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Bringing Joy to Learning With Music

Posted by Paul Roberts on Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Music is an ideal modality for stimulating the imagination and promoting the love of learning.

My own dream began with music. As a toddler playing with my blocks, I remember the tingling sensation going up my spine while listening to my father play the mandolin. No doubt, this fueled my drive to pursue a career in music - a career in which I have explored my fascination with music as a mental health professional, performer, educator and director of an arts organization.

I believe that music is a language, innate to humans. For some, the development of this language is encouraged. For others, it goes neglected or is smothered.

If we knew the secret behind the universality of music - the way it speaks to all of us - perhaps we could understand why it is an important key to unlocking dynamic potentials in people, and why it holds so much promise in the education of children. What is it about music, a nonverbal form of communication and self-expression, which allows it to be so transformative?

A simple answer is that playing and listening to music is fun. It feels good, so it greatly improves the atmosphere for enjoying life and relating to others. In this way, music is a natural mood-enhancer. I have always noticed how music uplifts a social gathering. The difference between how people relate to each other before and after music is played is palpable.

The idea that music has benefits for children that extend to many areas of learning is an idea of very long standing. Music, according to the brilliant Greek philosopher, Plato, is a more potent instrument than any other for education.

Over two thousand years ago, Plato knew what our current brain science and education researchers are trying to tell us: music contributes significantly to childhood development by improving intellectual and motor skills and social abilities. Nowadays, it doesnt take a Plato to know it: the word is out about all kinds of great ways music contributes to education and childhood development. Its what gives the kids their brain power, said a lady with whom I was having a casual conversation in an RV park.

According to neuroscientists, music strengthens brain circuits used for learning. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that music is fun. When children are having fun, theyre more receptive to all kinds of learning; and when theyre having fun, the reward is in the doing. Thats what educational psychologists refer to as intrinsic motivation - engaging in an activity for its own sake. Intrinsic motivation is an important factor in high levels of educational achievement and enjoyment.

Here are some areas of childhood development shown by scientific and educational research to benefit substantially by the use of music:

* Sustained attention and focus 
* Reading skills 
* Language development 
* Writing skills 
* Abilities in mathematics 
* Listening and memorization skills 
* Motor and rhythmic development 
* Social and group skills 
* Developing an aesthetic sense 
* Physical and emotional health 
* Self-esteem 
* Self-expression 
* Creative pleasure 
* Inspiration 
* Lower dropout rates 
* Lessening violence

A Japanese mathematics teacher, whose students demonstrate incredible math ability beyond their years, was asked: What would you say is the most effective way of heightening children's mental ability at the earliest possible stages? He answered, "The finest start for infants is to sing songs. This helps to elevate their powers of understanding, and they register astounding speed in learning math and languages."

Children are naturally responsive to music. Music is fun for kids and brings joy to their lives. It brightens up their day and makes learning fun. Lets encourage children to grow to their highest capacities by bringing joy to learning with music!

By Paul Roberts 2007

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