Music in Education: Making music helps strengthen other skills

Part 2 of a three-part series


Sixth Grader Isaac Webster, center, started showing signs of improvement in music and other studies when he was in the second grade. Isaac gives a lot of credit for helping him learn. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

Isaac Webster, a sixth-grader at Grandview Elementary School, is a quiet kid. But hand him a drum or some spoons, and suddenly his volume goes up.

He says he likes music class because it makes him feel good about himself.

“I worked really hard on practicing (songs), and it makes me feel good when I get in front of people and perform,” he said.

Isaac “investigates” sounds using bongos, a drum set or beat boxing and says it’s hard to explain how he feels about music, but that he likes to have fun with it and play with sound.

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Lisa Voss uses her grade book to determine who hasn’t had a classroom award recently as students from Abby Seifers’ class line up for dismissal. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

That’s what he loves about Lisa Voss’ class at Grandview.

“Mrs. Voss lets kids do what they want in music. She’s really generous and nice. She’s the best music teacher I’ve ever had,” he said.

It isn’t just in Voss’ class that Isaac finds his own rhythm, though. His music lessons resonate throughout his other subjects.

“I like music because it gives me an inspiration and helps me in counting and finding patterns,” Isaac said.

It’s also a motivator when he’s working on a test.

“If I get off track, I think of me playing my drum set for a second, and then I can get back on task and work,” he said.

Isaac’s not the only Monroe County Community School Corp. student who has found out there’s a relationship between music and math.

Luke Kopp, a second-grader at University Elementary in Maggie Olivo’s music class, said he comes up with songs to help him with math. By putting numbers to songs, he’s able to do better. Music is also a relief and makes him feel good.

“It’s something to look forward to after math,” Luke said. “Music gets into my brain.”

Luke’s dad, David Kopp, says there’s no doubt he’s seen a difference in Luke due to music class.

“He is a very emotionally transparent kid. Period. And this is never more evident than when he is dancing and listening to music or playing and singing music of his own. His passion for music radiates,” Kopp said in an email.

Kopp’s noticed that music helps Luke let loose and be himself. It’s helped him overcome social anxiety, too.

“He not only enjoys that creative freedom and release, but he needs it to balance out his day. The biggest compliment I can give him about his approach and response to music class is that when I see him in the hall afterwards, with rosy cheeks, a sweaty forehead and his sweatshirt tied around his waist, it looks as if he has just come from P.E. instead,” Kopp said.

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Second-grader Bailey Morgan conducts during the singing of a memory song. Bailey volunteered for the task and his classmates followed along as he pointed at the notes. Chris Howell | Herald-Times

Katy Strand, associate professor of music at Indiana University and chairwoman of IU’s music education department, is not surprised to hear that kids are finding music helpful in other subjects. What students at MCCSC experience in music class is born out in research, which shows links between musical training and stronger reading skills, memory and math skills.

“We’ve known for a long time music is one of the greatest mnemonic aids we’ve ever had,” Strand said referring to the alphabet song and “Fifty Nifty United States.”

The advantage of engaging in music goes beyond memorizing letters, states and numbers, however. Studies in neuroscience have shown music stimulates the entire brain in a way that no other learning experience does, she said.

At the same time, Strand asserts studying music has merits of its own, whether it has an influence across disciplines or not.

“Music is valid for study by itself. It’s ubiquitous. It’s been known to exist in every culture that’s ever been examined,” she said.

Its functions are varied, including communication, expression, art, ritual and play. In addition, music affects the way children understand themselves and the universe.

“If we as a culture turn back to educating the whole child, arts are tremendously important,” she said. A good teacher doesn’t hurt, either.

Music education hasn’t been exempt from the statewide teacher shortage the Indiana Department of Education has been studying lately, but Strand doesn’t seem too worried.

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Fourth-grader Brayden LaGarde asks questions about the music the students will be rehearsing for the Veterans Day program at Grandview Elementary last fall. Voss has directed a Veterans Day show since she started teaching in 2001. Chris Howell|Herald-Times

“Teaching is a hard profession. There is a shortage, but there are still people wanting to enter the field,” she said. “Students coming into the music education program say they were inspired and motivated by their music teachers. They have great energy, and eight out of 10 are inspired by a teacher who showed them the joy and passion of music, and they want to pass it on.”

The significance of what she’s doing in the classroom isn’t lost on Voss.

“It’s mind-blowing to think how much influence you have as a teacher, but I have a lot of influence to impact their future even if they don’t go into music education, but just simply learning how to enjoy it, how to appreciate it,” she said.

  • By Mary Keck Former H-T Staff Writer © Herald Times Online
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