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Music, world geography and calculus

The Marysville Globe of Marysville, Washington

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"Tim, do you have your homework done?" "I'll get to it." "Hand over your iPod, young man. You get it back when you're done."

"Aw, Mom. Don't be such a dork."

And so it goes in homes from Smokey Point to the Slough and from Warm Beach to Granite Falls and beyond. Concerned parents want their kids to focus and do well in school to qualify for juicy scholarships. Focus is what it's all about and parents are pretty unified in believing that children cannot focus with music blasting in their ears.

Such parental concern is to be admired. The issue of whether music cuts into learning efficiency, however, isn't cut and dried. Researchers have found that the brain works at different levels and that some subject-matter couplings, say music and mathematics, can work together.

That statement needs close examination because not all music helps the brain to learn and not all subjects partner equally well with music. Then there's the issue of volume. The Journal of the American Auditory Society reported that eight of ninety test subjects displayed identical behaviors as substance abusers when they listened to loud rock. Keep the volume down, Tim.

Different kinds of music, like poetry, are composed differently to bring about different reactions in listeners. This has been demonstrated time and again, once in a women's wear chain where selected background music clearly enhanced customers' and clerks' responses to each other. At the other end of the social spectrum, some prisons use music to keep a lid on latent hostility.

Should Mom have held onto Tim's iPod while he was studying? The answer to that might connect with average student achievement in local schools. Much is at stake here. While home-grown students labor away at their studies, children of immigrants more often than not walk off with the academic honors. It's not a matter of IQ. Something about our children's approach to their studies isn't working. Given the hours kids' ears spend absorbing recorded music, maybe we should tune in on research that examines the relationship between music and learning.

Kids probably won't want to hear this but much of today's pop music works against learning. Certain golden oldies are a different matter. Tests show that Mozart's rhythms and structure are built of factors that consistently sharpen listeners' mental clarity. The full report on the effect of Mozart on learning can be found under: The Mozart Effect, University of California.

Support for study-music came from a Psychology of Music essay that tested music against work environments. It was found that quality of work suffered when there was no music and the time required to complete tasks was longest without music. Mention was made of a general increase in positive mood when music was played. But again, it couldn't be just any music. Researchers in that study used "designer-music" composed according to musical principals that bring about positive responses. Like "elevator music" that keeps claustrophobic passengers from freaking out while closed in a six-by-six cage.

Different types of music were put to the test by researcher Rollin McCraty who sought to find how different genres of music affected students. He tested four genres of music; Grunge-Rock, New Age, Classical, and Designer. After exposure to each, subjects underwent psychological testing and profiling to see what, if anything, had changed. Grunge triggered hostility and cut into mental clarity and motivation, Mom was right if Tim was hooked on Grunge.

We can't ignore what music does to the minds of musicians. People who study music have higher GPAs and are higher achievers across the board than non-musicians. Hungary, Japan and the Netherlands, the top three academic nations in the world, all place great emphasis on musical performance and music education. The question for Mom becomes, can music from Tim's iPod help him to become a better student?

Take it a step further. An article from Music and the Brain (December 2002) focused on how involvement with music literally changes the brain. - It quoted test results proving that certain parts of the brain are much larger in people who were experienced in music and that it was music that was responsible for the enlargement. The article went on to discuss how music affects brain-function and generally benefits daily lives.

It was in 1960, long before ear-buds, that research linked music with effective learning. When the team of Lozanov and Gateva tried using background music to enhance an educational program called Accelerated Learning, they found it worked very nicely. Students' minds were stabilized. Their physical and emotional rhythms were tuned to increase information absorption. Memory retention improved.

If Mom knew all this, she might not have been so quick to confiscate the iPod. On the other hand, if she had done an in-depth study of what music does to the brain she would know that Tim isn't going to pull down top grades on a diet of Grunge or Heavy Metal. She and her son should have a heart-to-heart about which music works and then get him to give it a try.

Lucky for Tim the iPod is a private listening device so he might avoid being the dork for studying to a background of Bach and Mozart. But imagine what might happen if his society openly talked up the issue of which music actually helps a person to learn — and maybe accepted it to some degree. Who knows, Bach and Mozart might lose their dorkiness.

I started researching for this article convinced that young people were wasting study time if plugged into music. I was wrong, but only if, like having a good study lamp and comfortable chair, music is carefully chosen to set students up for efficient learning.

Comments may be addressed to: rgraef@verizon. Net

Copyright 2010 The Marysville Globe, Marysville, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: June 2, 2010

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