A Uniting Church coeducational independent day and boarding school on Kaurna Country, Adelaide, South Australia

Early Learning to Year 12

Director of Music - Edition 7 - 2020

Is high school too late to benefit from music learning?

Parents of Senior School students may be interested in the following information, courtesy of Bigger Better Brains.

A large proportion of neuromusical research focuses on children between the ages of 0-7 years. This is primarily because this period of human development has been identified as a sensitivity period for brain development and therefore, the more we know about the first steps of human brain development, the better we can understand subsequent development periods.

Music learning has been used successfully as a tool to help neuroscientists and psychologists understand brain development. The reason music learning has been so useful is that it is an activity which has been found to change the way the human brain functions, as well as how the structure of the brain develops.

“Neural consistency can impact significantly on their academic performance.”

Subsequently, the amount of research now available to us as music teachers, to reference and learn from, about children from the age of 0-7 is now quite substantial. The sheer quantity of research could lead us to believe that music learning is most beneficial during the first seven years of a child’s life and that it may not be as useful after the age of seven. You would be right to think that music learning has been found to have a significant impact in those first seven years for things such as; language development, inhibitory control, brain connectivity and synchronisation. But, you would be wrong to think that learning music after the age of 7 was too late. In fact, what we now know is that learning music is beneficial for our brain development and health throughout our lives.

The trick is to understand that music learning is beneficial all the way through school and life, but the benefits are different as we physically and cognitively develop. In a research study titled “Music training alters the course of adolescent auditory development”, the researchers found that “in-school music training changes the course of adolescent brain development”. They compared students who started learning in a school band environment at the age of 14 and continued until the age of 17. The participants were tested before, during, and after the music learning and they were compared to an active control group which was a Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). The reason why the researchers compared music learning (training) to another after school activity was because it has been found that involvement in the extra learning programs enhances cognitive development.

The researchers also found that “adolescents undertaking in-school music training maintained heightened neural consistency throughout high school. The music training group also exhibited earlier emergence of the adult cortical response, suggesting that in-school music accelerates neurodevelopment.” Neural consistency – especially during the years of puberty, which can distract students from their learning – can impact significantly on their academic performance. The researchers also identified that this consistency could move the music students’ brain development towards adult levels, which has also been found to impact on positive decision-making skills.

In terms of how music learning impacts on learning skills outside of music, the researchers found that “these (brain) changes seem to benefit literacy skills: both groups (music and the JROTC) improved in phonological awareness relative to the general population, but the music training group improved more compared with the active controls”. The ability to continue to process language sounds through our auditory processing system with greater detail, memory and nuance are extremely important. Therefore, we often focus on the acquisition of language and reading skills, which usually happens between the ages of 3-8 years. However, the continued development of language skills of all kinds continues through our school years and into adulthood.

Finally, the researchers suggest that “our results support the notion that the adolescent brain remains receptive to training, underscoring the importance of enrichment during teenage years”. Many adolescent students continue, or take up, some form of hobby or extension activity in their teenage years, and not all students would be interested in a musical instrument. What’s interesting about this statement is that the learning of music appeared to improve auditory processing, which could impact on the student’s academic performance and enhance cognitive development.

Music Rehearsals

It is was wonderful to commence music rehearsals again last week and this week, along with many other co-curricular activities. Our school is certainly a much richer place with a mix of academia and all of the other opportunities that complement student learning.

Students seemed genuinely pleased to be back in ensembles, albeit spread out a little further apart.

It will take some time to gain some momentum and reach the standards we met when rehearsals ceased during Term 1. However, just to see all of our groups back again was quite heartening.

We hope to be able to perform at some stage in 2020 once restrictions are eased further. Term 3 is certainly looking like the most promising option for performance.

Music 01
Solo Performance practice in isolation! Looking forward to getting back into the ensemble!
Music 02
Josh has the whole MMC stage to himself!

Michael Degenhart
Director of Music