Musical intelligence gains attention

Music education inspires engagement and brain growth in children

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The Rosemount High School marching band is just one of the many ways in which area students can get involved in music. The marching band has been recognized as one of the best in the state and the nation in recent years. (Photo by Rick Orndorf)

Emily Brossart felt the rhythm run down into her feet. Marching in synch with the band, she knew each step by heart. Leading the Rosemount High School marching band through the football field was just another day of summer practice for Brossart.

As a drum major in the RHS marching band, music education has become a huge part of Brossart’s life. Playing music alongside band members in the summer heat has cultivated lasting friendships for her.

“Most of my best friends are in marching band with me,” Brossart said. “You spend so many hours together, especially in summer. We rehearse almost every day.”

As an essential part of a rounded education, music is required in elementary, middle and high school in order to complete graduation. Yet many schools scrape by with minimum required credits and shrinking music funds.
Music education

Research has proven that music education helps students learn work ethic and the art of practice.

“When we work toward something in band it makes us better workers-better people,” Brossart said. “We can direct that industriousness toward our lives. It helps us realize that we can’t see the final result right away but it’s still there.”

According to a University of Sarasota and an East Texas State University study, middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests. Significant correlations run between the number of years of instrumental music instruction and academic achievement in math, science and language arts.

The effects of rhythm in music education are especially noticeable in math. Students who studied music-based math lessons scored 100 percent higher on fractions tests than those who learned in a conventional math class, according to the Neurological Research Journal.

As Brossart’s marching band director, Steve Olsen has guided the RHS marching band through several state championships, regional finals and is currently anticipating the band’s upcoming performance in the 125th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

Over the years Olsen has witnessed the effect that music education has on his students.

“The kids I see understand commitment, discipline and time management. In the instant society we live in, they understand that instant gratification doesn’t always happen. You have to invest the work up front and the reward comes later,” Olsen said.

Olsen finds that music provides a sense of teamwork that cannot be compared with other forms of education.

“In sports, you are on the starter or A-team,” said Olsen. “In music, everyone is a starter, everyone is on the A-team, and no one’s on the bench. … We’re all in this together.”

Program funding

Although increased music education has been tied to better grades, understanding of math, a sense of belonging and work ethic, schools continue to slice funding to the arts.

In regard to music budget cuts, Olsen said: “As taxpayers, families, parents and educators, what do we really value? Through research, music education has been found to be an important and vital component of every child’s education.”

Mary Schaefle, executive director of the Minnesota Music Educators Association, agrees that music should remain as an essential part of curriculum, while budget cuts should not lie solely on the shoulders of music education.

“We ask that cuts should be evenly distributed, not just in one curricular area,” Schaefle said.

She said that music education should start with children in prekindergarten ages and extend through high school and even into adult life.

There is no proven answer as to why music education helps students excel, but some predict that it helps students become more engaged in learning activities.

“If a student finds something at school that engages them, then they will look into other subjects,” Schaefle said.

Many researchers say that music education feeds the brain.

Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory scientists find that musical training adds new neural connections and increase the brain’s ability to adapt and change.

The stability of music education has guided Emily Brossart throughout her educational career. Although she may not be able to measure her improved math skills or reading ability, music has made a visible impact on her life.

“I started playing flute in the summer before fifth grade and every other subject in school has changed as (I got) older. The purpose of band stays the same. To make music never changes. … It teaches us to value arts, things that you can’t measure in life and to work together,” Brossart said.

Musical resources

While schools may cut music programs to save costs, Schaefle explains that children and adults can find music education outside of the classroom. Outside resources include private lessons, music workshops and summer camps.

Many Dakota County Library programs focus on music education.

Personal music lessons can be found at the Forte Fine Arts Academy in Lakeville, Sheryl’s Piano Studio in Farmington, MacPhail Center for Music in Apple Valley, Erin’s Music Lessons in Rosemount, Foxtone Music location in Eagan, Schmitt Music in Burnsville and many more all over the south metro.

Upcoming fall musical workshops include Rock 101: The Basics (ages 8-12) at the School of Rock in Burnsville and Singing for Children (ages 8-12) at the Apple Valley MacPhail Center for Music.

Late summer music camps include Hiss, Rattle & Roll (ages 4-7)  and Swinging, Singing Safari! (ages 6-9) at the Minnesota Zoo (for a complete list and registration click here), and Make and Play Those Instruments for ages 4-7 at Schmidt Music in Edina.

Contact Sarah Allen at
[email protected]