For Principals

A letter to principals: Why and how to have a music program in your school

To school principals: Why and how to have a music program in your school

Dear Principal

Research suggests that a well taught sequential, developmental, continuous music education in the early years can have a special influence on brain development. It can have positive effects across a wide range of abilities – eg concentration, self-confidence, empathy, creativity, emotional and social skills, motor skills, listening skills, outcomes in literacy and numeracy. There can be strong positive effects for the morale and spirit of the school, its reputation, its connection to the community.

The five countries with the highest international PISA rankings in 2009, essentially in NAPLAN subjects, all have stronger school music programs than Australia; they are taught by teachers far better educated in music. In Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, music is taught by specialists. In Finland and South Korea music is taught by classroom teachers. Most Finnish primary school children learn music from classroom teachers who have had 350 hours+ of music education.

Average mandatory undergraduate music education for Australian classroom teachers is 17 hours. 17 hours. How can you build any sort of music program when teachers are so under-prepared?

Research shows that it is possible that the high performance of our PISA superiors may have been stimulated in part by the music programs. At the least, we can say that music did not get in the way.

A two-year Swiss study involved 1,200 children in 50 schools. They already received two music classes per week. They were taken from regular classes for three additional one-hour music classes per week. At the end of the experiment, these students “were better at languages, learned to read more easily, had better social relations, demonstrated more enjoyment in school, and had a lower stress level than those who remained in regular classes”. [i]

Some primary schools are lucky enough to have classroom teachers skilled in music. However, given the inadequacy of standard preservice music education, this is unusual and if you wish to set up a good music program in your school, the practical solution is to hire a specialist music teacher or music “paraprofessional”. If your school is small, you might share the music teacher with another.

While many principals have taken this path, there is a shortage of accredited specialists at primary level. This must be addressed progressively. In the meantime, paraprofessionals with music degrees can be found and can work with classroom teachers to achieve good results.

Here are a few quotes from principals with good music programs who responded to a survey.

·         There is a high correlation between student involvement and academic success. Part of our improvement in academic success in recent times can be attributable to the success and improvement of the music program.

·         There are two key areas. Firstly, what I term as the soul of the school. It is that indefinable quality that starts to permeate through your school with the overlap of dedicated students who are also involved in performance. Secondly, it has brought the community into the school and the community knows that we have a superior music program and they experience it in community functions etc. We also attract enrolments purely for our musical offering.

·         Students who have little to do with each other, come together for common performance goals and make life-long friendships. Cooperation, trust, responsibility and respect for each other develop over time in positive and observable ways.

·         We see students who are gifted in Music, also gifted in Mathematics and Physics. When I enrol new students, I always encourage them to take Music, citing advances in neuroscience observations that learning Music assists students in the development of all areas of their studies

We are sure your choice to build a fine school music education program will reward both students and school.

The Music Trust

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Following are:

Research: a summary of the research into the benefits of music education

Quotations from Principals:From a pilot survey of principals of schools known to have good music programs

Possible scenarios for Engaging Specialist Music Teachers. (To come)

 

The research

Surveys of research showing the broad benefits of music education can be found on this web page: http://musicinaustralia.org.au/index.php?title=Summary_of_International_Research_into_the_Benefits_of_Music_Education  There are other papers on that site that explore these issues at greater length. Here is a quick roundup.

Intrinsic benefits of a music education

 Lifelong enrichment through gaining ability to make and respond to an art form that offers entertainment, special skills and capacities, and the most profound experiences and insights.                                                                       

The benefits of a music education for personal and academic abilities

·         Brain development with greater integration of right and left hemispheres, development of brain areas underlying skills in other disciplines. There is a lot of arresting new work in this area.

·         Increased creativity if music is taught in such a way as to build creative skills

·         Increased self-confidence, self-esteem of students, supporting better performance generally

·         Increased emotional skills, empathy

·         Improved socialisation skills

·         Highly developed motor skills, listening skills (the latter also relevant to language learning)

·         Accelerated learning in literacy, numeracy, academic subjects

·         Inclusion of students who are left behind by the traditional curriculum

·         Reduced truancy where that is a problem, better attendance, retention, with effects on academic performance

·         Better school spirit, morale, reputation, attractiveness. Independent schools and some government schools market themselves using their music programs as a major attractor.

 It all starts with the brain. Associate Professor Sarah Wilson of Melbourne University has written about the effects of musical activity on brain activity and development[ii]:

There are now over 100 neuroimaging studies showing that music activates multiple brain networks during music listening, responding and performance. As a result, when we compare musicians and non-musicians there are substantial differences in size, shape, density, connectivity, and functional activity that occur extensively throughout the musician’s brain… The brain can change in response to music and [there is a] broad range of cognitive processes and behaviours this may impact.

Powerful amongst these is the ability of music to prime the brain for future learning, whilst more broadly promoting our individual and social wellbeing.[iii]

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 Quotations from Principals

Nineteen principals report on what they find valuable in their school music programs. The responses were received in a pilot survey of principals of schools known to have good music programs. [iv] Here are some excerpts from a longer report.

·         Music builds a sense of belonging, discipline, confidence, creativity, movement skills, and cooperativeness. Music extends the world of possibilities for gifted students.

The students in our music program have a real sense of belonging to the group and are motivated to perform at the highest level and to be challenged musically, socially, emotionally and intellectually.

The sense of belonging engendered by being a part of a choir or orchestra, and the feeling of elation following successful performances is huge boon to the self-esteem and confidence of many individuals.

Students who have little to do with each other, come together for common performance goals and make life-long friendships. Cooperation, trust, responsibility and respect for each other develops over time in positive and observable ways.

·         A successful music program can be the soul of the school and bring community respect and support.

There are two key areas. Firstly, what I term as the soul of the school. It is that indefinable quality that starts to permeate through your school with the overlap of dedicated students who are also involved in performance. Secondly, it has brought the community into the school and the community knows that we have a superior music program and they experience it in community functions etc. We also attract enrolments purely for our musical offering.

·         The quality of the music teachers is a crucial factor. So is the structure of the program – it should be sequential and developmental.

By implementing a sequential program of music since Prep, the students have developed remarkably. We teach recorder in Years 3 and 4 and Ukulele in Years 5 and 6.

·         Music is a subject in which excellence is especially evident, valued and shared, and can be experienced/witnessed by the performers and by their listeners.

Any emphasis on excellence must, perforce, spread to other areas of the school’s activities.

·         In a multicultural school, music makes connections across cultures, aids those who do not yet have good English skills. It links students with the immensely rich history and diversity of cultures.

·         These respondents observe music as having some causative effect on positive non-music outcomes:

Music students have always been, and remain amongst the highest achieving students in the school. The increased motivation, the ability to work in ensembles, the use of music practice and performance to stimulate brain activity are well known and recognised throughout the school community.

We see students who are gifted in Music, also gifted in Mathematics and Physics. When I enrol new students, I always encourage them to take Music, citing advances in neuroscience observations that learning Music assists students in the development of all areas of their studies

There is a high correlation between student involvement and academic success. Part of our improvement in academic success in recent times can be attributable to the success and improvement of the music program.

The academic outcomes of the students directly involved in the music program started to improve with a number of students previously disengaged from learning taking an interest in all their subjects.


[i] Weber, E., Patry J.L., Spychiger, M. (1993).Musik macht Schule. [Music makes the school].Essen, Germany: Die blaue Eule

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