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Lori Smythe

Music Can Soothe the Savage Beast of National Reading Scores

11/16/14

While the adage Music soothes the savage beast is widely recognized and the
emotional aspects of music are apparent to most people, its many cognitive benefits are only now
being realized. What cognitive effects does music have on individuals, specifically children in
elementary school? Considerable research has examined musics influence on spatial reasoning
and auditory processing, showing correlation between music training and better reading and
numeracy skills. Some of this research defends all of the arts as beneficial for learning, but most
indicates music exposure and training has specific benefits that outweigh the advantages of other
art forms, especially for young children. Music is ideally suited for introducing reading and
math concepts and can also be used to support more defined academic areas as children move
through school. Its versatility also works well with a variety of learning and teaching styles.
While percentages vary based on ethnicity, a troubling 23% to 53% of our fourth graders score
below the basic reading level (Telesco, 2010). Given research showing musics promise in
promoting reading, now is the time to incorporate music training as more than a secondary
extra in the elementary curriculum. Exposure to music affects everything from spatial
relationships and auditory processing to self-esteem and body control, and this investment is
worth it for young learners.
Music in elementary schools can take two distinct paths: as discrete classes (for example,
instrumental electives, choral groups, etc.) where music notation is taught, or within the main
class room itself as a training tool, much as technology is now being used to directly support
learning. Both approaches have their positive and negative aspects: providing musical
instruments and qualified teachers for students can be cost prohibitive but shows the greatest
effect on literacy, and use in the main class room can benefit a larger group perhaps less inclined

to the rigors of serious music study, but requires an investment by teachers to make music an
integral part of their teaching. Whichever path a school or district chooses to focus on, music
will further its educational goals.
Specifically, music training has been shown to improve phonemic awareness through
improved auditory processing (Gromko, 2005; Kraus, Slater, Thompson, Hornickel, Strait, Nicol
and White-Schwoch, 2014), reading comprehension (Corrigal and Trainor, 2011) and verbal
memory (Rickard, Vasquez, Murphy, Gill and Toukhsati, 2010). All of these individual
components of reading provide the building blocks of literacy, which in turn is fundamental to all
aspects of learning. As such, music positively impacts reading and overall academic success.
While equally valid in different cognitive spheres, other art forms (dance, theater and the fine
arts) do not provide this correlation with reading. Dance impacts how we negotiate and navigate
our sensory world by activating the motor areas of the brain. The fine arts have a positive effect
on spatial awareness (and thus geometry). Theater is probably closest in its influence by
increasing verbal memory and prosody (which improves reading comprehension) while also
providing useful social skills. But none of these benefit early readers like exposure to music.
While many other school programs also support educational goals, including PE classes,
technology, and foreign languages, their relationship to explicit learning is more general. PE
classes improve gross and fine motor coordination, aid attention span, and help channel extra
energy (all needed for young learners), but they dont have an immediate impact on reading.
Other components require substantial start-up costs (technology) and teacher training (for foreign
language expertise). Music is accessible to almost everyone there is no shortage of free on-line
material that can make a math lesson or fable come to life. One does not need a degree in music
to sing along with a group of students, or short of that, access YouTube for child-friendly

instructional content. Teachers can fairly argue that they dont have time to learn the skills to
make music integral to their lessons. The value of employing music is it is versatile enough to
be used to a lesser or greater degree as time and inclination allow. For those schools wishing to
implement a larger program, there are many artists available that can lend their expertise and
talent to supporting a curriculum that not only includes music but is influenced by it. Perhaps a
math teacher might say yes, but what does this have to do with my class? Many studies have
reinforced the relationship between math and music. Some of the integral concepts of math
most notably, pattern recognition, but also proportion, ratio, fractions, and subdivision are all
reinforced through exposure to music notation. Written music, with the pitch being represented
by higher and lower notes and the order played shown from left to right, is precursor to both
reading and the x/y graph. Plato even said I would teach children music, physics and
philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in musicare the keys to learning.
Lastly, children are naturally receptive to music. Whatever the format (formal
instrumental classes or simply singing together), most children are mesmerized and motivated by
it. It helps them focus on what is being conveyed. Like adults, they are exposed to music
throughout their waking hours, and they use it to make sense of their world. Especially in songs,
the use of repetition, rhyme and the resolution to the tonic (the key in which the piece is written)
are really methods of story-telling. Songs musically inform the listener about the beginning,
middle and end of the story, and add drama or humor through changes in tone or rhythm. Try
reading a Dr. Seuss book aloud without using meter and changes in intonation and you will see
how much music influences reading. Think of how many musical qualities are conveyed in
poetry. Whether we recognize it or not, music is integral to reading. What better vehicle to
teach reading could we have? It is time to move music center stage to improve reading scores
and, in so doing, the academic lives of elementary school children.

References

Corrigal, K.A. & Trainor, L.J. (2011). Associations between length of music training and
reading skills in children, Music Perception, 29, 147-155.
Gromko, J.E. (2005). The effect of music on phonemic awareness in beginning readers. Journal
of Research in Music Education, 53, 199-209.
Kraus, N., Slater, J., Thompson, E.C., Hornickel, J., Strait, D.L., Nicol, T., & White-Schwoch, T.
(2014). Music enrichment programs improve the neural encoding of speech in at-risk
children. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (36), 11913-11918.
Rickard, N.S., Vasquez, J.T., Murphy, F., Gill, N. & Toukhsati, S.R. (2010). Benefits of a
classroom based instrumental music program on verbal memory of primary school
children: a longitudinal study. Australian Journal of Music Education, (1), 36-47.
Telesco, P.J. (2010) Music and Early Literacy, Forum on Public Policy Online, 5, 1-18.

Lori Smythe

Reflections on Persuasive Essay

December 1, 2014

In all honesty, I was a little surprised at my grade for this persuasive essay, as I felt it was
some of my best thinking this semester. Obviously what was in my head did not get conveyed
on paper. I do agree that the thesis statement is too general; my attempt to be persuasive by
using a term implying value (worth it) omitted enough detail to make it convincing. By
leading into the topic with a general opening paragraph, I may have been too diverse and did not
clarify the main topic the value of music training in school due to its effect on reading.
In rereading the essay, I also realized that paragraph two, which focused on the how and
why of implementing a music supported program for reading, was somewhat covered in
paragraph four and so I eliminated it. (This paragraph was meant to address concerns that music
programs might be hard to add to a curriculum given the need for teacher support, administrative
involvement, budget and even availability of outside arts based groups. My intention was to
refute these concerns by showing its versatility in implementation.)
Hopefully this rewrite (which now includes one less paragraph) will better reflect my
thoughts. The original paper was meant to be organized and supported as follows:
1st para - introduction of musics overall benefits to children and specifically to reading
2nd para choices in implementation (now included in a later paragraph)
3rd para what research supports this assertion, without becoming an expository paper
4th para musics value in contrast to other arts programs
5th para musics value compared to other ancillary programs (language, PE)
6th para reiterating the value and power of music in improving reading.
Lastly, I wasnt sure of what might have been off on sentence structure, spelling or
grammar but have tried to clarify and correct here as well. I look forward to your comments.

Music Can Soothe the Savage Beast of National Reading Scores FINAL
Lori Smythe

December 1, 2014

While the adage Music soothes the savage beast is widely recognized and the
emotional aspects of music are apparent to most people, its many cognitive benefits are only now
being realized. What cognitive effects does music have on children in elementary school?
Specifically, can we as educators harness the power of music to turn around the lackluster
reading scores of students in America? While percentages vary based on ethnicity, a troubling
23% to 53% of our fourth graders score below the basic reading level (Telesco, 2010).
Telesco further states A lack of proficiency in third-grade reading sets a child up for failure
and despite improvements in the last decade, the latest figures (National Assessment for
Educational Progress, 2013) show that 22% of our eighth-graders are still below basic. This
comes at a time when proficient reading has never been more important in securing a job in
todays labor market, yet only 36% are at or above the proficient benchmark. Given solid
research showing the influence of early music training in promoting literacy, now is the time to
incorporate music in the elementary curriculum to raise reading ability. In addition to a host of
other cognitive benefits, music training has a very real and long-term effect on literacy in terms
of phonemic awareness, verbal memory and reading comprehension.
Specifically, music training has been shown to improve phonemic awareness through
improved auditory processing (Gromko, 2005; Kraus, Slater, Thompson, Hornickel, Strait, Nicol
and White-Schwoch, 2014). Training not only improves auditory attention and enables children
to distinguish sounds from each other, it reinforces the related symbols (phonemes) and builds on
the sound blocks that make up words. As the child grows in their reading skills, music training
continues to influence reading by increasing verbal memory (Rickard, Vasquez, Murphy, Gill

and Toukhsati, 2010). Even reading comprehension, a skill assimilated in upper elementary, is
improved by childrens exposure to music training (Corrigall and Trainor, 2011). All of these
individual components of reading provide the building blocks of literacy, fundamental to all
aspects of learning. As such, music positively impacts reading and overall academic success.
While some would argue that all of the arts are beneficial for learning, most research
indicates musics cognitive benefits outweigh the advantages of other art forms for young
children because of this correlation with reading. Dance impacts how we negotiate and navigate
our sensory world by activating the motor areas of the brain. The fine arts have a positive effect
on spatial awareness (and thus geometry). Theater is probably closest in its influence by
increasing verbal memory and prosody (which improves reading comprehension) while also
providing useful social skills. But none of these benefit early readers like exposure to music.
Likewise, other school programs support educational goals, including PE classes, technology,
and foreign languages, but their relationship to explicit learning is more general. PE classes
improve gross and fine motor coordination, aid attention span, and help channel extra energy (all
needed for young learners), but they dont have an immediate impact on reading. Reading is the
fundamental skill acquired in elementary school (even above math), and musics positive
relationship to it gives it preeminence over other art forms and other programs.
Other educational components require substantial start-up costs (technology) and teacher
training (for foreign language expertise). Music is accessible to almost everyone there is no
shortage of free on-line material that can make a math lesson or fable come to life. One does not
need a degree in music to sing along with a group of students, or short of that, access YouTube
for child-friendly instructional content. Teachers can fairly argue that they dont have time to
learn the skills to make music integral to their lessons. The value of employing music is it is

versatile enough to be used to a greater degree based on administrative involvement, budget and
availability of outside arts based groups, but even a single teacher can use it to the advantage of
her students. Perhaps a math teacher might say yes, but what does this have to do with my
class? Many studies have reinforced the relationship between math and music. Some of the
integral concepts of math most notably, pattern recognition, but also proportion, ratio,
fractions, and subdivision are all reinforced through exposure to music notation. Written music,
with the pitch being represented by higher and lower notes and the order played shown from left
to right, is precursor to both reading and the x/y graph. Plato even said I would teach children
music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in musicare the
keys to learning.
Lastly, children are naturally receptive to music. Whatever the format (formal
instrumental classes or simply singing together), most children are mesmerized and motivated by
it. It helps them focus on what is being conveyed. Like adults, they are exposed to music
throughout their waking hours, and they use it to make sense of their world. Especially in songs,
the use of repetition, rhyme and the resolution to the tonic (the key in which the piece is written)
are really methods of story-telling. Songs musically inform the listener about the beginning,
middle and end of the story, and add drama or humor through changes in tone or rhythm. Try
reading a Dr. Seuss book aloud without using meter and changes in intonation and you will see
how much music influences reading. Think of how many musical qualities are conveyed in
poetry. Whether we recognize it or not, music is integral to reading. What better vehicle to
teach reading could we have? Used by novice teacher or expert musician, music training in
schools supports reading. It is time to move music center stage to improve reading scores and, in
so doing, the academic lives of elementary school children.

References

Corrigal, K.A. & Trainor, L.J. (2011). Associations between length of music training and
reading skills in children, Music Perception, 29, 147-155.
Gromko, J.E. (2005). The effect of music on phonemic awareness in beginning readers. Journal
of Research in Music Education, 53, 199-209.
Kraus, N., Slater, J., Thompson, E.C., Hornickel, J., Strait, D.L., Nicol, T., & White-Schwoch, T.
(2014). Music enrichment programs improve the neural encoding of speech in at-risk
children. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (36), 11913-11918.
Rickard, N.S., Vasquez, J.T., Murphy, F., Gill, N. & Toukhsati, S.R. (2010). Benefits of a
classroom based instrumental music program on verbal memory of primary school
children: a longitudinal study. Australian Journal of Music Education, (1), 36-47.
Telesco, P.J. (2010) Music and Early Literacy, Forum on Public Policy Online, 5, 1-18.