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Experts Say Music Brings More Than Good Listening To Young Texas Ears

Aug 18, 2007
For decades, educators in general, and those with specific training in music in particular, have been touting the values of the experience. As research continues on the intrinsic value of having students exposed to formal music education, more and more people are understanding how the functioning of the human brain is enhanced by training in music.

In cities throughout Texas, including the larger cities of Dallas, Houston and Austin, music educators,
supported by the Texas Music Educators Association, have been touting the value of making music an integral part of a well-rounded educational experience.

But in times of budgetary pressures, is the case for music education -- all too often seen as an easy way to cut costs -- one that stands up to the scrutiny? Music educators may argue that exposing young student minds to the unique disciplines required of music may be almost as important as having health insurance -- the real benefits come when you need it most.

One of the most basic questions concerning music education in Texas may be "does it help produce a better citizen?" A number of statistics would suggest the answer is a decided "yes."

A report by the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse showed that secondary students who participated in band or orchestra had the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances, including alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. That alone, with the obvious connection to health insurance issues, might be enough to convince doubters. But even those students who don't make music a part of their career appear to benefit from integrating the subject into their education.

In "The Paradox of the Silicon Savior," author Grant Venerable points to an interesting fact: the very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry are, nearly without exception, practicing musicians.

Students in Dallas, Houston and Austin, and throughout Texas, are also more likely to do better in school when they embrace a curriculum that includes music, as suggested by an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on more than 25,000 secondary school students.

The study, reported by the College Entrance Examination Board in 2001, indicated that students with coursework/experience in music performance and music appreciation scored higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Specifically, students with backgrounds in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math portion of the SAT; students with backgrounds in music appreciation did even better: 63 points higher on the verbal and 44 points higher on the math, compared to students with no arts participation.

Those intending a future career in health should take note: a study by physician and biologist Lewis Thomas, "The Case for Music in the Schools" (Phi Delta Kappan, February 1994), discovered 66% of music majors who applied to medical school were admitted, the highest percentage of any group.

While there is evidence that smart students taking music excel, some studies suggest music education can also play a role in actually developing intelligence in Texas students as well as those elsewhere. Consider research by Dr. Timo Krings, who performed a study of pianists and non-musicians of the same age and sex. In the research, reported in Neuroscience Letters, no. 3 (2000), study participants were required to perform complex sequences of finger movements. A brain scan used to detect activity levels of brain cells demonstrated that the brain cells of musicians were more efficient at making skilled movements, an indication that musical training can enhance brain function.

The benefits of music education in developing intelligence appear to come early. In the Kindergarten classes of the school district of Kettle Moraine, Wis., children given music instruction scored 48% higher on spatial-temporal skill tests than those who did not receive music training.

How about success in life? And perhaps even more importantly, does music make us healthier?
Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, the world-renowned heart surgeon connected with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is one who believes in the value of music education. "Studying music encourages self-discipline and diligence, traits that carry over into intellectual pursuits and that lead to effective study and work habits," said Dr. DeBakey. "An association of music and math has, in fact, long been noted. Creating and performing music promotes self-expression and provides self-gratification while giving pleasure to others.

In medicine, increasing published reports demonstrate that music has a healing effect on patients. For all these reasons, it deserves strong support in our educational system, along with the other arts, the sciences, and athletics."

Finally, Dr. Frederick Tims, a leading music educator, as reported in AMC Music News (June 1999), says those who embrace music are healthier as they age. "There were significant decreases in anxiety, depression and loneliness following keyboard lessons," Dr. Tims said. "These are factors that are critical in coping with stress, stimulating the immune system, and in improved health."

Increasingly, society is seeing the intrinsic benefits that those on the front lines of music education have already seen.

Researchers are now discovering how the mind responds to something as simple yet powerful as music, an indication that the future, from a health and wellness perspective, is a bright one. How you treat your mind and body when you're young will certainly affect your health when you get older. Eventually, it will also affect your wallet as well.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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