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Music Theory Stimulates Claims of Higher Learning

  • Steve Mort

Some parents in the United States are turning to music to help in their children's education. Research shows introducing babies to music can improve their academic performance and critical thinking later in life. Scientists at the University of California's MIND Institute introduced the idea that music promotes brain development back in 1993.

Students gather at a classroom at the University of Central Florida.

But these are not typical college kids. All are under the age of two.

Dr. Mary Palmer's class introduces children to music in the belief it helps improve their brain development.

"As children are experiencing music, they're developing their brains and they're developing connections in their brains that otherwise might go unconnected, so it gives them greater capacity for overall learning throughout their lives".

Dr. Palmer believes children introduced to music at an early age do better in life - a theory dubbed "The Mozart Effect".

The University of California scientists behind the theory say children under three who are exposed to music score higher on standardized tests.

Research in 1999 at the school's MIND Institute showed youngsters who had piano lessons scored nearly 30 percent higher on math tests.

Carl Rendek is a percussionist with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.

"Math was just a cakewalk for me. It was very easy for me to do whether it was calculus or arithmetic, I just caught on very quickly. And it went on to other subjects too. I was a good student; it was easy, and I think it was because of the music".

Scientists began exploring the medical and educational benefits of music in the 1940s.

Michigan State University introduced the world's first undergraduate degree program in music therapy.

Skeptics however say claims of a "Mozart Effect" are often false or exaggerated and have little basis in neuroscience.

A new book called "The Myth of the First Three Years" even attacks the media for playing up the theory's importance.

Dr. Palmer acknowledges the criticism, but she says the science is strong.

"People are recognizing more and more the importance of these very early, not only years, but days in a child's life. And so there are fewer skeptics about the importance of the interactions and the stimulation's that we can provide to babies. Recently there has been a lot of research on the impact of music on overall student learning, on overall student engagement and overall success with life and with living".

Palmer's classes feature music from around the world, including Africa and Latin America.

And for Jennifer Castillo and her Mexican husband Luis, that was an incentive to enroll their daughter.

"Mexico, just like any other Latin American countries, you're going to find music as part of their everyday life. You know, ever since they're little music is everywhere - you know, music at the home, music in the school, music everywhere you go. I think that it's probably something that is almost like second-nature. You begin to relate things to music, you begin to relate great times, sad times, happy times to music in someway or other. So having been raised in Mexico, being exposed to the music there, I developed an interest".

Experts running this course say simply making children listen to music wont improve their academic abilities.

They say participation is needed.

But for the parents, it will be several years before they find out whether enrolling their children in this class has paid off.

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