to learn in both behavioral and neurological ways.

1. It will boost their brain power. Decades of studies have indicated a correlation between higher academic achievement and musical training. Recent studies may have identified why. One recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that music training changes the development of the child's brain — accelerating neurodevelopment — in ways that improve language skills. It also extends the amount of time the brain is "plastic," or most receptive to learning. Children who learn to play music at a young age develop stronger connections across the corpus callosum, the nerve fibers that connect to two hemispheres of the brain.

2. It teaches patience and teamwork. While learning an instrument can be fun, it also requires focus, patience, and the ability to accept temporary failure. The new musician (as well as the accomplished one) will make countless mistakes, learn from them and move on. When the young musician is ready to play with others, he or she will learn to recognize harmonies, match tempo and pitch, and may collaborate in an orchestra of as many as 120 or more, to create one cohesive musical experience. You can see how children grow and develop thorough music in this Superchamber Performance of EMS students at a recent student assembly.

3. It will improve their memory. Additional research has shown that participation in music at an early age can help improve a child's learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development. The actual task of learning to play an instrument puts a challenging demand on the child's brain. In much the same way that exercise increases muscle mass, the memory demand of musical training increases working-memory capacity (and musicians usually retain that added capacity throughout their lives.)

4. It teaches problem-solving. In order to learn to play well, a child must solve thousands of individual problems. For example, each chord transition a child learns is a negotiation between the musician and his or her own body. A recent Harris Poll noted that 49% of music students surveyed said studying music provided them with a disciplined approach to solving problems.

5. It fosters creativity. For many, the sheer joy of creating music is an end in itself. But it is important to note that the study of music also appears to influence creativity and entrepreneurship later in life. For instance, researchers at Michigan State University who studied the early childhood educations of STEM honors graduates found that 93 percent reported musical training at some point in their lives, as compared to only 34 percent of average adults, as reported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Researchers concluded that sustained training in the arts stimulated the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that contributes to advanced problem-solving in the sciences and the business world.

Amelia Gold is the Music Director of The Summer String Festival, Violin Teacher, Violin Ensemble, Orchestra and Arts Department Chair at The Elisabeth Morrow School.