[Press and Publications] Notable Findings [Music; Theatre; Arts]

April 2000

No 80

Music can help you work, rest and play - but music education can also improve your spelling, your memory and your intellect, psychologists meeting at the University of Leicester claim.

Teaching children to play the piano before the age of seven is the most effective way of getting them to learn, members of the Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education heard.

University of Leicester psychologist Dr Alexandra Lamont, the conference organiser, said: "Studying the effects of music is becoming increasingly important for policy and practice in many fields, and yet the research has not been gathered together in this way before. We were very excited about discussing the conflicting findings and separating out fact from fiction."

Outcomes from the conference included:

Dr Frances Rauscher (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) opened the conference with a keynote presentation on her research into music and brain development. She stated at the outset that there is no scientific evidence for the notion that just listening to music has any effect on children's or adults' overall intelligence.

However, Sherman Vander Ark (University of Akron, Ohio) and Anne Savan (University of Reading) highlighted the powerful effects of listening to music on the body in terms of physiological changes, showing how these can have subsequent influences on concentration and learning.

Professor Susan Hallam (Oxford Brookes University) also showed how background music can disturb our concentration when we are trying to do other things - especially (for both children and adults) when listening to rave music!

Dr Rauscher also presented findings showing that musical instruction or training can have an effect on children's spatial-temporal reasoning, particularly if the instruction begins before the age of 7. She found these improvements most marked with children learning keyboard instruments, and argues that the music training needs to continue in order for the benefits to be lasting.

Katie Overy (University of Sheffield) gave preliminary findings suggesting that music training can help children with phonological skills and spelling abilities, particularly children suffering from dyslexia.

Dr Madeleine Zulauf (Lausanne) told the conference about the extended music training project in Swiss classrooms (at the expense of other subjects). She showed that although this had no long-lasting effect on children's general intelligence, and actually seemed to reduce their abilities on a poetry test, visual skills were improved as a result and there were also many social and affective gains.

Jo Plumb and Dr Ian Cross (University of Cambridge) and Dr Lamont both showed how highly trained adult musicians were better able to perform spatial-temporal tasks like maze-following, and how studying science-related subjects seemed to be also related to these enhanced intellectual skills.

Andrea Kilgour (Queens University, Kingston, Canada) showed that trained musicians had clearly improved memory abilities, and Dr Jane Ginsborg (University of Manchester) illustrated how singers do not actually need to understand the words they memorise yet can still do so accurately.

Dr Susan O'Neill (Keele University) also told the conference how children's attitudes towards learning were closely related to their achievement in music training.

At the end of the conference, Dr Lamont said: "We have heard a lot of evidence both for and against the benefits of music. One important issue to emerge is that everyone believes first and foremost in the importance of music in its own right. However, there are situations in which it can also have effects on other areas. The research is complex, but the conference has certainly shown evidence of the amount of work in this area and the efforts being devoted to developing appropriate theoretical models."

Note to newsdesk:

The above summarises only part of the research presented at this conference. Brief abstracts of all the research presented and contact details for presenters can be found on our website - http://www.srpmme.u-net.com/apr2000.html - or by contacting Alexandra Lamont, Department of Psychology, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK.

Tel: +44 (0)116 223 1012, Fax: +44 (0)116 252 2067, email: AML11@le.ac.uk

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Last updated: 28 April 2000 11:15
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