The Nonmusical Outcomes of Music Education
"Elevator Music" More Than It Seems
Recent Publications of Special Interest
"In the face of the severe financial problems besetting many school districts, the role of education in the arts has come under increasingly close scrutiny as school administrators have sought to balance their budgets. Because many people are able to dismiss music and the other arts as educational frills, they find them the logical targets for reductions when school finances are strained. In situations such as these, the effect on music education is crippling."
Sound familiar? A resume of the current state of affairs? Hardly. This statement appears at the beginning of a review article published in 1979 (1). Written by Karen Wolff, it continues ... "Such actions make it incumbent upon the profession to provide a thorough and convincing justification for the place of music and, by extension, all arts education in the school curriculum." Dr. Wolff goes on to argue that the case for music education can be strengthened if it has nonmusical benefits to students, be they in academic subjects, social and emotional adjustments or physical development. I would add to the list general cognitive and intellectual growth.
Whether or not one agrees with this strategy, a comprehensive understanding of and appreciation for the roles of music demands that research determine all of the effects of music, both for informal exposure and in formal educational experiences. Previously, we documented some of the beneficial effects of music on cognitive achievement in children, specifically for reading, mental spatial abilities and creativity (MuSICA Research Notes, 1, Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 1994). Although that article did not attempt to review all of the relevant published studies, its preparation did not uncover vast amounts of systematic studies, as opposed to the more plentiful anecdotal accounts and single case reports. A reasonable conclusion at that time was that not much research had been done on the topic of "nonmusical outcomes of music education".
Well, that seems to still be the state of affairs, except that a sizable trove of studies has surfaced, so to speak. Actually, most remain a bit below the surface, as I will explain.
Recently, I came across an article that, perhaps, should have come to my attention earlier. In any event, James Hanshumaker, writing in 1980 in the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education (2), performed a detailed search for relevant articles in music and the other arts and found quite a few studies, 36 to be exact. In a moment I will summarize his conclusions. But first, I was puzzled why this large body of information seems to be largely unknown, particularly to the music education community for whom, it would appear, it was destined. Recall that Karen Wolff's article at about the same time testified to the importance of such studies in the late '70s crisis in arts education. Perhaps, I thought, it is due to an unjustified but too common generational gap: old knowledge is ignored. Maybe interest had waned in the '80's and early '90's. Possibly they were forgotten because no use was made of the findings. Any or all of these factors might be contributory. But I think the major reason is that the vast majority of these studies were never published!
Indeed, they still haven't been published. When I read the reference section of Hanshumaker's paper, the state of affairs clarified itself rapidly. Of the 36 references, only 5 had previously been published, that is had appeared in a journal, the standard medium of widespread communication. The other 31 citations were for doctoral dissertations in music education or allied fields. Although summaries of all dissertations are published in Dissertation Abstracts, they do not provide enough information to permit critical evaluation of the work.
Perhaps the results of these dissertations had been published after Hanshumaker wrote his article, although some of the work was almost twenty years old by the date of his review. To check this out, I searched exhaustively for any publications, up to the present time, that came from these 31 dissertations, To my astonishment and dismay, I could find only two. In other words, there are at least twenty nine studies predating 1980 (the date of Hanshumaker's review) that have never been published, which found evidence that music and arts education have beneficial effects on intellectual and social development. Presumably, their contents are known to very few people. For all intents and purposes, these findings contained in these dissertations have only an archival but no functional existence. (See the accompanying column "Matters of Opinion" regarding more about unpublished works.)
Now to Hanshumaker's major conclusions, based on his review largely of unpublished works. For present purposes, no distinctions are made between music and other arts education, unless otherwise noted.
1. Arts education facilitates language development and reading readiness.
2. Arts activities are valued by school children.
3. Arts activities foster positive attitudes toward school and result in lowered rates of absenteeism.
4. Direct music participation enhances the development of creativity.
5. Arts education facilitates social development, personality adjustment and general intellectual development.
These conclusions are gratifying in at least two respects. First, they confirm the intuitions and anecdotal personal experiences of the vast majority of teachers in music and the arts that music and arts education are highly beneficial, not only within their own domains, but in general intellectual and social development. Second, they are consistent with the conclusions reached in our previous article in MRN on the subject, although that article was based on a set of publications that were different from those which were reviewed by Hanshumaker. This consistency over time adds confidence to the conclusions (3).
From a theoretical point of view, these findings will help us understand mental and personal development and the roles of music in human life. From a practical point of view, the argument that music and arts education are merely "frills" finds no objective support. Quite the contrary. Because education is probably the best and most important way to help children develop to their full intellectual and personal potentials, it is incumbent upon us all to first support the discovery and then support the application of knowledge that promotes these goals. The conclusion that music and arts education are an important and effective part of this formula can no longer be doubted even if it can still be ignored.
(1) Wolff, K.I.(1979). The nonmusical outcomes of music educaiton: A review of the literature Council for Res. Music Educ. Bull., 1-27.
(2) Hanshumaker, J. (1980). The effects of arts education on intellectual and social development: a review of selected research. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 61, 10-28.
(3) A only cautionary note is that I am reporting on what Hanshumaker
concluded. I have not located, read or analyzed all those pre
1979 dissertations. Indeed, there may be quite a few more recent
dissertations that contain findings pertinent to the issue of
the nonmusical effects of music education. Finding and sorting
through all of that material would make an excellent dissertation
for someone seeking the doctorate in music education or perhaps
the history of science.
"The musically aware hostess no longer allows the butler, or her husband, to sling records on to the turntable in a haphazard way. She no longer risks the dangers of the soup being spilled by Haydn's 'Surprise' Symphony, or Mrs. Alias-Jones choking over the fish because an ill-timed bit of jazz trumpet has frightened her. She now supplies a ready-made background of elegant and suitable music to smooth the evening into one long feast of pleasure and unshattered nerves (1)."
This quotation, obviously taken from a dated source as indicated by style, content and reference to a rapidly disappearing medium of musical recording, nonetheless encapsulates the assertion that "background music" has profound and to some extent compelling effects on human emotion and behavior.
Do the names Les Baxter, Frank Chacksfield, Ray Conniff, Percy Faith, Jackie Gleason (yes! the "Great One"), Andre Kostelanetz, Michel Legrand, Mantovani, George Melachrino, Nelson Riddle, Paul Weston or Hugo Winterhalter ring a bell? If not, how about Connie Cook, Constance Demby, Brian Eno, Andreas Vollenweider, George Winston , or Yanni, of a more recent and contemporary vintage.
Roughly speaking these artists, and many others, have been considered to represent, respectively, the "Beautiful Music" and the "New Age" movements in popular music. According to Joseph Lanza in his recent fascinating book "Elevator Music" (see footnote #1), these two forms have some clear differences. The former relies on familiar melodies played by full "acoustic" orchestras and "up front appeals to nostalgia". In contrast, "New Age" focuses on unfamiliar melodies with "fluid sonic landscapes", and the extensive use of synthesizers. Despite these marked differences, both types occupy the musical niche that combats the view of "... a musical establishment still wedged into nineteenth-century prejudices that equated good music with direct listening (2)." Lanza, in stark contrast to the disdain often heaped on these types of music, extols their virtues as he examines their pervasive presence in post World War II American society.
And pervasive is the watchword, not merely for "Beautiful" and "New Age" but for a music delivery system that permeates virtually all public indoor (and "in plane") spaces with "Background" or "Elevator" music. Often referred to as "Musak", background music (BGM) is actually offered by several music suppliers. BGM permeates our world. It is easier to think of places that lack BGM that to list all those where it is found. Most establishments in which we spend money, to purchase goods, services, food, or drink have BGM. So do many work places, be they factories or offices. BGM is currently being marketed for the home ... numerous channels, each with a distinctive type of music for different personal or social situations, all in digital stereo. And where there is no permanent installation, as in our cars, it is a simple matter to achieve self-supply of BGM by tuning the car radio to an appropriate type of station.
Lest one conclude that BGM is a modern invention, we need only recall that it has been in continual demand for about as long as we possess a recorded history of music. And lest we think that this music is necessarily composed only by second rate composers, we need only be reminded that Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and other masters produced music that was intended for "background" rather than "foreground" listening, often for dinners of the aristocracy. A major difference between former times and recent times is not in the existence of BGM but in the current much greater affordability and availability of BGM.
The widespread and increasing presence of commercial BGM testifies either to a large waste of money by BGM purchasers , or to the effectiveness of BGM in modifying human behavior, to the benefit of BGM purchasers. Even by the most inefficient of market forces, BGM would long be gone were it ineffective, or at the very least, believed to be ineffective. But it is effective. For example, in one study of the effectiveness of music in a national chain of supermarkets, the use of slow music increased sales over the use of fast music. Shoppers stayed in the store longer and purchased more, a lot more. The average gain was from $12,112.35 per store to $16,740.23, a gain of 39.2% (3). Why might the use of music be so effective throughout society.
One very good possibility is music's powerful influence in the communication and evocation of emotions and moods. Accordingly to a renowned pioneer in psychiatric aspects of music, Dr. Peter Ostwald of the University of California, San Francisco, music is "... a form of social behavior ... a symbolic emotional experience (4)." Moreover, music may provide a form of non-verbal communication whose meaning is ineffable it cannot be captured in words. Perhaps music exists because of the need for expression, particularly of emotions, that "...can only crudely be measured or described in words... (5)".Thus, music can rapidly and powerfully set moods and do so in a way not as easily attained by other means. Even if adequate to the task, the written word cannot do so as quickly and, when used, often must convey a particular setting, content and visual imagery that itself interferes with or shifts thoughts.
Moreover, sound can permeate a space and reach all potential listeners, and do so simultaneously, something achieved only in special circumstances by visual images, as in a cinema. But here too, BGM has an important role. Although you may be only mildly aware of the effect of BGM in movies, a moment's thought will probably convince you that without music, the impact of a movie would be dramatically reduced. Moreover, researchers have shown that the remembering of filmed events is significantly better when they are accompanied by music, particularly music that which fits the mood of the visual images (6).
The emotional and mood-setting effects of BGM are to be contrasted with its lesser effectiveness in altering cognition and conscious thought processes. This seems to be true at least in the market place. For example, market researchers who advise advertising agencies and their clients, make a clear distinction between consumer purchasing situations that call for the use of high cognitive processes in purchasing decisions vs. goods in which people have a low cognitive but high affective involvement. What do jewelry, sportswear, cosmetics and beer have in common? They are rated as fitting the latter category, i.e., not much thought but plenty of feelings; music has been shown to be quite effective in increasing the purchase of these commodities. On the other hand, music seems to be much less effective when trying to sell a PC, a camera or insurance, which are "high cognitive" items (7).
One might well ask whether there is any objective evidence that music conveys emotions to listeners. There is. Moreover, it does so to children as well as to adults. For example, in 1994 Professors Robazza, Macaluso and D'Urso of he University of Padua presented fragments of instrumental pieces that had been preselected by musical experts to evoke various emotions: happiness, sadness, anger and fear. They examined the role of gender, age (9-10 years old and adults) and amount of prior musical experience -- children from a music school vs. a regular school, and musically trained vs. naive adults. The authors found good matching of all emotions with the various pieces that had been pre-selected and judged by expert musicians. There was little effect of gender and children did about as good a matching job as adults. Perhaps most importantly, the musically naive children and adults did as well as the musically trained subjects (8). This important finding shows that music conveys appropriate emotional meaning to listeners, particularly children, as a matter of course without special musical training. The results support the view of music as a natural means of emotional communication.
But music has the power to do far more than communicate emotions and set moods. It actually can alter our perceptions and unconscious interpretations of the moods of other people, based on their facial expressions. In a novel and intriguing recent study, Bouhuys, Bloem and Groothuis of the University of Groeningen in the Netherlands first played either happy or sad music to a group of healthy adults. (The happy piece was from Delibes' ballet Coppelia; the sad piece was "The Swan of Tuonela" by Sibelius. The interested reader can do a self-experiment; I have no quarrel with the two disparate mood labels of these compositions.) Subjects were shown schematic faces of many types, bearing different expressions, some of which were clearly happy or sad, others were more neutral. After hearing the sad music, neutral faces were perceived as sadder and in general depressive (9). Thus, music can produce a depression-related negative perception of facial expressions .
In summary, the belief that music has strong effects on behavior and can do so by communicating moods and emotions is supported both by considerations of the special, non-verbal characteristics of music and by studies as disparate as market tests of the effects of music on the purchase of consumer goods and in highly controlled laboratory settings. The subject is of sufficient importance and magnitude to consider further and perhaps we will do so in the future. But for now we should maintain an awareness of the powerful effects of music in the area of human emotions, for this may prove to be a key to understanding the universal existence and appeal of music.
(1) Quoted in relation to the album cover for Velvet (London Records LL1443), music of Frank Chacksfield, in Lanza, J., "Elevator Music", New York: Picador Press, 1994, pg. 77.
(2) Op. cit., pg. 186.
(3) Milliman, R. E. (1982) Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers. J. Marketing,, 46, 86-91.
(4) Ostwald, P. (1966) Music and human emotions. J. Music Therapy, 3, 93-94.
(5) Appleton, J.H. (1993) Epilogue: Implications for contemporary music practice. in Tighe T.J. and Dowling, W.J. Psychology and Music: The Understanding of Melody and Rhythm. Lawrence Erlebaum: Hillsdale, New Jersey. pp. 215-219..
(6) Boltz, M. Schulkind, M. and Kantra, S. (1991) Effects of background music on the remembering of filmed events. Memory and Cognition, 19, 593-606.
(7) Bruner, J.C. II (1990). Music, mood and marketing. J. Marketing, 94-104
(8) Robazza, C. Macaluso, C., D'Urso, V. (1994) Emotional reactions to music by gender, age, and expertise. Percept. & Motor. Skills,, 79, 939-944. Also, see Terwogt, M.M. & Van Grinsven, F. (1988) Recognition of emotions in music by children and adults. Percept & Motor Skills, 67, 697-698.
(9) Bouhuys , A.L., Bloem, G.M., Groothuis, T.G.G. (1995). Induction
of depressed and elated mood by music influences the perception
of facial expressions in healthy subjects. J. Affective Dis.,
Research is Not Enough
The following opinions about music. are based on the reports of scientific studies. This does not mean that the opinions carry the same importance as the results of such studies themselves. They are simply opinions, intended to provoke thought and sometimes perhaps even argument, but ultimately to energize and enlarge thought and action on music
Knowledge about music, the reasons for its universality, its numerous roles in the lives of children and adults, cultures and societies, is still relatively meager, particular compared to knowledge about other aspects of human behavior. While there may be disagreements about the detailed nature of music research, the need for such research is not an issue. However, research is not enough. The findings have to be communicated and widely disseminated. Otherwise, they have little use. They inspire no ideas, incite no disputes, induce no new research, invigorate no minds.
In "The Nonmusical Outcomes of Music Education" in this issue of MRN, I discussed my unhappy discovery that 29 of 31 pre 1980 dissertations on this topic apparently have never been published. That's 94% not published. Accordingly, their findings are virtually unknown today and apparently have had little influence in the past. The state of affairs on this and other important questions in music research may not be much better for more recent years. That remains to be determined.
The reasons for failing to publish are numerous. For example, some doctorates don't plan on doing any more research and have no professional incentive to publish. Others may simply be too busy. Fear of committing yourself in print and being wrong is another reason. It could be that the findings were submitted to a journal but rejected. In the latter cases, one might ask how research could be good enough to merit the award of a doctoral degree, but not good enough to pass peer review for journal publication.
The problem is that there really is an obligation to share findings and knowledge with the larger community of workers, in academia, education, and ultimately with society at large. I believe strongly that this is a professional obligation. Moreover, it would seem to be a moral obligation. Modern American society does not adequately value educators and researchers or treat them with appropriate respect, but it almost surely supports directly or indirectly (not necessarily financially), to a greater or lesser extent, most postgraduate research activities. On that basis alone, we are all "owed" the findings. And publication in a journal is the best way of achieving this goal.
I realize that these comments may be regarded as both petulant and pontifical. Moreover, if they have any direct effect, it will be only for a small fraction of the readership of MRN -- doctoral students and their faculty committees. Frustration is certainly showing. But aside from my inability to address this topic in more elegant terms, think about the waste involved. Doing the research and writing an acceptable dissertation are the difficult parts. Editing a dissertation down to its publishable essentials should be a pleasure, relatively speaking. Publication is the capstone of an individual's formal education culminating in award of the doctorate. Consider that a single unpublished finding, that might even be thought to be unimportant by the author (who had hoped to find "much more"), could be a keystone in another researcher's efforts. My trash could be your treasure.
So, despite the glut of "information", the excessive
and overbearing amount of published material, I stand firmly on
the side of asking, actually demanding, "More!". A
very special type of "More" -- simply the results of
all music research. Let the marketplace of ideas have
at it. Except for limited floor space in my office (the shelves
have long been full), I am ready.
Radical Rap: A "Surprising" Finding
Personally, I don't like radical rap music and so I don't expect
it to have any good effects. This is not only illogical but fortunately
totally irrelevant to the scientific process, which works only because
it transcends the personal likes and dislikes of its practitioners.
Recently, Dolf Zillman and several colleagues at the University
of Alabama examined some effects of rap music in a controlled
experiment. Reporting in the journal Basic and Applied Social
Psychology (1995, 16, 1-15), they studied the effects
of radical rap and other types of music on political attitudes
in high-school students. Specifically, various matched groups
of students were shown different types of rock videos. Next, students
participated in mock elections that featured candidates who differed
in beliefs and political agendas. Although Caucasian students
enjoyed rock more than rap videos, they showed a significantly
greater amount of support for an African-American ethnically liberal
candidate and less support for a white supremacist candidate,
than control groups that viewed other types of videos. The authors
conclude that exposure to radical rap can support efforts toward
racial harmony in Caucasian high school students. Understanding
the effects of music on personal and social attitudes, beliefs
and behavior is of critical importance but there is insufficient
research. More is needed, now.
Does listening to Mozart Affect Spatial IQ?
In a previous
well publicized experiment published in 1993, Rauscher and colleagues,
of the University of California Irvine, reported that listening
to Mozart (compared to relaxation instructions or silence) produced
a brief but significant increase in performance of a spatial IQ
task (involving mental manipulations of folded cut paper) in college
students (Nature, 1993, 365, 611). This has drawn
sufficient interest to produce at least one attempt at replication.
In 1994, Stough and colleagues, of the University of Aukland,
examined the effects of listening to Mozart, popular dance music
or silence on a related test of intelligence (Personal. &
Individ. Diffs., 1994, 17, 695). They found
no effects. Thus, it would appear that the original report of
Rauscher et al was in error. However, recently, Rauscher et al
have replicated and extended their findings (Neurosci. Letters,
1995, 185, 44-47). In this study, they used the same
task as in their first experiment but extended the types of listening
experienced. Seventy-nine college students were divided into three
groups: silence, Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos, K448,
(the same piece that produced the positive results in the 1993
study) and a group that heard a minimalist work by Phillip Glass.
Only the Mozart group showed a significant increased spatial
IQ score. In further sub-studies, it was found that listening
to a taped short story or dance music did not enhance test scores.
Therefore, the facilitation of a measure of spatial IQ seems to
be specific to some aspect of the Mozart piece rather than music
per se or attending to a story. Although the failure of the Stough
group to find an effect needs to be reconciled with these findings,
the Rauscher et al replication and extension does provide strong
support for their view that listening to Mozart specifically facilitates
Children and Education
Colwell, C.M. Therapeutic application of music in the whole language
kindergarten. J. Music Therapy, 1994,v.31 238-247.
Abstract: Examined the effect on reading accuracy of 3 methods of shared
reading paired with music. 27 kindergartners participated in a
music program, supplementing their whole language curriculum.
One class had song rehearsal of their textbook set to music.
The 2nd had spoken and song rehearsal. The 3rd had only spoken
text rehearsal. Subjects' subsequent text readings were analyzed
for word substitutions and omissions. The 1st two classes had
greater reading accuracy than the 3rd, suggesting that song rehearsal
facilitated reading accuracy by serving as a structural prompt,
supporting previous findings that music can facilitate recall
Music Perception and Cognition
Dowling, W.J., Kwak, S., Andrews, M.W. The time course of recognition
of novel melodies. Perception & Psychophysics, 1995,
Abstract: Explored the time course of recognition of brief novel melodies
in 7 experiments with a total of 248 undergraduates.
In a continuous-running-memory
task, Subjects recognized melodic transpositions following delays
up to 2 min. The delays were either empty or filled with other
melodies. Test items included exact transpositions (Ts), same-contour
lures with altered pitch intervals, and different-contour lures
(DCLs). Subjects' discrimination of detailed changes in pitch
intervals and their discrimination of contour changes (T/DCL)
were assessed. Results suggest that (1) contour and pitch-interval
information make different contributions to recognition, with
contour dominating performance after brief empty delays and pitch
intervals dominating after longer filled delays; (2) a coherent
tonality facilitates the encoding of pitch-interval patterns of
melodies; and (3) the rich melodic-rhythmic contours of real melodies
facilitate T/DCL discrimination.
Messeli, P., Pegna, P. Sordet, N. Hemispheric dominance for melody
recognition in musicians and non-musicians. Neuropsychologia,
1995, v33, 395-405.
In two experiments, one with instrumental and one with synthesized
tunes, 20 musicians and 20 non-musicians were requested to identify
popular melodies presented dichotically. When the tempo of the
melodies is fast enough to render their identification difficult,
a right-ear advantage appears in the former group and a left-ear
advantage in the latter, a pattern observed with both types of
stimuli. It is suggested that these lateralization effects depend
not only on the level of competence of the subjects, but also
on the musical features of the stimuli
Peretz, I., Kolinsky, R., Tramo, M. Labrecque, R. et al. Functional
dissociations following bilateral lesions of auditory cortex.
Brain, 1994, v117, 1283-1301.
Abstract: Presents cases of 2 patients (a 35-yr-old woman and a 61-yr-old man) with bilateral lesions of the superior temporal cortex who manifested a number of functional dissociations in the auditory domain. The perception of speech and environmental sounds were preserved; yet, the perception of tunes, prosody, and voice was impaired. As the processing of melodic but not rhythmic variations in musical sequences was selectively disturbed, the deficit cannot be attributed to a general impairment in auditory memory or sequential processing. Findings suggest that melody processing is not mediated by a general-purpose auditory architecture but by specialized cortical subsystems residing within the lesioned areas. Current taxonomies of auditory agnosia and models of normal music cognition are evaluated in light of the functional dissociations manifested by these patients.
Winter, M.J., Paskin, S., Baker, T. Music reduces stress and anxiety
of patients in the surgical holding area. Journal of Post Anesthesia
Nursing, 1994, v9, 340-343.
Many patients in the Surgical Holding Area become stressed and
anxious. In a hospital setting music reduces patients' anxiety.
This study determined that music can reduce the anxiety and stress
of patients in the Surgical Holding Area. In this study, one group
of subjects listed to music while a second group did not. Subjects
who listened to music while in the Surgical Holding Area had significantly
less stress and anxiety than did those who did not listen to music.
Both groups spent similar lengths of time in the Surgical Holding
Area. The results strongly suggest that if music were available
to all patients in the Surgical Holding Area, most would select
this option, and they would experience less anxiety.
Schroeder-Sheker, T. Music for the Dying: A personal account of
the new field of music-thanatology-history, theories, and clinical
narratives. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 1994, v12,
Music-thanatology is a palliative medical modality employing prescriptive
music to tend the complex physical and spiritual needs of the
dying. 18 interns deliver prescriptive music in bedside vigils
serving the dying in home, hospital, and hospice settings with
great effectiveness in oncology, respiratory illnesses, the slow
degenerative diseases, and AIDS. This article provides a brief
history, meaningful clinical narratives, some of the musical theories
involved research concerns (archival and medical), and milestones
to be addressed for the future implementation of music-thanatology.
->     MuSICA Home Page      Cumulative Article Index      Subject Index      Previous Issue      Next Issue