Volume VI, Issue 3, Fall 1999

Table of Contents

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Music Research at the Turn of the Millennium

Recent Publications of Special Interest

Matters of Opinion
The Second Class Status of Music Education is Based on False Beliefs

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"Music is the art of thinking with sounds."

-- Jules Combarieu


"There is nothing more notable in Socrates than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing, and thought it time well spent."

-- Michel de Montaigne

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Music Research at the Turn of the Millenium
Copyright © 1999 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

This essay provides a general overview of music research as it appears in 1999. Three major topics are addressed: (a) the nature of science as it applies to music research, (b) how to react to music research findings and (c) brief summaries of findings in four areas of particular contemporary and future interest: (i) music and human nature, (ii) brain and music, (iii) music and cognitive benefits and (iv) therapeutic uses of music. A major point is that considerable progress has been made but that good scientific answers require years of sustained effort and a great deal more research is required.

The millennium is upon us. Whether it technically begins at the instant after midnight on January 1st, 2000 or 2001 (why not celebrate both?), we are indeed at the "turn of the millennium." Although history and the scientific study of music (and all else) are not neatly packaged into years, decades, centuries or millennia, this is a highly appropriate time to take stock of music research. So in this last, final, ultimate MuSICA Research Notes of the 1900’s (of the Twentieth Century in the minds of most), this issue is devoted to the "big picture" rather than to one or two selected topics. It is also a propitious time to look at the overall situation because of the current flurry of music research as reported in the media, unfortunately with a lot of misinformation and confusion. Indeed, if the flood of statements and questions received by us reflects general beliefs (there is little reason to doubt it), then the need for an overview is particularly great. For example, a writer wrote "I gave a retarded women a classical music CD to make her smarter but now some people told me this won’t work. What’s the truth .. will music make her smarter?" The short answer is "It’s not that simple." The longer answer is "This is pushing the results of a few studies (none with retarded individuals) far beyond what is reasonable." The longest answer involves reading the rest of this essay.

The Past and the Future

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

-- George Santayana (1863-1952)

"Don't look back. Something may be gaining on you."

-- Leroy "Satchel" Paige (?1906-1982)

To reach our goal of looking at music research itself, we need to understand some basics about science and how we should react to research findings. The quotations above are a good starting point. George Santayana, philosopher, poet, and novelist, and Satchel Paige, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, both with a historical perspective but apparently opposite advice … the professional philosopher telling us to know our history, the "amateur" philosopher, whose "hesitation pitch" could freeze the most proficient batter (which I had the honor to witness on many occasions as a boy in Cleveland), tells us not to look back but to keep moving forward. Who is right? Both are. Santayana speaks about the large scale of life, across time and place. Satch, the oldest "rookie" in Major League Baseball at the age of 43 (a victim of racial discrimination by the "Big Leagues"), and the oldest player in the Majors (in his final game, Paige pitched three shutout innings for the Kansas City Royals in 1965 at the age of 59!), was concerned with the daily scramble for survival, the chance to ply one’s trade, and the more immediate moment. Let’s see how Santayana and Paige can help us.

Two Things to Remember About Science

All scientific research, including music research, is about asking the best questions ("Hypotheses"), figuring out the best ways of answering them ("Methods"), and then getting some answers ("Results"). Research progress absolutely depends upon "remembering the past," about knowing which questions have been asked, about understanding how and why certain approaches were used and above all, "remembering" the answers that resulted. Science has at least two features that allow it to grow as a body of reasonably reliable understanding of the contents of the universe, the nature of the atom, the causes of earthquakes, the diversity of life, why children look like their parents, the chemistry of the brain, the causes of tooth decay, the mating habits of humans, the flight of birds, how to preserve a 16th century fresco, why children spontaneously sing and dance … the list is not mathematically infinite but it might as well be.

Feature #1 --Methods that can be applied by anyone at any time, and yield the same results. If Methods used by different investigators seem to be the same, but produce different findings, generally they turn out really to have been different.

Feature #2 --Building on the past, on the studies that have come before. It is this cumulative aspect of science that allows progressive and increased understanding of the universe and the earth with all its inhabitants, whether mountains, moose, marigolds or musicians.

Notice that Feature #2 follows Santanyana's advice, which boils down to "Know the past … or you can't benefit from it." But Feature #1, applying Methods to get new results, is closer to Satchel Paige's continuous forward movement to the future.1 While this double-aspect of science is its strength, each feature is a source of confusion to the general public. Until we understand why this is so, and how to avoid the involved problems, we can't make much sense of the state of music research.

How Can You Get Different Answers to the Same Music Research Question?

Let's begin with Feature #1, "Methods," that is, exactly what was done by the investigator to answer the question asked. First of all, we should realize that the exact same question can be asked but the Methods used to answer it can be, indeed often are, different. For example, "Does listening to music increase intelligence?"

Suppose two studies ask this question and come up with different answers: Study A says "yes" but subsequently Study B is done and says "no." Newspapers, magazines and TV first report "Study A says yes". Readers should not be faulted for then believing that "yes" is the correct answer. But later they report "Study B says no." What is a reader to conclude? Well first of all, the authors of Study B will naturally criticize the authors of Study A, because Study B came after Study A. So the reports of Study B have two effects. First, there is the new belief that "listening to music doesn’t, etc." Second, people may be disappointed to learn that their belief, based on the positive results of Study A, was wrong, perhaps because the authors of Study A made mistakes. Thus, the general public may feel let down, confused, etc. The result of this "shift in the facts" can lead to the idea that the topic is all a big muddle, that research on music can't be trusted, that music behavior is "too complex" to understand scientifically, etc. So they are both confused and "turned off" by research.

But is this an appropriate response? Is it reasonable and justified? Generally, no. The fact that different researchers are asking the same question doesn't mean that they are using the same Methods. For example, "intelligence" can be measured many ways and indeed there are many different types of intelligences, such as verbal, mathematical, emotional and social. Moreover, there are different aspects of each type. Thus, "spatial intelligence," the ability to effectively mentally and physically manipulate real objects in space, has at least two components, spatial recognition and spatial ordering ("spatial-temporal reasoning"). Recognition ability might be measured by having a child match a sample geometric pattern to one of several patterns using colored blocks. Spatial ordering ability might be assessed by requiring the assembly of puzzle pieces to create a simple picture. This task benefits from the ability to mentally rotate and shuffle the puzzle pieces. You might think that the two tasks measure the same thing, "spatial intelligence" but the human mind is more finely developed; someone who shows high scores on spatial recognition does not necessarily produce high scores on spatial ordering. In fact, it seems that keyboard lessons in pre-school children increase the ability to do spatial ordering tasks but have no effect on spatial recognition abilities.2

If different studies had asked "Does keyboard training benefit spatial reasoning?" but one focused on measures of spatial ordering while the other used spatial recognition tests, they would have reached opposite conclusions. How much greater the possible confusion if the questions are about "intelligence" and different studies measure different types of intelligence?

How to React to Different Answers to the "Same" Question: Good Science Takes Time

Let's return now to the issue of how the public should react to different answers to the "same" question about music research. Without the appropriate training and access to the original scientific papers, the general reader cannot decide whether the "same" question was asked in the "same" way (i.e., using the same Methods). We have to rely on the media to a large extent.3 If they don’t provide enough background, explanation and evaluation of new findings, readers are likely to be confused.

In that case, I suggest that we suspend judgement for the moment. Good science is a matter of continual "give and take," a journey as well as a destination. The public demand for answers far outstrips the resources or abilities of scientists to provide immediate final answers. (Actually, the public, through its elected representatives, appears unwilling to commit the resources needed to allow scientists to investigate many important issues.) Moreover, all ultimately solid and finally accepted results of science depend upon many studies that converge on the same conclusion. No single or small group of studies should be expected to provide a definitive answer. Consider the example of smoking and cancer. Any single study by itself failed to provide a definitive answer. Indeed, there was a great deal of controversy, particularly in the early days of research. Newspaper headlines trumpeted the latest "yes" and "no" findings. Is there now any rational doubt that smoking increases the likelihood of developing cancer?

But is suspension of judgement satisfactory? Not really. We want answers now! But the ability to take in information and withhold reaction should also promote the desire for more information and that in turn could translate into more research to pin down the truth, as it can be known. Understanding the relationships between music and human mental processes and behavior requires a commitment of resources, time and the dedication of skilled investigators. The secrets of Nature don't reveal themselves easily. We have to have longer attention spans, avoid the assumption that headlines or sound bites convey enough good information and realize that we are in for the long haul. Music research needs to be done as well and as carefully as any other field of research, or it won’t provide good answers to the questions.

Don't Try to Jump Too Far … The Grand Canyon is Too Big

When studies ask similar Questions, use similar Methods and find the same Results (particularly if the studies are done by different groups), one gains a lot of confidence that the findings are dependable. But what happens if we take results and apply them to other questions? For example, the letter writer I quoted at the outset of this essay assumed that simply listening to classical music would cure mental retardation. She was probably influenced by studies which have shown that brief (e.g., 10 minute) passive listening results in increases in scores of spatial-temporal reasoning.4 The writer jumped too far, the mental equivalent of trying to leap the Grand Canyon. To begin with, mental retardation, a chronic condition whatever its causes, could not be reversed by a treatment that has a brief effect. Also, the findings were specific to spatial-temporal reasoning, not to all, most or even any other aspects of intelligence. Reason and caution should be used when trying to generalize findings from one situation to another. That is what researchers do. It's great to think about the potential implications and generality of any finding, but the abandonment of reason and logic won’t make the Grand Canyon smaller … it will make it infinitely large instead.

Music Research, Circa 1999

We’re now ready to look at the field of music research at the turn of the millennium, or at least some parts of it. In so doing, we will be focusing on the other characteristic of science, Feature #2, "Building on the past." As innumerable volumes have been written about music and behavior over the centuries, no attempt will be made to summarize such a vast store of knowledge, opinion and insight.5 Instead, I’ll try to provide a guide to some of the major issues which seem to be of great current interest, particularly with findings during the last 10 - 20 years. Specifically, I'll address the following questions.

Note that these questions are highly diverse, because music research is a very broad field. In fact, these questions do not even cover the field. The first question concerns our biological heritage and involves findings from studies of infants. The second involves the organ (neural not instrumental) of all of our experiences, thoughts, plans, emotions and behavior, the human brain. The third is about how music influences the many processes involved in thought and reason, particularly as they relate to child development. The fourth concerns music therapy and wellness.

An important, and unfortunate, aspect of music research is that the areas of inquiry represented by the four questions have had little interaction. For example, knowledge of how the brain processes music hasn’t had much influence on music therapy. Findings from music therapy haven’t impacted thinking about the issue of the biological heritage of music. Cognitive benefits of active music involvement in child development also have stood more or less alone. One hopes this will change in the future so that the field becomes more integrated, from basic science to the application of findings in normal and clinical settings.

Let's turn now to some answers to the four questions. These will include referring to previous MRN articles that have focused on specific topics. The reader interested in more details can read these articles at our website http://www.musica.uci.edu.

Is music a basic aspect of human nature?

This question seems to have been largely ignored. That is a great shame because in many respects it is the most important question. Attitudes about music education and the role of music in cognitive development depend greatly on whether music is viewed as a "frill," as take-it-or-leave-it entertainment, or something deeper. Another aspect of this issue concerns not only the view of school administrators and school boards but of children and parents alike. If they view music as the province of a select special few, born with musical talent, then they may be less likely to give it a try, or give up more easily if practice doesn't produce great sounds.

Research in several areas shows that the capacity to appreciate and play music is part of human nature. The findings come from the fields of biology and infant development.

Relevant biological information focuses on human evolution. There is good reason to believe that our primate ancestors used musical forms of vocalization to determine mating habits, females selecting males who announced their location by vocalization. That is, the particular quality of musical vocalizations was not the critical issue but whether the female could locate the male by hearing him. Females were more likely to mate with "singing" males [see "Why Do We Have Music", MRN, Winter 1999, VI, (1)].

Findings from infant development are more extensive and more direct. They include the facts that the infants have very clear and surprisingly sophisticated abilities to process music and to understand musical building blocks. This starts prenatally, during the last trimester ["Lessons of the Music Womb", MRN, Winter 1999, VI, (1)] and is manifest in many ways during the early months of life. For example, infants can distinguish between two notes as well as adults can, are sensitive to rhythm, follow the contour of melodies, know the difference between consonant and dissonant harmonies, can mentally segment streams of music into meaningful "chunks" and exhibit musical babbling, which develops systematically and becomes more precise with age ["The Musical Infant: Studies Show Infants are Musical", MRN, Spring 1994, I (1); "The Earliest Music Lessons", MRN, Spring 1995, II (1); "Sing, Sing, Sing!", MRN, Fall 1996, III (2); "The Musical Infant and The Roots of Consonance", MRN, Spring 1997, IV (1)]. Moreover, adults know this instinctively and, taking advantage of infant musical competencies, communicate with them in a musical manner, often called "motherese" ["The Earliest Music Lessons", MRN, Spring 1995, II (1)].

As I have suggested in other venues, music seems to be at a disadvantage in part because it seems to be too much fun, too enjoyable to have deep educational value! Let me make it clear that the rationale for music and arts education does not depend upon its role in human nature. But as more is discovered about the origins of music and its manifestations in the human neonate, the rationale for music simply becomes overpowering. For example, pre-school music would capitalize on a natural proclivity, rather than letting enthusiasm for music tend to die away. Certainly music in K-12 is called for.

Virtually none of the findings summarized here were known twenty years ago and most of the findings are from the last decade. In short, from a starting point of almost no knowledge about infants and music over the entire history of music research, a new view of human nature has emerged within the last decade. I should emphasize that the findings were not predicted and have been very surprising. Even now, they are not part of textbooks on music.

This research shows not only that music is a human endowment but that music research can make major advances in a relatively short time. But that time period is still a matter of years for discovery and more years for full dissemination and acceptance. Thus, while a foundational set of discoveries has been made about music and human nature, a generation may be required for the findings to change Society’s views of music, unless the public, government and educational institutions exhibit a more open attitude to music research, its past findings and its potential.

How does the brain process music?

This question is one of long standing but limited progress until recently. During the previous 100 years, clues about how the brain processes music had to depend mainly on studies of brain damage. However the development of imaging methods to scan the activity of the human brain has yielded tremendous advances in the last decade, particularly within the past few years. It is now routinely possible to image the brain during all sorts of musical activities, including listening and learning music, sight-reading and mental rehearsal. Research in this area continues to grow at an amazing rate.

The most important answer to the question is that there is no "music center" in the brain. Neither is all musical processing located in either the left or right hemisphere. Listening and attending to music certainly involves the auditory system and its highest level, the auditory cortex. But both the left and right auditory cortices are involved. Other aspects of music involve other regions of the brain. For example, playing an instrument involves motor areas in particular ways. It seems that the brain assembles "modules" that have particular functions and links whichever ones are needed to support whatever musical activity is called for ["Musical Building Blocks in the Brain", MRN Fall 1994, I (2)].

A particularly noteworthy finding is the total amount of the brain that is involved in active music making, particularly during sight reading and playing. It seems that more of the brain is involved than in almost any other situation, with the possible exception of the abnormal storms of electrical activity that sweep through the brain during an epileptic seizure.

There have not yet appeared studies of possible effects of music activities on brain development of children. However, there is clear evidence that learning to play a musical instrument at an early age (below ten) is closely related to an increase in the size of certain parts of the cortex that are concerned with attending to and mentally rehearsing music ["The Musician's Brain", MRN, Spring 1995, II (1); "Brain Anatomy and Music", MRN, Spring 1999, VI, (2)].

One potential use of brain imaging data is to use particular music listening or active music making to stimulate regions of the brain that need a "boost" due to brain damage. Optimizing music instruction should benefit from direct knowledge of how the brain processes music and mediates musical behaviors.

Does music have benefits for other cognitive processes?

There is a great deal of interest in the effects of music on non-musical activities, particularly cognitive processes such as attention, learning, memory, reasoning and problem solving. We have already alluded to questions about music and intelligence (see above, "About Music Research"). In the minds of many people who are not music educators, a strict but erroneous line is drawn between "music" and "cognitive processes." But music listening and music-making is cognitive in all respects. Consider reading a score and playing an instrument. This requires correct perception of the score, abstracting the meaning of the black blobs and lines on the score, paying great attention, learning and remembering all aspects of the musical demands, planning incredibly complex and intricate gross and fine muscle movements, producing the right motor activity, listening to the results and repeating this process. What’s not cognitive? The extra involvement of the emotional regions of the brain? So music making necessarily involves most cognitive and also emotional brain systems. It might be unique in this regard. So our question in this section is not whether music benefits "cognitive processes," because music making is itself a constellation of cognitive processes, but whether it benefits "other" cognitive processes.

At this juncture we need to make a distinction between "passive" and "active" involvement in music. Passive refers to simply listening to music, including background music. Active can involve several activities. Formal music appreciation is also listening, but listening in an educated way. Learning to read notation and composing music are also active ways to engage in music ["Sight-Reading Music: A Unique Window on the Mind", MRN, Winter 1998, V (1)]. Learning to play an instrument is of course a very active type of involvement. So when we consider effects of music on other cognitive processes, we need to keep in mind what type of musical activity is involved.

There is evidence for benefits to these other processes, including language development, learning to read language text, certain types of reasoning, and creativity. There is also evidence for benefits in personality adjustment and social development, evident in setting and reaching challenging goals, group interactions and cooperation in ensemble playing, etc. ["Music and Cognitive Achievement in Children", MRN, Fall 1994, I (2); "The Nonmusical Outcomes of Music Education", MRN, Fall 1995, II (2); "Creating Creativity With Music", MRN, Spring 1998, V (2); "Musical Compositions by Schoolchildren", MRN, Fall 1998, V (3)]. The strongest and most reliable benefits have been reported for active involvement in music. However behavior such as consumer purchasing, which is less cognitive or non-cognitive depending on ones point of view, can be controlled quite a bit by background music ["’Elevator Music:’ More Than It Seems", MRN, Fall 1995 II (2)].

How can music be used most effectively therapeutically?

The final question we can address in this overview concerns music therapy, broadly defined. This includes the use of music and music making to promote wellness as well as the more established field of using music in the treatment of physical, behavioral and mental problems. The latter is far too extensive a field to summarize but a few noteworthy developments can be mentioned in the space remaining.

There has been long-standing evidence that music can have powerful effects on mood and this line of inquiry is becoming solidified by more systematic and controlled studies ["The Coloring of Life: Music and Mood", MRN, Spring 1996 III (1); "Understanding Music's Emotional Power", MRN, Spring 1998, V (2)].

Recent years have seen a more biological approach to music therapy. In particular, measures of the effects of various musical treatments and experiences have been applied to physiological processes such as the release of stress hormones. Studies have shown that passive musical involvement can reduce the release of stress hormones in a variety of circumstances including some types of pre-surgical anxiety, alleviate distress in the newborn and reduce the length of hospital stays in certain cases ["The Musical Hormone", MRN, Fall 1997, IV (2)]. One important facet of this line of research is that it can provide the "missing link" to explain how music affects wellness and health.

Perhaps the most unexpected use of music in therapy is in a highly passive and unique situation, that of comatose patients who have uncontrollable epilepsy, that is brain seizures even while they are unconscious. Playing classical music reduces the incidence of brain seizures ["The Powers of Music: A Treatment for Epilepsy?", MRN, Fall 1998, V (3)].

Overall, there has been considerable progress in the therapeutic and health-related areas of research. New, particularly biological and neurological approaches are becoming used in addition to more traditional practices. The outlook is promising. However, perhaps because of the breadth of music therapeutic approaches, there is not yet sufficient systematic research to guide all of the applications of music to health.


We have taken a backward look at music research. While not comprehensive, the flavor of contemporary issues and developments may be sufficient to provide a basis for looking to the future. Satchel Paige might have had the following to say. "When I first looked over my shoulder, I saw different parts of the music research team trotting along, on their own paths. They weren't gaining on me or much of anything else. At the turn of the millennium I looked again … they were going a lot faster and starting to run together. Maybe they can make it to their own Hall of Fame. I hope so."

-- N. M. Weinberger

Of course, neither Santayana nor Paige were narrowly focused on the past or the future, respectively. I beg a little author's license to make a point. and ask that it be granted only this one time in the current millennium. Thank you.

Rauscher, F. H. et al, (1997). Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19:2-8. For a broader discussion of possible transfer effects from music education to other domains of cognition see "Can Music Really Improve the Mind? The Question of Transfer Effects", MRN, Spring 1999, VI (2).

The goal of MuSICA Research Notes is to fill the gap between the original scientific publications and reports in the mass media.

This finding has been replicated by the original authors and also by other laboratories. However there have also been failures to replicate; raising the question of whether the failures reflect difference in Methods or something else. At the present time this issue has not been completely settled.

The interested reader may wish to consult the many excellent general resource books available, such as Colwell, R. (editor), (1992), Handbook of Research on Music Teaching and Learning, a Project of the Music Educators National Conference, Schirmer Books: New York; Deutsch, D. (editor), (1999), The Psychology of Music (2nd edition), Academic Press: San Diego.

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Recent Publications of Special Interest *

Children and Cognitive Development

Music instruction enhances visual-motor skills.

Orsmond, G. I. and Miller, L.K. (1999). Cognitive, musical and environmental correlates of early music instruction. Psychology of Music, 27: 18-37.

           Summary: This study examined the relationship between music instruction and various psychological abilities. Fifty-eight children, (3 to 6 years of age), were divided into two equal groups: beginning Suzuki music instruction and matched non-treatment control. After four months of music lessons, children in the music group showed a positive transfer effect on visual-motor skills, i.e., they scored more highly than the control group.

Editor's note: It would have been preferable to have the control group engage in comparable but non-music instruction to show that the effects were due only to music instruction.

Perception and Cognition and Performance

Absolute pitch is a complex cognitive ability.

Levitin, D. J. (1999). Absolute pitch: self-reference and human memory. International J. Computing Anticipatory Systems, in press.

           Summary: Absolute pitch (often called "perfect pitch") is widely regarded as reflecting an exceptional development of sound perception, perhaps innate. This article argues that absolute pitch is an ability of long term memory and linguistic abilities to use an internal reference standard in order to identify pitches. Moreover, people with absolute pitch do not have "perfect pitch", that is they do not perceive pitch any better than people without absolute pitch. In short, absolute pitch is a complex cognitive ability.

Performance from memory is better.

Willamon, A. (1999). The value of performing from memory. Psychology of Music, 27:84-95.

           Summary: Performing from memory is often thought to permit greater freedom of expression and more direct contact with audiences. Fifty musicians and 36 non-musicians rated videotaped performances of the Preludes from the Cello Suites of J.S. Bach. Ratings indicated that playing from memory was superior from playing from a score, visibility of the performer produced more favorable ratings and musicians were particularly biased in favour of performances from memory. The findings indicate that the extra time and effort needed to perform from memory seem to be worthwhile.


Location of brain areas involved I emotional responses to music.

Blood, A. J., Zatorre, R. J., Bermudez, P. and Evans, A.C. (1999). Emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant music correlate with activity in paralimbic brain regions. Nature Neuroscience: 2, 382-387.

           Summary: Although music has a powerful ability to induce emotional responses, and while there have been many studies of music perception and the brain, little attention has been given to brain mechanisms in emotional responses to music. In this study the authors used a brain-scanning measure of changes in cerebral blood flow to determine which areas of the brain were particularly active (i.e., demanded increased energy through increased blood flow) during emotional responses to music. Ten adults listened to musical passages that differed in the amount of consonance-dissonance and of their perceived pleasantness-unpleasantness. Regions previously identified with pleasant or unpleasant emotional states, but not fear, were activated by the musical passages as a function of amount of dissonance. These regions are different from those involved in perceptual aspects of musical processing, showing that various and distributed brain systems are activated by different aspects of music. Thus, music activates many brain systems.

Music Therapy

Music therapy is an effective treatment for dementia.

Koger, S. M., Chapin, K. and Brotons, M. (1999). Is music therapy an effective intervention for dementia? A meta-analytic review of literature. J. Music Therapy: 36, 2-15.

           Summary: Music therapy is often used in the treatment of dementia, to maintain or improve active involvement in life, social, emotional and cognitive skills and to decrease behavioral problems. This study analyzed the results of twenty-one published reports to determine if there is reliable indication that this treatment is effective. The studies surveyed included 336 subjects who suffered from symptoms of dementia. Overall, music therapy was found to be having a highly significant effect. The degree of effectiveness varied considerably across studies, as did the nature of treatments, so it will be important to determine the most effective techniques.


* To improve readability, each selection includes a brief statement of the findings. Also, instead of including published abstracts ver batim, summaries have been written in less technical terms.

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Matters of Opinion
Copyright © 1999 Norman M. Weinberger
and the Regents of the University of California. All Rights Reserved.

The Second Class Status of Music Education

The following opinions about music are intended to provoke thought and sometimes perhaps even argument, but ultimately to energize and enlarge conceptions and inquiry about music.

This special issue of MRN consists of a single overview of music research as the year 2000 is upon us. It reveals that much progress has been made. However, the future of music and music education in society depends not only on advances in research but also on the realization that the traditional reasons for music education remain as valid now as they have since at least Classical Greek civilization. Additionally, there are deeply held, implicit beliefs about music that lower its status in the eyes of many school administrators and school boards. These stem from the fact that music involves emotion.

Reason and emotion have been cast as opposites. Reason is seen as logical and good whereas emotion is seen as illogical and not so good. The devaluation of music because it involves emotion falsely assumes that music is not cognitive. Actually, music involves as many or more cognitive processes than any other school subject. For example, playing from a score involves most if not all cognitive processes. These include perception of the score and of the music produced, interpretation of images on the page based on prior learning of an abstract language with its own complex syntax, continual and focused attention, planning highly intricate movements, adjusting this motor program to not only match the score’s meter and rhythm but also the ongoing tempo as indicated by the conductor, executing the motor plan to make an appropriate level of sound, with appropriate phrasing, nuance and expression, attending to the results both aural and kinesthetic, and beginning this continual process of problem solving again. Where in all of this is there mental activity less exalted or less important for cognitive development than in reading, ‘riting or ‘rithmetic? Of course, these are important subjects, but so is music. If one is concerned with developing the human intellect, rather than whether the school band wins prizes, how can one possibly justify treating music as a second-class subject in education?

The additional involvement of emotion in music is a bonus not a failing. Science now recognizes that "emotional intelligence" is an existing component of the human mind. Of course we want to educate our children to be rational creatures. They also experience emotions. Both of these are part of human nature. Music provides a premiere way to promote their integration. Music education doesn’t raise emotion over reason! Music educators, cognitive psychologists, child development researchers, concerned parents and everyone else should get together to educate school systems that have and continue to relegate music to second class status.

-- N. M. Weinberger


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