Learning in a Different Key

According to a study headed by physicist Dr. Gordon Shaw of UC Irvine and psychologist Dr. Frances Rausher of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh that was published in Neurological Research magazine, children who are taught a musical instrument at an early age are more likely to develop better spatial-temporal reasoning skills. Such skills are important components for areas of study including mathematics, engineering and science.
The study was conducted to compare the influence of a musical education versus a technological one. A group of California preschoolers were given piano lessons once a week, computer training or had no special instruction. The results indicated that the young pianists scored 34 percent higher than the other two groups. The results also noted that the computer-trained students scored the same as the group who had received no special lessons at all.
With this study, both Shaw and Rausher aim to change the way in which parents and educators view their children’s education.
“The high proportion of children who evidenced dramatic improvement in spatial-temporal reasoning as a result of music training should be [of] great interest to parents, scientists and educators,” Shaw said, as stated in HonoluluAdvertiser.com.
Rausher added, “It has been clearly documented that young students have difficulty understanding the concepts of proportion (heavily used in math and science) and that no successful program has been developed to teach these concepts in the school system.”
From a personal standpoint, Melissa Perea, a fourth-year English student, recalled her five-year musical education as a child and its influence on her general education.
“We had a really good band that went to different regional performances like at Disneyland and San Diego. It gave us something productive to do. I know from my friends that being in band just made us more confident,” Perea said. “I believe that music definitely contributes to your overall achievement.”
However, one significant problem for a musical education implemented by the school system is funding.
According to Perea, her middle school had a decent music program that provided its students with instruments, but there was a limited amount of the most popular instruments.
“I’ve heard that a lot of programs no longer have enough funding for the kids. The arts and music are important things that kids have to be exposed to,” Perea said.
Another drawback that Trami Ton, a fourth-year English major, suggested is the lack of individualized attention for each student.
“Public school musical education isn’t enough to get a good sense of the musical instrument. It just scratches the surface, unless you decide to pursue it year after year,” Ton said. “There isn’t enough individual attention to cultivate an interest in it.”
However, third-year computer science major Andrew Ho, who played the piano for 10 years and the trumpet for seven, seemed positive and hopeful for a possible public environment that would allow children to explore the music world.
“I feel if you just have a public setting with different musical instruments all in one room and offer a few lessons after school, then that will at least allow children to experiment with music,” Ho said. “It’s not the same as having a lot of training but it at least gives them the opportunity.”
Nevertheless, there appears to be a general consensus that believes a musical education is beneficial in more than one way.
“I personally think that music should be a part of everyone’s lives. Music can serve as an outlet for stress and most people as adults wish they had musical talent,” Ho said.
Ton added, “When you exercise your mind when it’s young, whether it is musical or not, you’re bound to have a more fluid knowledge.”