November 10, 1998
|Tom Bearden reports on how music may affect learning patterns.|
TOM BEARDEN: Music has long been thought to be good for the soul. (music in background) But is it good for the brain? Teachers at Schiell Elementary, a public school in Cincinnati's inner city, think it is. Schiell is a magnet school where art and music is integrated into the core curriculum. Here, students can study violin or cello using the Suzuki method, a technique that was developed by Japan's Dr. Shinichi Suzuki in the 1950s. Ellen Shertzer heads the program.
ELLEN SHERTZER, Suzuki Music Instructor: Dr. Suzuki believed that every child can learn, given that he has the right environment and the right support from his teachers and his parents and home life. The parent helps the child at home with their lessons, and the parent comes to the lessons to learn from the teacher. And they are also listening in their environment.
TOM BEARDEN: As a result, the kids not only do well in music, some teachers say they perform better in math and science. Second grade teacher Janice Beaver says she really notices a difference between her students at Schiell who study music and those that at her previous school who hadn't.
JANICE BEAVER, Teacher: I see those kids that have music training, particularly the kids that go to Suzuki lessons, as being children who are - stick with what they're doing more. If they have a problem with something, they seem to be more ready to keep working on that problem. They're also the children that always bring back their homework, because Suzuki really stresses -- they have to practice every night and they keep a chart. They also seem to be the children who have the parents that take more concern with what they're doing. And so I think that plays into it.
TOM BEARDEN: The Suzuki philosophy involves the parent from the start. Before a child takes a lesson, the parent must first learn how to handle the instrument and to play one song. Shertzer says by offering the program in the public school system her school is giving these kids an advantage that wealthier families have given their kids for years.
ELLEN SHERTZER: I think the fact that they must participate for their child as part of the program for many parents it has made them come into the school and feel more comfortable in the school and, therefore, have then participated more with the child in school activities. And when they get involved in this process, themselves, they keep doing it with their kids.
TOM BEARDEN: Johnny Harris says his six-year-old daughter has developed good studying habits from playing the violin.
JOHNNY HARRIS, Parent: I think the music training makes it easier for her when it comes to correcting mistakes, when she's learning. You know, she's able to accept making a mistake without it being so hard on her, you know, and then go back and work on it.
TOM BEARDEN: But are these children doing better because of their music lessons, or because their parents are involved? Or is something else at work? Could it be that music training fundamentally affects the brain in a way that improves certain kinds of learning? Therapists who work with autistic students and Alzheimer's patients who seem to respond to music have suggested that it does improve learning. Anthony Vizachero is autistic and had difficulty focusing on his math and reading lessons until he started music therapy about a year ago. Although there's been a lot of speculation about why students like Anthony are so responsive to music, only recently have scientists had the technology to study how music impacts the brain. That subject has intrigued neuroscientist Gordon Shaw, who is now working with teachers and students at the 95th Street School in South Central Los Angeles. Five years ago he discovered the Mozart effect. It suggested that students temporarily increased their IQ and spatial reasoning skills by as much as 40 percent after listening to Mozart's Sonata in D Major. Spatial reasoning skills are used to solve complex math problems.
DR. GORDON SHAW, University of California, Irvine: Somehow that Mozart Sonata was organizing or priming the brain in some neat way to help these students do those types of tasks. And we really don't understand it. We're really at the very beginning. It's like the very tip of the iceberg, we believe.
TOM BEARDEN: Now, Shaw is exploring whether playing a musical instrument, rather than just listening, will stimulate new connections in a young brain, enhancing spatial reasoning skills. He wants to know whether that enhancement can be made permanent.
DR. GORDON SHAW: We believe that music really is a special window into not only understanding the brain but also perhaps increasing our ability to think, reason, and create from little kids on up.
TOM BEARDEN: Students in this second grade class at the Los Angeles school are learning how to read and play music.
TEACHER: Show me your graph.
TOM BEARDEN: After their music lesson, they work on a specially designed computer game that teaches math and science concepts. Finally, students are asked to solve mathematical problems, supplying the images and rhythms they learned on the keyboard and computer.
TEACHER: How many do these two notes together equal?
TEACHER: So one, one, and one is?
TEACHER: And we know that nine times three is?
TOM BEARDEN: Teachers here say that students in this class are out-performing those who aren't receiving any music training. Zeke Adkins says he looks forward to coming to class.
ZEKE ADKINS, Student: I already know how to play the Lion King song and I know how to play a Beach Boys song. I know how to play the Halloween song, a spooky song.
TOM BEARDEN: Even so, Dr. Shaw says it's far too early to advocate changing school curriculum, but he would like to see his theories tested on a larger scale.
DR. GORDON SHAW: Now we're trying to focus on how to get a huge effect, how to show that it can go beyond our particular teachers, our particular intervention, and any school can do it around the country, and we would help coordinate it to be able to show that we can raise the math scores of kids, no matter what background.
TOM BEARDEN: Dr. Anthony Grasha disagrees. He believes these kids are getting higher scores for a different reason.
DR. ANTHONY GRASHA, University of Cincinnati: I think what you're getting is more of what we describe as the motivational effect, and what's important is to distinguish between something that is motivational, that is, that it sort of psyches you in some way, and that excitement transfers to other things, versus something that I would describe as helping you to have a permanent connection in your brain.
TOM BEARDEN: Grasha writes and lectures about the psychology of teaching at the University of Cincinnati. He points to a well-established principle in neural psychology.
DR. ANTHONY GRASHA: I think that we have to understand that the transfer of skills, quite frankly, is very specific. There isn't a lot of evidence to suggest that if I learn how to play a violin, that that will make me a better baseball pitcher, or that that would then somehow enhance my ability to do mathematical problems in some way better. To suggest that somehow my ability to lay a keyboard or a violin is going to make me a better mathematician all by it self is not the case. I think it's a case of having people who have those abilities already, who are simply given the opportunity to demonstrate both.
TEACHER: Boys and girls show me B.
TOM BEARDEN: This argument is not purely an academic exercise. It's being played out against real policy decisions of how to spend money in schools. Tight public education budgets have forced music classes out of many schools. In the non-magnet schools in Cincinnati, for example, the school board is giving the local faculty the power to decide whether to spend money on music and art education or to use the money to hire additional math, English, and science teachers. The faculties in several schools have made the choice to discontinue arts and music programs. School board member Catherine Ingram says it's a difficult decision.
CATHERINE INGRAM, Cincinnati School Board: If our responsibility and our accountability comes in at getting a child a basic education, however that is defined, then what part do you leave off? You can only pay for so much. And if that is not the part that gets them to being a successful citizen in the future, then unfortunately, the funding has to be cut somewhere. You must draw the line, because the focus must be on getting our children what has been termed a basic education.
TOM BEARDEN: Whether studying music enhances a basic education or not, Ellen Shertzer says it's important not to lose sight of the core values of music.
ELLEN SHERTZER: Music is an international language. It transcends culture, diversity, politics, that people from all around the world play and do music, and we can understand it. Dr. Suzuki would say that we're not teaching children to be concert artists, but we're teaching them to have noble spirits or noble hearts, kind to their fellow being.
TOM BEARDEN: Even though science has not conclusively demonstrated the connection between music education and other academic skills, researchers say they're closer to figuring out what impact music has on the brain and whether all those lessons will have an even bigger payoff than parents expect.