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Music's Key Role in
Helping Students Learn

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Music's positive impact on learning is becoming well known, and one of the groups trumpeting that message is NAMM, the International Music Products Association. NAMM's Mary Luehrsen talked about the research behind the group's message. Included: Tips for advocating for music education.

Music education advocates had a reason to strike up the band during Music in Our Schools Month in 2005. That's when the U.S. House of Representatives expressed unanimous support for the value of school-based music education. The House passed a concurrent resolution stating that music instruction "is an important component of a well-rounded academic curriculum and should be available to every student in every school."

Among those cheering were members of NAMM, the International Music Products Association, whose organization was recognized by Congress for its support of music education. One of the groups supported by NAMM is SupportMusic.com, which offers resources and support to educators and parents working to preserve or expand their school music programs. These include the SupportMusic Knowledge Base, which provides factual information about the affects of music on learning advocates can use to build their cases

One of the leaders in the music movement is Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the International Foundation for Music Research, a NAMM nonprofit affiliate. Luehrsen, a former professional flutist and music educator, talked with Education World about the challenges facing music education, even as the research supporting music's role in learning grows.


"I think there is also the misperception that music education is a discretionary cost to a school and the reality is, one could not find a more efficient or effective conveyor of skills and knowledge than a music program in a school," says Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the International Foundation for Music Research.

Education World: How does NAMM plan to capitalize on Congress's support for school music programs?

Mary Luehrsen: We're telling everyone we can -- our National Coalition network, our music industry network -- many work hand-in-hand with school districts to support music education programs and policy makers in states and local communities.

EW: What is NAMM's role in promoting music education?

Luehrsen: Basic to NAMM's mission is the goal to expand active participation in active music making, and there is no better way to build life long participation in music than on a solid base of music education. We are an organization built on a belief in music and its proven benefits to learning and development. More than a decade of research about the benefits of music in education add to this perspective and we actively promote the benefits of music education and provide an advocacy network and tools for local communities to make sure music is a vital element in a quality education for all children.

EW: What is your assessment of school music programs as the accountability pressures on schools continue to mount?

Luehrsen: There is no doubt that the "accountability" pressures of the current educational climate are challenging access to quality music education programs in the schools. But this is not new. Program cuts and pressure to reduce access to music education is more than 20 years old; educational accountability is not a new concept. However, many teacher, parents, and administrators are not taking the short-term view on this and that is where their own views of accountability to children's educational needs come forward. Intuitive knowledge and established research tell us that kids who are engaged with music do well in school; many communities across the country are holding the line to make sure music remains because there is that belief and knowledge that music is part of the formula to success in school.

EW: Why do school music programs so often fall victim to budget cutbacks?

Luehrsen: It is an easy and fairly obvious solution to take time out of a subject that does not seem to have an immediate relationship to an outcome test and substitute more time on a subject where testing for outcomes take place. However, this sort of generalization of what needs to be learned -- sort of teaching to the test -- negates everything we know about how children really learn and engage in school.

They learn and engage in a multi-sensory way; many engage in a non-linear, exploratory way and music allows this range, even though music is a very strict, organized, structured subject and discipline.

I think there is also the misperception that music education is a discretionary cost to a school and the reality is, one could not find a more efficient or effective conveyor of skills and knowledge than a music program in a school. Comparison of class size, student to teacher ratio would result in the reality that music teachers are affecting enormous numbers of students with a subject that allows for vital skill-based learning that strengthens overall student achievement.

EW: How can music instruction and training help students' academic performance?

Luehrsen: There remains some mystery in why music instruction and training help students' academic performance and yet we know that it does. What is really happening and why is a growing field of music research; some interesting things are known already. For instance, brain research has shown that even with a small amount of music instruction, there is greater neural bundling in certain regions of the brain, In other words, there is a greater density of brain cells in a certain region. Does this help a student read better? We don't know precisely but we do know that students who take music lessons are better language discriminators than non-music students. Studies also have shown that the highest achieving student group in secondary education is music students. Is being engaged in music actually making them smarter or is being engaged in music and its skill-based discipline motivating and helping them to master other areas? All indicators are pointing in the direction of finite academic achievement enhancements when music education is in the mix.

Why would we mess with this?

EW: What can teachers and administrators do to help preserve or even expand > their schools' music programs?

Luehrsen: Some of the strongest advocates for music education in schools are school principals who witness daily the kids benefit from music. These administrators, as well as teachers and parents, are holding the line on access to music education because of the benefits they see to kids everyday. Our resources - like SupportMusic.com provide assistance to local citizens to speak up for the importance of music in schools. It could take a speech at one school board meeting or it could take dozens. Parents and stakeholders for children's education need to be the primary advocates for music as a vital element in a quality education for their children; it is not going to get done any other way.

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