Some interesting music education research outcomes | The Music Trust

Some interesting music education research outcomes

1.      Nearly two out of three Australian primary schools offer no classroom music

A study by Irina Petrova asked primary school principals whether their schools offer classroom music instruction – that is to say, music instruction to children in their classes in the regular school day, as distinct from, for instance, after-hours school band programs paid for by parents. Classroom music in public schools is paid for by the government and therefore there is no financial barrier for children from less affluent families.

63% of schools responded that they do not offer classroom music instruction.

Petrova did not analyse the responses state by state. But we know that at least 87% of Queensland primary schools offer classroom instruction in music.  Most secondary schools offer it at some year levels. And so on. If these factors are taken into account, the proportion of schools that do not offer classroom music in some states is much higher than 63%.

Petrova’s sample is too small for the territory she is covering so it is likely that there is sampling error. However, the reason that it is small is that most of those who were invited to respond did not do so. It is reasonable to assume that among those who did respond there is a bias towards principals with an interest in music education and who therefore head schools that offer classroom music. In other words, schools that do not offer classroom music probably are under-represented.[1][1]

2.      Australian primary school classroom teachers receive on average only 17 hours of music education in their undergraduate degree – and only 10 hours if qualifying through a postgraduate degree.

On average, students in undergraduate courses for primary school classroom generalist teachers receive 17 hours of mandatory music education. A person who becomes qualified to teach in primary school by taking a post-graduate qualification, as is increasingly the case, receives on average 10 hours of mandatory music education. The range for undergraduate courses at the time of the research was zero hours to 54 hours.[2]

The official responsibility for delivering the primary school music curriculum in government schools is assigned to the classroom generalist teacher. Therefore with an average of 17 hours, or 10 hours of music education, these teachers are expected to teach music for the seven, or eight, years of primary school. This is absurd.

The decisions about how much preservice music or arts education to provide are made by each university independently. There has been no state requirement. The states accredit courses on the basis that their graduates will be able to teach the curriculum but since some universities offer no music at all, but their graduates are accepted as state employees, the states must be overlooking these deficiencies.

One state has informed The Music Trust that it will no longer permit the universities to make these decisions but will require assignment of specified minimum amounts of time for each key learning area. It plans to require 78 hours of instruction in the five arts subjects. Equally divided, this would give music 15.6 hours.

This would lift the minimum and therefore the average but the outcome is that some students would know almost nothing, instead of nothing.

Some institutions offer additional elective courses in music. This is appreciated but they are taken up by only a small minority of students and so do not solve the problem of ensuring that all primary school children are taught music.

The President of the Association of Deans of Education has said informally to the National Advocates for Arts Education that the universities do not have the resources to offer increased instruction in the arts. The 2013 Victorian government inquiry into school music education recognised the great need for better teacher education in music but appears to have recognised that it would not be able to lift the preservice music education of most primary school teachers and focused on other solutions, especially the use of specialist teachers.

The Music Trust believes that generalist classroom teachers would have some prospect of delivering the Australian Curriculum: Music, if preservice undergraduate courses offered one hour of music instruction per week throughout the four year course. This would results in total contact time of about 112 hours. For two-year postgraduate courses, two hours per week would be required.

When teachers were trained in Teachers’ Colleges or Colleges of Advanced Education (before they were all rolled into the universities), NSW courses provided 200 hours of music education to all students.

The logistical difficulties of improving the preservice music education and of bringing possibly 150,000 existing teachers up to standard are probably insuperable. For that reason, The Music Trust believes that music will only be adequately taught through the introduction of specialist teachers.

3.      The top foreign countries in the PISA rankings give their primary school teachers far better music education than does Australia

You may have read about the annual PISA rankings of countries’ education systems, according to the scores of 15 year-olds in literacy, numeracy and science.Australia ranked 9th in 2009 and 19th in 2012.

Here are the combined scores in literacy and numeracy for 2012.

Average overall scores in literacy and numeracy, 2012

Shanghai                      613

Singapore                     573

Hong Kong                  561

Taipei                          560

Korea                           554

Macao                          538

Japan                           529

Switzerland                  531

Netherlands                 523

Estonia                         521

Finland                        519

Canada                        518

5 other countries         

Australia                      504

We did some investigation of music education in the five highest scoring countries in the 2009 results: Shanghai, Singapore, Finland, Hong Kong and Korea. In all five, much more classroom time is devoted to music that in even those Australian government systems that have a time requirement. In three countries, music is taught by specialist music teachers. In the other two it is taught by classroom generalists – but the generalists in South Korea, according to our informant, receive 160 hours of music education, and in Finland, 85% of students are taught by generalists with 350 contact hours or more of music education; this compares with 17 hours in Australia (see item 2 above)..

Although according to the research, it is quite possible that the high PISA scores in those countries are due in part to the strength of their music programs, we can at least suggest that music education was not an obstacle to achievements in literacy and numeracy.

Australia’s PISA ranking has fallen but so also have its actual scores, which presumably have the same or similar basis as NAPLAN scores. Meanwhile, the top five countries (2012) have all improved. Has music education played a part in that?

Changes in scores, top five countries and Australia, 2012

               Australia    Shanghai   Singapore   Hong Kong    Taipei       Korea

2003            524                                                550                            542

2006            520                                                547             549          547

2009            514           600           562                555             543          546

2012            504           613            573                 561             560          554

Australia’s decline is about 4%. Others’ improvement is around 2%. There is a 6% difference.

4.      88% to 23%. Proportion of Australia schools offering good music education: independent, around 88%, government, around 23%. 

Ian Harvey extrapolated from existing statistical data to calculate that 88% of independent schools, but only 23% of government schools, offer a competent music education – that is to say, a sequential, developmental, continuous music education as defined by the National Review of School Music Education (2005) and the Australian Curriculum (2013). Essentially, this is a music education offered by specialist music teachers.[3][2]

Information that has become available subsequently leads us to believe that the percentage for government schools may be a little higher. But not much.

The percentage for government schools does not take account of activities funded by parents. These obviously are very valuable but they are not available to children from disadvantaged families. We are interested in universal opportunity and that can only be ensured through state funding.

5.      A large percentage of the population favours provision of music education in schools

87% of Australians aged 12 or more agree (51% totally agree, 36% mostly agree) that music education should be mandated by the states to ensure that every child has an opportunity to study music in school. 91% (51% + 40%) agree that music is part of a well-rounded education. 91% (57% + 34%) agree that all schools should offer an instrumental music education as part of their regular curriculum.  [4][3] The percentages that totally disagree are very small.

6.      Effects of music education on brain development

There has been a great deal of interest among researchers in the effects of music education on brain development. Music education activates many locations in the brain that are identified also with other types of activity. Music activity has an integrative effect on the brain. It causes brain development that benefits the whole person.

Researcher Sarah Wilson says: “Music primes the brain for learning.”

The Music in Australia Knowledge Base has a number of articles on brain science and music.[5][4] Sarah Wilson’s article, The Benefits of Music for the Brain, is a hard read the first time but is a great introduction. [6][5]

7.      Summary of the benefits of music education

The benefits are classified as intrinsic benefits, and extrinsic or instrumental benefits.

The intrinsic benefit of studying music is, for instance, that one becomes more musically perceptive and skilled and can more fully experience musical performance.

The instrumental benefits are non-musical benefits accompanying music education. For instance, the Swiss research described below found that students who did extra music study achieved better results in languages and reading, even though the music study did not involve study of languages or reading.

Research projects have found many such instrumental benefits. We think the main benefits of studying music are musical, intrinsic. But non-believers tend to more impressed by the arguments about instrumental benefits.

See the article on this page. Also look at this article on the Music in Australia Knowledge Base. [7][6] You can explore other articles on the Knowledge Base by clicking on BROWSE > ALL CATEGORIES.

8.      Successful professional musicians mostly began music lessons at a young age

Studies of successful contemporary musicians – including, for instance, ARIA Award winners – and members of Australian symphony orchestras, show that some began lessons at age 3 or 4 and the great majority were learning by age 8. Research shows that certain types of brain development stimulated by music education must occur by age 7 and if they do, are retained for the rest of life. Early education in music can help set someone up for a musical career but is valuable to all children in delivering the optimum benefits of a music education described in item 7.

Many of the respondents in these studies had good things to say about their school music programs, especially the secondary programs (in Australia, primary school music is, as they say, “variable”). Most found their way into independent schools or government schools with good music programs. From the responses, it could be implied that at primary school level, parents paid for music instruction for these successful musicians, thus giving them that desirable early start which would, however, be denied to children of less affluent families. [8]

9.      Swiss children who spent more time with music education did better on many counts than those who just followed the normal curriculum

A two-year Swiss study involved 1,200 children in 50 schools. They were taken from regular classes for three 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. [9][7] There are many studies that show similar outcomes.

But in some Australian schools, students are withdrawn from music and other instruction for additional study in NAPLAN subjects. The majority of national NAPLAN scores nevertheless are unchanged since 2008 and the students’ experience is the narrower and poorer. It is a failaing strategy but the response by authorities is to do even more of it. Educated educational leaders should be able to plan based on the evidence.

10.  Sweden’s music industry is a world champion – because of its music education system

Australian music import payments in royalties are three to five times its export income.In the Western world, three countries have a positive balance of payments in music: the USA, UK – and Sweden. Sweden is the minnow, with a population of 9.6 million. It shows that success is possible for countries with small populations such as itself and Australia.

The Swedes conducted a study into the reasons for their export success.[10][8] They identified four principal factors. On the face of it, two, related to structure and practices in the industry, are replicated in Australia. The other two concern the broad provision of music education through the schools and through municipal music schools [11][9]. Provision in Sweden far surpasses that in Australia.


[3][2] Percentages of Public and Independent School Students Receiving a Sequential, Continuous,  Developmental Music Education in School.,_Continuous,_Developmental_Music_Education_in_School

[7][6] The Global Perspective on Music in Education

[8] For the survey of successful contemporary musicians, go here

For the orchestral data, look at the surveys listed here:

[9][7] Weber, E., Patry J.L., Spychiger, M. (1993).Musik macht Schule. [Music makes the school].Essen, Germany: Die blaue Eule

[10][8]Chapter 8 is the most important in the report, Att ta sig ton – om svensk musikexport 1974-1999 (Ds 1999:28) (Tuning In – Swedish Music Exports 1974-1999). Expertgruppen för studier i offentlig ekonomi (ESO), an independent think tank in the Ministry for Finance. MCA has had this chapter translated:

[11][9] In Australia, the NSW regional conservatoria are the nearest equivalent to the latter although in Sweden as in most European countries, the music schools are very highly subsidised so that attendance is cheap or free.

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