Classical Music, the Brain, and Education Intertwined

ABSTRACT

Classical music has not only been listened to but has been widely studied by researchers and scientists across the world. Research suggests classical musical can lead to increased cognitive thinking and therefore foster learning. The research is based on neurological studies and personal accounts assessing the relationship between music and the brain. Studies of the brain, surveys of students, analysis of music, and teacher-student interaction have provided credible information to draw certain conclusions that there is a beneficial correlation between classical music and the learning capabilities of a student. These studies should provide enough evidence to start the implementation of classical music in the classroom.

Classical Music, the Brain, and Education Intertwined

Classical music can be loosely defined as music written in the European tradition during a period lasting approximately from 1750 to 1830, when forms such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata were standardized. People may more associate the term with the musical styles of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and many other renowned composers with instruments such as the piano, violin, and cello. Hohstadt, in his book Excellence in Music and Worship, outlines core characteristics of “real ‘Classical’ music”. Some of these include, awareness, detail, patience, creativity, structure, inspiration, power, community, and balance. The majority of people listen to music solely for pleasure, but, as shown by these contingent traits, classical music can affect listeners in a more unforeseen way. It has been hypothesized that classical music has the ability to do provide a range of benefits to listeners from reducing stress to improving intelligence (Frederick). In fact, classical music can go so far as to improve one’s performance in various mental tasks. Among these tasks is learning, which leads to the conclusion that classical music being played in classrooms will benefit students and the schooling system nationwide.

Classical music has been proven to foster brain development in children, which produces long-term improvement in their spatial and verbal skills (Frederick). Its ability to cognitively and emotionally arouse the listener also enhances students’ self-expression capabilities (Jensen). Music causes the different lobes and cortexes of the brain to work together. The temporal lobe, having to do with the ears and listening, the pre-frontal cortex, which allows for writing, the hippocampus, which coverts short-term to long-term memory, and the visual occipital lobe, which has the visual aspect, are the main brain areas affected by musical stimuli (Music and Studying Tips). Music induces the activation of several areas of the brain simultaneously because of its complex structure, which is why students can focus, comprehend, and remember what they need to.

From an academic viewpoint, students are often bored and indifferent in class and even disengage completely, but with these abilities, learning in the classroom could become much more captivating. In a musical study conducted, it was discovered 29% of the students surveyed listened to music while studying, while 22% often listened, and 35% listened sometimes. These students claimed to do so because it gave them an energy boost and kept them more focused, proving that it can improve productivity and efficiency. The music is captivating, but in a beneficial manner; it does not deter one’s focus from learning, but rather pushes ones focus towards learning. A UC Irvine study points out that children who listened to Mozart had higher math scores than those that did not. It also fosters self-control (Frederick). These factors together can be summed up into one idea that classical music sharpens concentration. Not only does classic music relieve anxiety and restlessness, but it also creates a focused and positive environment in which the student can be at ease, attentive, and alert. It is safe to say that classical music stands out from the other types when related to the brain and learning. This study shows that it in fact, can increase intelligence and does not inhibit one from concentrating.  

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Many also postulate that any type music can have an equal effect on the brain; however, the type of music influences performance in different ways and to different extents. More calm and relaxing music, for example, is more beneficial than loud and dramatic music, which heavily disrupt performance (Dolegui). This is quite evident through studies that have shown loud music or noise has the ability to cause disorientation and hearing loss. In contrast, some argue that silence is better than any music choice. However, silence fails to provide the reason why students found listening to music while working beneficial in an accredited musical study. Music captivates one’s attention. Whether it is done in conjunction with school work or in contrast with school work determines whether it is beneficial or not. Popular music, for example has been proven to inhibit learning relative to quiet conditions because it is characteristic of the loud and dramatic type that can be distracting (Lee). The table below shows that Beethoven, by far, correlates with the highest average SAT score, while hip hop artists did not even make it to the top twenty.

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Because the brain has limited cognitive resources, one may think that working and listening to any type of music at once would have a negative impact on performance. But through studies and research it has been shown that this is not the case. Classical music as compared to other forms of music does not often have lyrics, which helps the music be interpreted cohesively. The brain does not process classical music and what one is learning independently; this process occurs simultaneously.

Teachers are perhaps the most outspoken advocators of using classical music to foster learning. A New York Times article showcases Dr. Hetland, an educator who works with students ranging from the elementary through college level, who said, “spacial instruction is a great way to teach math, and if you can enhance people’s spatial ability through a program of music instruction, we’re not sure why, but most kids would benefit”. According to Dr. Hetland, the use of classical music in education can range from the more primitive stages of a child’s development to even the later stages. This study shows one can benefit intellectually during some of their most crucial years, thus leading to future success. In addition to its mention of Dr. Hetland, the article bolsters it’s argument with the help of Dr. Rauscher, a professor of cognitive development at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh who asserts, “I think that to ignore these findings is really to do a disservice to the children who can benefit most from them” (Hershenson). Hence, it is clear that teachers are seeing a favorable change in students when they are exposed to classical music in a classroom environment.

Studies have shown the impact classical music can have on cognitive learning. It has the ability to cohesively work with certain portions of the brain that induce learning, thus increasing rentention and brainpower. Educators should look into playing classical music nationwide because of this ability to foster and boost learning. This can, in turn, increase test scores and performance, which, in the larger scope, will make more productive, intelligent, and efficient workers who will take society to a higher functional and intellectual level. Students and teachers alike have noticed its benefits, and while some do implement this idea, the impact would be much more noticeable if classical music in classrooms was enforced widespread. Music has always been seen as a pleasure to the senses, while education today can often be attributed with monotonic and disengaging qualities, but music conjoined with learning will perhaps bring education to life (Brewer). With the structure and other complexities of classical music, the brain is stimulated and can think ways it may not be able to otherwise. Students with this type of creative, out-of-the-box mindset are the ones who will be the pioneers of the future and come up with the most innovative and futuristic ideas. As Beethoven once said, “music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents”.

Works Cited

Brewer, Chris Boyd. “Music and Learning: Integrating Music in the Classroom.” Johns Hopkins School of Education. Johns Hopkins University. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

Dolegui, Arielle S. “The Impact of Listening to Music on Cognitive Performance.” Student Pulse 5.09 (2013). Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Frederick, Claudia. “Ten Studied Effects of Classical Music on the Brain.” Dr. Joe Today Drjoesdiyhealths Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014.

Griffith, Virgil. Music correlated to SAT Scores. Digital image. Music That Makes You Dumb. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.

Hershenson, Roberta. “Debating the Mozart Theory.” The New York Times. N.p., 6 Aug. 2000. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

Hohstadt, Lowell. “What Is “Classical Music”?” Excellence in Music and Worship (n.d.): n. pag. Lowell Hohstadt. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

Jensen, K. L. “The Effects of Selected Classical Music on Self-disclosure.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2001. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

Lee, Sunny. “Does Background Music Aid or Impair Reading Comprehension?” Web log post. Cognition & the Arts. N.p., 15 Nov. 2010. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

“Music and Studying Tips.” Web log post. Music and Studying Tips. Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication, 23 Apr. 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

Score on Spatial IQ Test. Digital image. West Valley Learning Commons. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.

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