According to an article in last month's Scientific American, a study by advocacy group Music for All found that school music programs in public schools dropped precipitously between 1999 and 2004 – by 50%. I shudder to think about how much more music programs have been shed in the six years since that report, but based on what we are learning about music's effect on the brain, we are doing our children a great disservice.
"Mozart therapy" – the idea that parents could boost their children's intelligence by exposing them to music – has turned out to be largely unsupported by further research although, as SA points out, the original researchers never claimed more than a minor and temporary effect. What can produce lasting changes in the brain, though, are music lessons. Thanks to an overlap in the parts of our brains responsible for language and music, playing an instrument (including voice) and learning to discern between subtle changes in pitch can help us to learn new languages by helping us identify subtle variances in pronunciation. It can improve our ability to focus on tasks or hear targeted sounds in a loud environment, like studying for a test at a crowded restaurant or paying attention to a conversation with a friend in a noisy club. There's evidence that music training may even help stroke victims learn to speak more quickly, and help dyslexic students overcome their disability by improving their ability to focus during class. [more]
I'm a personal trainer and a musician, so I'm utterly dismayed at the decline in physical education and music education in our classrooms. We already know that child obesity is at an all-time high, and that the consequences of unhealthy habits on children's ability to learn are dire. Like physical education, music education is being hastily shoved to the backburner as students in the U.S. continually fall behind other nations in science, math and language. And while I think science, math and language are undoubtedly vital, we are inadvertently impeding their ability to absorb such subjects when we fail to give them a well-rounded education.