Four Cognitive Skills Supercharged by Music Education
By Dr. David V. Mastran, sponsored by QuaverMusic
Music, the unsung hero of elementary education, offers a path for transformative development for early childhood! You can see the growth happening in your students, but you may not know exactly what’s happening underneath the surface. In fact, the lessons learned in your music classroom can help promote four specific types of cognitive skills development:
1. Attention Control
Music is defined by elements and measurements such as flow, melody, and rhythm. Students must learn to pay attention to measurements, cues from their teacher, as well as actions of their fellow classmates.
Classroom activities that support attention control:
- Students internalize cues and timing as they follow along with highlighted lyrics or notation. When they’re ready, remove the highlighting and see those muscles work.
- Get students involved by teaching them conducting skills. As they learn to cue others, their own attention control is strengthened.
2. Planning Skills
Planning is important when composing, learning, or performing a piece of music. Students must identify goals, select team leaders, plan rehearsals, organize the performance, and review the audience reaction. Teaching students how to develop responsible decision-making skills through collaboration can contribute to their own social-emotional learning.
Classroom activities that support planning skills:
- Group projects guided by rubrics are a great way for students to create deadlines, make a plan to meet those deadlines, and execute a plan.
- Encourage critique and improvement of a plan through group feedback sessions after the project ends.
3. Working Memory
Music education, including memorizing instrumental parts, song lyrics, and often physical movements, has been shown to promote neurological growth and enhanced mental acuity.*
Classroom activities that support working memory:
- Learning a song through repetition helps students not only to memorize the lyrics, but also internalize them. After performing a song or dance, have the students analyze their performance. Do they feel like they have come together as a group? Allow them to celebrate their hard work.
4. Critical Thinking
Analytical and evaluative skills are vital when students listen to a piece of music or watch a performance. Incorporate Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) by asking students to identify the emotional intent of a piece and express that feeling in their own way.
Classroom activities that support critical thinking:
- Challenge your students to listen to several versions of the same song and have them compare the songs, describe the musical elements, and flex their skills in evaluation and response.
It’s easy to see all the ways music can challenge the growing brains of young children! By emphasizing these cognitive skills in the music classroom, music teachers can further elevate the importance of music education across the school campus and throughout the community.
Grace Smith, “Study: Two Years of Music Education Improves Reading, Speech,” Education News, May 9, 2014.
William R. Klemm, Ph.D., “Music Training Helps Learning & Memory,” Psychology Today, 31 July 2010.
Amy Spray, “The Science of Why Music Improves Our Memory and Verbal Intelligence,” Washington Post, 21 July 2015.
See QuaverMusic’s previous blog “Digital Portfolios in the Music Classroom.”
About the author:
In 2010, along with Co-Founder Graham Hepburn, David launched QuaverMusic—a general music education company serving PreK–8 music teachers. Propelled by its mission: Enriching Lives Through Music Education, the company today supports more than 8,000 teachers in all 50 states and 29 countries. QuaverMusic, located in the heart of Nashville’s iconic Music Row District, employs over 70 passionate professionals dedicated to supporting music teachers. Learn more by downloading this free white paper on The Supercharged Value of Music Education.
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