The benefits of music education are frequently bandied around, even within the teaching profession, without reference to what research into this area actually says. It is often believed, for example, that learning an instrument or being taught how to sing at school can have positive flow-on effects in terms of a child’s academic development.
But is this true? A new research paper by three Melbourne academics in the Journal of Music Research Online questions the widely held notion that music participation at school can benefit a child’s academic and psychosocial progress. Entitled ‘The psychosocial benefits of school music: reviewing policy claims’, the paper says a large body of research does not support the case.
Its authors – Alexander Hew Dale Crooke and Katrina Skewes McFerran at Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, and Paul Smyth at the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences – argue that if wider benefits are to accrue from school music participation, it depends very much on what form that participation takes. Mainstream classroom settings do not always yield positive results, they say. Indeed, they cite research that shows this can result in “chaotic environments” that are counterproductive to a child’s psychosocial development.
It is an interesting study that raises questions on the efficacy and methodology of mainstream classroom music. Drawing on a large body of research by Australian and international scholars, it observes that “classroom settings … were actually found to present barriers to achieving reportable psychosocial benefits”.
Instead, it might be extracurricular music where most of the benefits accrue, the authors suggest. They relate research findings that indicate learning music outside of school – in private or semi-private groups – helps more successfully in children’s development.
Their recommendation is salutary: “policymakers or government departments committed to enhancing the subjective wellbeing of students through music must widen their advocacy to include support for programs located outside curriculum and classrooms”.
The paper includes a usefully detailed summary of policy development relating to school music education in Australia over the last decade. Read the full text here.
Journal of Music Research Online is an affiliated journal of Music Australia