Music is no longer bound by the limits of it source. The increase in recording technology has increased the amount of music a person can hear but has de-emphasized the needs for people to actively make music together. Making music together was an important activity in the past because your only option for listening was to play yourself or go to a concert, which was not always available. By making music as an activity, the line between performer and audience is blurred.
When performers play together, their brains process the same information at the same time. So essentially they are functioning as one brain while they are working together. Playing music by oneself is also beneficial as it activates different parts of the brain at the same time. Performing causes the brain to coordinate analysis of patterns with physical movement.
Fewer people are participating in acoustical performances but with the increased portability of electronic music players they are actually listening more. Because our society has changed the value of music from performance to electronic, should we re-evaluate how we teach music in schools?
First we need to identify music as organize sound. Then we need to accept that no one type of music is intrinsically better than another. Music is influenced on a cultural level and based on familiarity within a given style. Children however, are not predisposed to be able to understand one style of music over another. They can distinguish between many variances within our Western 12-tone scale, but it is only through exposure are that they are entrained to listen within our parameters. This repetition is of sounds is how the child’s brain learns to process music.
Music is brought into the classroom for a number of reasons. The more traditional reason is to train young people to become proficient performers, which is usually done by a specialist teacher in the music classroom. Another reason is the use of music to assist the brain in acquiring new information. In this case music is piped into the non-music classes in the hopes of increasing brain development. Finally, music can be brought into the classroom as a diversion or for entertainment factor.
Music engages the brain on multiple levels, especially training the brain to process information spatially. In order to support the statement that music can “make you smarter” we need to acknowledge that for any type of brain development it needs to be the “right” music for the “right” person. So what causes one child’s brain to light up will have no effect on another. We traditionally reference Mozart in affecting intelligence but in reality that is the implementation of our Western cannon.
When using music in the classroom there needs to be an emphasis on listening over hearing in context. Music played in the background just becomes noise that the brain will eventually filter out. However music illicits movement so active listening could also include a movement component. It is important to encourage movement and singing outside of the music class to create an active listening experience in which all can participate.
Active music making must be a part of our daily lives if it is to have any long-term effects. It needs to be inclusive of all students, genres, and other subjects. Students should be exposed to live performances as often as possible and encouraged to participate in music regardless of ability or performance anxiety. Music as background noise is not as effective as when students engage in singing and moving with the music. Teachers do not need to be leaders of music making, as the children should be interacting with the music on their own. Music in schools is not meant for a select group of people nor is it meant to “make children smarter”. It is meant to be enjoyed as a social activity and promote cohesion in the classroom.
I see the influence of electronic music in my own classroom. When I ask my students how they listen to music their top answers are through personal music players and headphones. There is a disconnect from the social aspect of music making and as a result music becomes something which is only personal. When they get the opportunity to play as a group in an ensemble, a lot of them enjoy the group aspect of music making over the actual music they are playing. In this case we are not training elite musicians, rather we are creating a space where musical experience can occur.
I think an engaging teacher changes their learning goals based on the students readiness for the lesson. Sometimes I push my students to become proficient performers, but other times our goal is to have fun while playing an instrument. I do not think it is as segmented as the article makes it out to be. I do agree however, that students must be actively engaged in music and that we need to model this behaviour for them. If their brains are used to music being a constant background noise, we need to re-train them in a sense to actively listen and analyze music in the classroom.
I like how the article made the connection between music making and movement for brain development. I’ve noticed with my own students that when we clap, sing, and dance to the beat, they have a greater understanding of more complex rhythms. When they “feel” the groove we become better players collectively. I find the connection between movement, music, and brain activity interesting, and am going to try and incorporate it on a more social level in my classroom.