Why We Need Music

Published: 15th July 2006
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Why We Need Music
By Professor Richard K Flowers AA, BS, MS,ISD, AP

"Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body."
William Shakespeare

We as humans are naturally born as musical and rhythmical. Even those who say they cannot hold a tune or sing off-key, have a musical and rhythmical intelligence. We live in a universe where rhythm and beat are intrinsically embedded in our lives. The day has 24 hours, the year 365 days and seasons occur according to where we live. As an infant we listen to our own heartbeat as well as our mother's. As we are born into the world we experience the rhythm of own on breath and the sounds of music around us. We may sing songs, or dance to them. For many of us, our exposure to music may be limited to singing the alphabet or short children's songs.Many others have only experienced music in school during a weekly 30-minute class period. Often, this exposure to music is marginal at best and the true appreciation of its power is never experienced. Unfortunately today music and art programs are either being cut or severely under funded in schools because of the budget shortfalls nationwide.

However, it is possible for teachers and parents to use music holistically to teach the entire child. There are many activities that integrate music into learning all subjects using hands on, multiple intelligences and multimedia forms of learning.
Howard Gardner, a tireless researcher in multiple intelligences has identified musical and rhythmic intelligence importance in his studies. I have found through my own research as well as in other comparative research the musical rhythmic intelligence is the most powerful tool in learning.

Recent research is just now beginning to show the profound affects of music on learning and our lives.The College Entrance Examination Board research reports:
Students of the arts continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT, according to reports by the College Entrance Examination Board. In 2004, SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 40 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework or experience in the arts. Scores for those with coursework in music appreciation were 63 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math portion. (see table below)

In my own classroom, I use every opportunity in using music and rhythm in daily instruction. I have seen how music and rhythm work wonders with my students to learn so many fantastic things. For example in science I devised a song for the kids to remember Moh's Hardness Scale in geology. The Moh's hardness scale for minerals has been used since 1822. It simply consists of ten minerals arranged in order from 1 to 10. Diamond is rated as the hardest and is indexed as 10; talc as the softest with index number 1. I keyed the minerals in the scale to a familiar tune and the kids learned the scale promptly. I have done the same with the presidents, states, capitals, colonies, planets, Great Lakes, Visible Spectrum, Central American Countries, groupings of taxonomy and many other facts. Remember, this is done with first graders!

Music and rhythm are also powerful tools for teaching reading. The kids can chant and sing the high frequency word lists such as Dolch and Fry word lists with the Dolch and Fry Phrases. I have devised a piggyback song for this purpose.Another great tool to help children read is the use of phonograms. Phonograms are word families that are used in everyday reading, writing and conversation. By learning the 37 most common phonograms, kids can learn over 500 words and learn to decode more complex words. I enjoy singing phonograms with my kids to tunes that I have created. I have seen fantastic growth in my kids' reading and all subjects by integrating music and rhythm into the curriculum.

I once had the opportunity to study music with an East Indian musician in Berkeley that played the Bansuri (the classical East Indian bamboo flute). He taught me how to play the tabla, which is the name of an East Indian drum. I learned the East Indian system of music is one of the richest and most complex systems in the world. Their music system is handed down esoterically from guru to disciple using an oral system of mnemonic syllables to play the tabla. When my friend first introduced me to the system I was overwhelmed. However, once I started using the mnemonic techniques of drumming I learned the phrases quickly. I was surprised at how fast I remembered the techniques. The rhythms for Ragas on the tabla are called thekas. For example there is a popular beat rhythm called Tintal. For example here is the theka for Tintal.

X 2 0 3
Dha Dhin Dhin Dha Dha Dhin Dhin Dha Dha Tin Tin Ta Ta Dhin Dhin Dha

By chanting the theka in a rhythm, you quickly learn it with the stroke. Every chant has a stroke on the tabla that it relates to. If you have ever had the privilege of watching an East Indian master tabla player, you will get goose bumps with the experience! The rich, fast, complex rhythms even can run circles around the best western style drum players. Even the advanced jazz percussionist Max Roach has affirmed this.

The reason that I learned this complicated pattern so quickly was with the power of music and rhythm. Whenever music and rhythm are integrated into a lesson, the understanding and retention increases many times. Research shows that music stimulates the neuron development of the brain. Music can actually increase intelligence.

Research shows that most of the best computer and mechanical engineering designers in the high tech fields are practicing musicians. Many who grew up in India were exposed to a rich and complex system of music called Ragas. Ragas have very complex tonal and rhythmic patterns. India graduates a high number of physicists and mathematicians that American business and universities aggressively recruit. Theorists say this high degree of intelligence to the daily or even prenatal listening of Ragas

Other Related Research

• Eric Oddleifson reports that a renowned Japanese master mathematics teacher, whose nearly 2,000,000 students have demonstrated incredible math ability beyond their years, was asked the following question. "What would you say is the most effective way of heightening children's mental ability at the earliest possible stages?" He answered, "The finest start for infants is to sing songs. This helps to elevate their powers of understanding, and they register astounding speed in learning math and languages."

• Studies by Diana Deutsch at the University of California/San Diego demonstrate that mental mechanisms that process music is deeply entwined with the brain's other basic functions, including perception, memory, and even language.
• In another University of California study, preschoolers who received daily group singing lessons and weekly keyboard instruction for eight months performed much better on tests of spatial reasoning (which is the basis for mathematical thinking) than children who had no music lessons. The researchers suspect that when children exercise cortical neurons by listening to classical music, they are also strengthening circuits used for mathematics. (CAT and PET scans show that musical and spatial reasoning function in the same areas of the brain.)

• First-graders who were taught the rhythm and melodies of folk songs 40 minutes a day for seven months showed significantly higher reading scores than a control group.
• ????The research and proof are there. There is no mistake about it! Use music and rhythm whenever possible to help your child learn. Nurture your child's multiple intelligence and use all the senses to learn and understand. I can assure you, I have seen this in my own experience as an educator!

Hence the quote Benjamin Franklin once said;

"You tell me, and I forget. You teach me, and I remember. You involve me, and I learn."

Richard K. Flowers, AA, BS, MS:is an award winning educator, author, consultant, web and graphic designer, instructional designer, logo designer, educational consultant, artist and musician from Oregon
Richard is a respected, gifted, recognized consultant that has spent years of research on creative solutions using multiple intelligences and multisensory techniques for learning. Richard's holistic approach to learning centers on the way we learn.
Richard's services are available through his firm CDS: Creative Educational Solutions.
His contact is:
His website is at:

Table of SAT Scores

Course Title Verbal Mean Scores Math Mean Scores
2001 2002 2004 2001 2002 2004
Acting/Play Production 541 539 539 531 530 527
Art History/Appreciation 518 515 516 518 517 516
Dance 512 509 503 510 508 501
Drama: Study or Appreciation 534 531 528 523 522 517
Music:Study or Appreciation 539 537 536 538 537 533
Music Performance 533 530 530 535 535 532
Photography/Film 527 524 523 526 526 522
Studio Art/Design 525 522 524 528 528 527
No Arts Coursework 476 473 473 494 494 492
Honors Courses 565 563 565 564 564 563

Years of Study Verbal Mean Scores Math Mean Scores
2001 2002 2004 2001 2002 2004
More than 4 years 544 538 533 545 541 536
4 or more Years 535 536 539 530 534 535
3 Years 518 513 512 518 516 512
2 Years 506 504 505 513 514 512
1 Year 497 495 497 510 510 510
.5 Year or Less 485 484 483 500 502 498

Sources: The College Board, Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report for 2001, 2002, and 2004.

Professor Richard K Flowers, AA,BS,MS,ISD,AP is an award winning educator, professor, author, writer, web/graphic/instructional designer, artist and musician from Oregon. He is the founder of WWW.BetterDesign.US. His email contact is Info@BetterDesign.US.

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