Monday, July 2, 2007

Quality music programs improve academics

(Via Chris Foley)

Yet another study supporting strong music education benefits has been produced this summer by the NAMM foundation. (There’s also a good summary here.)

Many current music education studies are pointing to strong correlations between better academic performance and some kind of musical study. What is interesting here is the emphasis on instrumental study. If you read the article carefully you will note how much better students perform in English and mathematics when they are participating in “top-quality instrumental programs”.

Well, what does “top-quality” mean when it refers to an instrumental program? Here are a few attributes that come to mind for me (I am leaving out choral programs on purpose for now):

--Dedicated, talented, and knowledgeable teachers and directors who can communicate well with students and display a passion for artistic integrity.
--A well-supported budget that can attract those high-level candidates from the music education community.
--Good choices of repertoire and programming that promote musicality and knowledge of many styles.
--A variety of ensembles including orchestra, band, jazz band, etc.
--Standards of proficiency on all the instruments involved in the program. (Often the schools with good music programs will be able to supply qualified private teachers to students at the school.)
--Accomplished performances that convince administrators, colleagues, and the public that students are growing and improving in their study of music.

Other educators would be able to list many more positive attributes than this, but it’s a start. The important point that I get from the article is how the quality of the musical training really plays a role in getting the maximum benefits. It is clear that standards in music education are absolutely necessary for the general health of a given student body, but there are no specific standards set for music education by the No Child Left Behind Act. High standards and expectations should apply not just to the students but also to teachers/directors and the program itself. Lower standards in music education might even unintentionally undermine other parts of the curriculum. (Note in the article how “deficient” music programs are related to poorer general academic performance.)

While this is an article with a positive viewpoint, it is unfortunate that the American educational system is cutting arts programs or allowing them to stagnate. (See a recent report on arts education in California as well a 2004 statement by the Department of Education.) Hopefully those of us who are involved in music education can help spread better awareness of the need for good school music programs in the US. That’s all I’m trying to do with this commentary on the subject.

Update 7/15/07: See also Jason Heath's post on this study, then check out his terrific related post on Hard-Wiring the Musical Mind.


Kara said...

It's about time the quality of these programs start improving. It always seems music is put on the back burner compared to everything else.