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April, 2017 

MUSIC EDUCATION FOR CHARACTER EDUCATION

In 2015 the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at the University of Birmingham called for character education to be embedded in UK curriculum. The report linked strong character traits such as resilience and perseverance to higher educational achievement, employability, and social, emotional and physical health. Character matters. It is critical for personal happiness, maintaining relationships, and essential for an ordered society. Character strengths help people to thrive and become the best version of themselves. But how is it taught, cultivated and nurtured? UK Education secretary Nicky Morgan, in her quest to help schools build character, says one way to learn character traits is to learn a musical instrument. The Education Secretary is correct, of course. The Jubilee Centre study found that students involved in choir/music or drama performed significantly better on character tests than any other school-based extra-curricular activity. Interestingly, evidence that sporting activities build character was lacking. This is perhaps surprising given the widespread public belief in sport as a character builder.


There is nothing new in this modern-day appeal for character education to be embedded in schools, nor in the relationship between character formation and musical learning. In particular, the views of Confucius, Pythagoras and Aristotle are worth noting. Confucius (551–479 BC) believed the real purpose of education was not to get a job, but to become a better person. The ‘cultivation of the self’ should be a ‘daily renovation’, and is a life-long process, requiring constant work and practice. Confucius considered music education to be indispensable for character cultivation:

Wouldst thou know if a people be well-governed, if its laws be good or bad? Examine the music it practises.

Because of the deep influence music exerts on a person, and the change it produces on manners and customs, the ancient kings appointed it as one of the subjects of instruction

A man who is not good, what can he have to do with music?

Confucius suggested that the teaching of music, along with poetry, history and ritual, be the foundation for teaching moral behaviour. His view has support throughout history, for instance from Napoleon Bonaparte: “A moral book might change a person’s mind but not his heart, and therefore, not his ways. However, a piece of moral music would change his heart, and where the heart goes the mind will follow and the person’s ways will change.” To be a person of character is a choice from less virtuous alternatives. Accordingly, the moral choice would be arrived at through a change of heart influenced by music.

Aristotle (385-322 BC) believed that character is formed by doing. For example, one can only learn about commitment by being committed to a cause. One learns to delay gratification by exercising the patience and experiencing the possible discomfort that comes with the act of waiting. Aristotle believed that the development of character strengths took time, but nevertheless could be taught and learned through practice. The repetition of the act becomes a habit, resulting in consistent patterns of action.

Human excellence, in morality as in musicality, comes about as a result of habit. – Aristotle, Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics

Therefore, a person cannot be considered a “good person deep down” unless character traits are in action.

Pythagoras (570-490 BC) may well be the first person on record who employed music as a therapeutic agent. He believed that beauty and truth combined in music and so music could “quell the passions of the soul”. In his philosophy, medicine and therapy were based on music. Pythagoras believed that an appreciation of beauty aided recovery from illness, a position now supported by modern-day research. He called the medicine obtained through music ‘purification.’ Hence music played an important part in Pythagorean education because music could purify both manners, character, and physical ailments. Those who committed crimes were prescribed “pipe (probably the panpipe) and harmony” to shape the mind so that it became cultured again.  At night Pythagoreans sang certain songs to produce tranquil sleep and induce sweet dreams. In the morning they sang different songs to awaken and prepare for the day. Sometimes the music was instrumental, played on the lyre alone. Pythagoras considered the study of music essential for a rational understanding of God and nature. If education is about integrating thought, Pythagoras and the Greek thinkers who followed him led the way.

Contrast the esteem of which music was held by the Ancient Greeks (and classical China) to the Roman Empire that followed. Music was not valued beyond entertainment, and became peripheral in education and culture. Rather than science, arts and intellectual thought, Rome’s focus was toward conquest and pleasure. Interestingly, one of the main reasons attributed for the decline of the Roman Empire was a decline in moral character. If only they had listened to Confucius.

Music is the only one of all the arts that does not corrupt the mind. – Montesquieu, 1689 – 1759, French Philosopher

The family is the first place where moral cultivation begins. If adults wish to raise children of good character, they should start by showing them through their own actions.

Children may not listen to their parents, but they never fail to imitate them. – James ABaldwin1924 –1987Americansocial critic.

Schools also play an important part in developing character. Whilst there is no definitive set of character traits, consider for instance perseverance, commitment, and self-discipline. That learning a musical instrument contributes to developing these is threaded throughout my book Learning Strategies for Musical Success. Learning music is a long-term project requiring years of disciplined practice. Incorporating some of the most complex physical skills human beings are capable of executing, perseverance and stick-at-it-ive-ness are a must. To master difficult musical passages, musicians learn to overcome setbacks and self-doubt. Successful musicians do not give up. Learning music is a long-term commitment requiring self-discipline, self-sacrifice, and an ability to resist distraction. Clearly, music makes a unique contribution in the education of character. Many people desire to learn music but give up too early without ever fully exploring their potential. Often, the reason given is ‘lack of talent’. A more likely explanation is the lack of character traits required for the musical journey. Being a musician is in itself a testament to character.

Almost 2500 years ago Plato believed that “music training is a more potent instrument than any other”. Hopefully the world will again give music the place it deserves in education. There are positive signs.  In April, 2015 it was announced that for the first time in USA education history, music will be a core subject in draft federal education policy (Every Child Achieves Act of 2015).

Listening to music has long been argued as a method for developing children’s listening skills. Listening to classical music boosts concentration, self-discipline, listening power, social intelligence, and aspiration. (Hallam, 2014) Equally, another study found that listening to music with lyrics about alcohol makes people more likely to drink. (Primack, 2014). Yet another study found a link between music embodying aggression, sex and violence, with antisocial behaviour. (Coyne and Padilla-Walker, 2014). Music influences behaviour. These studies might serve to argue against the popular contention that there is no such thing as good or bad music.

written by Michael Griffin 

Contact mdgriffin63@gmail.com for more information.

May 2016

THE IMPORTANCE OF MUSIC AND MOVEMENT IN THE EDUCATION OF YOUNG CHILDREN AND INFANTS

Just as learning the alphabet, colours and shapes are important steps in the beginning of a young child’s development, so is incorporating music, movement and rhythm.

For children 8 and younger this period is an important time of learning and brain development.

There is a growing (and convincing) body of research that indicates a "window of opportunity" from birth to age nine for critical brain development.  During this time, the mental structures and mechanisms associated with processing and understanding are in the prime stages of development.

Have you ever noticed how infants respond to music? Even though they may not crawl yet, they respond by bouncing up and down or rhythmically moving their arms. This is because rhythm and beat are an inherent musical understanding that we are born with.  However, although they are responding to the sound they won’t be keeping a steady beat perfectly just yet. Beat competency is developed with repetition over time and must be taught early in order to allow this skill to become second nature to a child, like language and speech. 

We have all seen children and even adults who have no beat competency. Take a look at the dance floor next time you are at a wedding, you will know who they are!  This is simply because they were not exposed to music at a young enough age, and/or did not develop their musical ability through repetition at some point in their lives.  

So what are the positive outcomes of incorporating music and movement into your young child's life?  

Well the first obvious is the development of mental capacity and intellect;  A recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience by Dr. Nina Kraus shows a relationship between neural response consistency and ability to keep a beat.  The study - the first to provide biological evidence linking the ability to keep a beat to the neural encoding of speech sounds - has significant implications for reading. There are hundreds of similar studies that can be found simply by performing a google search.  (More on this specific study click HERE)

Mastery of the physical self:  Children develop coordination to the extreme when they are moving, crouching, stepping to the beat, or learning to play a beat on an instrument.

Self expression and creativity:  Through music and movement children learn acceptible and creative outlets in order to express their feelings.  Playing instruments can spark creativity; a drum can become a lion stalking their prey; a xylophone can become a bird singing in a tree; Children can make  up their own songs and lyrics to express themselves positively.

One of the things we teach in our early music classes is keeping a steady beat. Did you know that less than 50% of adults and 10% of kindergarten students can keep a steady beat? This was determined by a study done by Phyllis Weikert (author of children’s books on music and movement). Her research indicates the prime time to teach this is up until the age of 7.

Children enjoy moving to music and this physical response can help to contribute to a child’s health. Many children today lead sedentary life styles so how great is it if music can get them moving in a fun and enjoyable way.

So in addition to encouraging your child to excel in their academic studies don’t under estimate the importance of music in their lives.  

Archive Blog Feburary, 2016 

MUSIC LESSONS – HOW OLD IS TOO OLD?

“Am I too old to learn an instrument?

This is a common question that people who have entered middle age or retirement may ask themselves.

The answer is to this question is simple: NO, you are never too old!

And here is the big secret, you only need 2 things: PATIENCE and be willing to put in the TIME TO PRACTICE. It’s that simple.

Anyone can be taught and can learn if they are motivated to do so.

The more mature student is able to focus and has greater patience which allows them to process information more systematically.

Some adults will learn faster than others but everyone is teachable and unique and will progress at their own pace.

Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston states: "Music-making is linked to a number of health benefits for older adults," "Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression. There is also increasing evidence that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses,"

Any age can experience the benefits of playing music, the benefits don’t start or end at some particular age, the benefits start when you begin to play and continue for the rest of your life.

You probably won’t end up playing Carnegie Hall but you will be able to take pride in your progress and enrich your life with the beauty of music. 

Archive blog December 2015 

Today’s youth face more pressure than ever. Social media, competitive sports, school, dating, less family time and the fast pace of today’s world can be the source of stress for many kids today. Some kids handle the stress as it comes while others may react more strongly to these things, which can lead to anxiety.

If your child is affected by anxiety, rest assured he/she is not alone.  Anxiety is the most common form of mental disorder and affects 25% of all teens and 30% of teen girls. 

Since music in all forms has been very strongly linked to neurological stimulation, music therapy has been on the rise in the last decade.  For serious cases of anxiety and depression many are turning to a music therapist for help. In some cases music therapy sessions can be similar to music lessons except that they are conducted by a musician who has been trained as a therapist to deal with more serious mental and physical disorders.

 But a music therapist is not always needed for less serious anxiety or stress issues.  Often the addition of regular music listening and music playing can significantly alter mood, lower anxiety, and help to decrease the stress that we all feel from time to time.

A study conducted by psychiatrists at the University of Vermont College of Medicine has found that “playing a musical instrument may help children overcome anxiety, focus attention and control emotions” These findings which are published the the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, follow a study of 232 children aged between six and 18 using MRI scanning and behavioural testing.  

Patricia Farrell PHD (from NYU)  the author of 'How to Be Your Own Therapist: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Competent, Confident Life' states “playing a musical instrument can switch off stress response, which in turn improves physical and emotional health”

Music is  (also) a way for adolescents to express themselves, calm their anxieties, soothe the troubled mind and sometimes mend a broken heart. Music can help them to fit in or stand out and relate to others.

Music...  A natural, drug free healing remedy.  Try it out! 

 

 

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