Anyone who's been
around small children knows that a sure-fire way to capture their attention
is with music.
Hum a song
or plink out a tune on a piano or guitar and it's as if you switched on
a magnet, as they gather around wanting to join in.
Now there's evidence that that response is not simply a pleasant distraction
but an affinity wired into the brain from birth that could also help prepare
children for some of the most complex learning they will ever do.
Those are some of the conclusions coming from the work of psychology Prof.
Frances Rauscher at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
researchers at the University of California at Irvine made national news
in February with a study finding that preschool children in Los Angeles
who received music training with keyboards performed 34% higher on tests
for spatial-temporal reasoning than children who were trained on computers
or had no special training at all.
Spatial-temporal reasoning is what you use when you figure ratios or proportions
or manipulate images of things in your mind. It's at the heart of all
so-called higher-level brain functions that you use in playing chess or
doing science, mathematics and other complex tasks.
expanded on her findings at a pair of Wisconsin schools: Wales and Magee
elementary schools in the Kettle Moraine School District. She found that
kindergarten students at the two schools who took music lessons on piano
keyboards scored 36% higher on tests of spatial-temporal reasoning than
students who didn't have the lessons.
about these latest results, she says, is they show that the improved learning
effect that she documented in younger children is still present after
they enter school.
Also -- something that will give heart to struggling school districts
-- she found an effect with as little as 20 minutes of group piano instruction
once a week over three to four months.
are still fuzzy, she says. No one is sure what amount of instruction is
optimal, or what gains children get with other instruments, such as violins,
recorders or drums. Rauscher herself is an accomplished cellist who started
at age 5. But the improvements seem undeniably and, from all appearances,
Exactly how music enhances learning is not clear, but scientists believe
that when children receive music instruction their brains form connections
between neurons in patterns that also help them to do higher reasoning.
brains don't make those connections at an early age may never make them.
That's because after a few years their brains stop making so many connections
and start pruning unused neurons.
to say children won't benefit from music instruction later in life. One
study even found that college students improved their reasoning after
listening to a Mozart sonata, but the effect lasted only 10 minutes.
Nor does the
study suggest that music is the only way to make those connections. Children
learn in many ways.
But there aren't very many ways to do such serious learning while having
so much fun. At a minimum, Rauscher's findings make a strong case for
integrating music into learning as early in life as possible. Who knows?
That child stumbling her way through "The Jolly Farmer" may be the next
generation's leading scientist.