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Does Music Have An Impact On The Development Of Students?

by Tony Mickela

Music educators feel, and have observed, that student involvement in school music has a positive impact on other areas of their lives. These educators will tell you that musical involvement improves a student's self-discipline, dexterity, coordination, self-esteem, thinking skills, listening skills, creative abilities and personal expression. Most music educators, however, are not aware of specific research that will support these feelings and observations.

The Gemeinhardt Company conducted two major surveys in the 1980's about the school band movement. They interviewed band directors, music dealers, parents (band and non-band) and students (band and non-band). In the first Gemeinhardt study, the responses indicate that the majority of people surveyed in all categories recognize many of the benefits a student can receive from being in a band program. Those benefits are: accomplishment, appreciation, discipline, fun, active participation and maturing relationships.

The survey of band parents found that 96% of them agree that "many people don't know or understand the benefits of band." In fact, 95% of the non-band parents surveyed felt that band provides educational benefits not found in other classrooms and that 78% of the same group felt that band is more educational than extracurricular. Band directors surveyed talk in general terms about the benefits of a band education. These directors list such benefits as: discipline, teamwork, coordination, development of skills, pride, lifetime skills, accomplishment, cooperation, self-confidence, sense of belonging, responsibility, self-expression, creativity, performance, companionship, builds character and personality, improves self-esteem, social development, and enjoyment.

In the second Gemeinhardt study non-band parents, non-band students, drop-out band parents and drop-out band students were surveyed. Among these four groups there is much agreement that band builds self-esteem, self-confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. When given the choices of "Agree a lot," "Agree a little," and "Don't agree,": 91% of the non-band parents, 90% of drop-out band parents, 79% of non-band students and 82% of drop-out band students chose to "Agree a lot" with the above statement.

I agree that these benefits are positive. As directors we need to be more vocal about the benefits of participation in music and share this kind of information with school boards, principals, parents and students. Combining this kind of information with the scientific data available concerning the positive impact of music is a powerful argument that needs to be shared with the public. Every music educator must do their part to share this kind of information with others if we are to keep our programs.

To paraphrase a recent commercial, the data shows that:


There have been a number of studies done on the effect of music on academic development. It has been shown that high school music students have higher grade point averages than non-music students in the same school. At Mission Viejo High School in Southern California in 1981, the overall grade point average of music students was 3.59 and for non-music students the overall grade point average was 2.91. This same study also found that 16% of the music students had a 4.0 overall grade point average and only 5% of the non-music students had a 4.0 overall grade point average. A study of graduates of the New York City School of Performing Arts found that 90% of them go on to college.

Rees feels that involvement in high school music programs helps students develop the skills necessary for a variety of occupations. She states: "Successful music students tend to possess the qualities and skills that are generally considered essential to employers in business, education and service organizations." She also recognizes that music education assists students in improving their writing, communication skills and DOES improve analytical skills. Rees further states that to be successful in music, takes a great deal of self-discipline and notes that "music majors have the highest SAT scores in all areas."

Fred Hargadon, former Dean of Admissions for Stanford University, in a 1983 interview with Stauffer said, "We look for students who have taken part in orchestra, symphonic band, chorus and drama. It shows a level of energy and an ability to organize time that we are after here. It shows that they can carry a full academic load and learn something else. It means that these particular students already know how to get involved and that's the kind of campus we want to have."

Christensen (Biernat) has found that research studies have consistently shown that participation in student activities is beneficial to students. Success in college can be more accurately predicted by levels of individual achievements in student activities (drama, debate, music etc.) than it can from SAT scores, class rank and grades in school. Conversely, studies of dropout students show that these students have had the least amount of participation in school activities.

The Mode of American Youth (Biernat) reported that the most frequent co-curricular activity in American high schools was participation in a musical group. They reported that 38.3% of all high school students say that they belonged to a band, orchestra or choir.


Music participation does have a positive impact on reading. A reading program in New York dramatically improved reading achievement scores by including music and art in the curriculum. Winston writes about how learning to read music enhances the student's ability to perform the skills necessary for reading, listening, anticipating, forecasting, memory training, recall skills, concentration techniques and speed reading. It has also been found that music students can out-perform non-music students on achievement tests in reading and math. Referring to reading and communication skills, Kuffler recognized the contributions the arts can make to the development of perceptual and cognitive skills.

There are similar studies in the area of mathematics that show gains in test scores in math for music students when compared to non-music students. Maltester found that increased instruction in music can lead to increased learning in mathematics. A study conducted in the Albuquerque, New Mexico public schools concluded by comparing all areas of the California Test of Basic Skills (CTBS). It was found that music students in an instrumental class for two or more years scored significantly higher than non-music students. Grace Nash, an Arizona music educator, has found that incorporating music into mathematics lessons has enabled students to learn multiplication tables and math formulas more easily.


The Norwegian Research Council for Science and the Humanities has found a connection between students having musical competence and high motivation in that they were more likely to achieve success in school. They concluded that there is a high correlation between positive self-perception, high cognitive competence scores, self-esteem and interest and involvement in school music. Whitwell came to much the same conclusion and contends that creative participation in music improves self-image, self-awareness and creates positive attitudes about oneself. Marshall found that involvement and achievement in school music builds positive self-image which is a motivation for academic learning among urban black middle school students.

It has also been found that through involvement in group music activities on the high school level, individuals learn to support each other, maintain commitment and bond together for group goals. The process is a significant part of improved self-esteem. Sward, in writing about Fred Miller, president of the Miller Summer Clinics, says that Miller has found that musical experiences "instill: 1) positive attitude; 2) positive self image; 3) desire to achieve excellence; 4) co-operation; 5) group cohesiveness; and 6) ability to set goals." Eisner writes about the importance of arts in education because they develop intellectual and aesthetic abilities.


There are a number of studies that show a connection between music and the development of the brain. Dr. Frank Wilson is an assistant clinical professor of neurology at the University Of California School Of Medicine, San Francisco. He reports that his studies show that instrumental practice enhances coordination, concentration and memory and also brings about the improvement of eyesight and hearing. He further reports that the process of learning to play an instrument refines the development of the brain and the entire neurological system (Mueller, 1984).

In a speech at the California Music Educators Association State Convention on March 17, 1989, Dr. Wilson said that he has found through music, people become an active participant in their own physiological development. He says that people can discover themselves and a sense of self in community through musical involvement. His research has shown that involvement in music connects and develops the motor systems of the brain in a way that cannot be done by any other activity. In support of this, Dr. Wilson shared recent data from UCLA brain scan research studies which shows that music more fully involves brain functions (both left and right hemispheres) than any other activities studied. Dr. Wilson feels these findings are so significant that it will lead to a universal understanding in the next century that music is an absolute necessity for the total development of the brain and the individual.

A separate study shows that performance in music develops the intellect. These musical activities train the brain in aesthetic literacy and the students' perceptual, imaginative and visual abilities (Sinatra, 1986). Whitwell (1977) deals with the left brain/right brain issue. He says that when one talks about music, he is using the left side of the brain. To utilize the right side of the brain, one must creatively produce in an activity such as music. He says the "music is independent, separate unique form of intellect, a form of intellect through which man can communicate directly in its own inherent form" (p9).

This seems to confirm Wilson's contention that music does have a developmental impact on the brain. Whitwell chides the educational system for only educating half a brain. He points out the problem of lost attention or day-dreaming, and that the answer is to involve the right side of the brain in the learning process. Whitwell says that the complete man must have equal access to both domains (left and right brain) of understanding and this access has to include a creative activity such as the performance of music.

Tedd Judd in a speech at the 1984 conference on the Biology of Music-Making entitled, "A Neurologist Looks at Musical Behavior", comes to the conclusion that involvement in music involves many parts of the interconnected brain (Roehmann, 1988). Dr. Jean Houston of the Foundation for Mind Research says that children without access to an arts program are actually damaging their brain. They are not being exposed to non-verbal modalities which help them learn skills like reading, writing and math much more easily (Roehmann, 1988).


We, as music educators, must take the lead in sharing this information with the people that can make the difference in the future; school boards, administrators, parents, and legislative representatives. We must advocate for the arts. It is vital that we become proactive in our support of the arts. By reviewing the studies involving music we have found that participation in school music has a positive impact on areas considered outside the realm of music.

As more people become aware of the research in this area, we should see increased enrollments in arts classes. The use of the arts throughout the curriculum, as a tool for better learning, is an area that will expand. With dropout rates being so high, educators need to combine resources and use the tools available for a more effective method of education. I feel that the arts will play a major role in the future success of the education system. Don't stand on the sidelines and watch the profession dwindle away. Get involved and help it grow.

Source:  Compliments of the National Music Booster Club 1-800-543-2263
Reprinted with the author's kind permission
Foundation For Universal Music Literacy Research Materials

Tony Mickela


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