For several years (if not decades) the issue of the benefits of music have been bandied about. I wrote a letter to the editor (The Indianapolis Star) several years ago that touted the benefits of music (if you’re interested, you can look it up: Sunday, Jan 5, 1997). I refer in that article to one of the catch-phrases of the day: “the Mozart effect”. A 1993 Nature article featured psychologist Frances Rauscher’s study which involved 36 college kids, some of whom were able to perform better on a particular IQ test after listening to ten minutes of Mozart. Apparently, the notion went viral (before “viral” meant “viral”). Mothers all over the planet began to subject their children to listening sessions. Many parents gained a renewed interest in getting their kids started on piano lessons. But the question has persisted: does the Mozart effect work? Really…?
THE SEARCH FOR MUSIC’S ROLE
Even though I believe music has its benefits, I wonder if the benefits of music can be studied with great scientific accuracy. So I remain skeptical. Does the Mozart effect work? Somehow, gaining great benefit by listening to ten minutes of anything simply sounds a bit too conjured and superficial (check out this link: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-babies-ex). Furthermore, I remain skeptical about what I consider to be an inadequate philosophical basis for why we are so interested in the Mozart effect. Why should we need any such “study” to prove the benefits of music?As a private instructor of piano and guitar, I, of course, would love to tout the benefits of music, especially in a culture where we tend to give music and the arts a low priority. If we somehow could prove that the arts have “other” more utilitarian benefits (such as increased brain power or physical health), then maybe schools and parents wouldn’t be so quick to drop these subjects from kids’ educational agendas (during tight economic budget crunches). Let’s get back to basics, right? Math, science, English (well, math and science, at least) are obviously beneficial in our cyber-world, right? But music? The arts? Somehow they tend to be relegated to the back burner of things that are important for successful living.
BACK TO BASICS?
We should note that the Mozart effect per se is not the only benefit studied. Several studies purport to demonstrate the benefits of listening to and playing music, mostly focusing on healing and stress relief (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/music-and-health-11-ways-body-ind_n_1413241.html). While I remain skeptical about any clear cut correlation of music with health, I don’t doubt that there are lots of benefits of music, including healing and stress relief. And other studies have shown that kids who are involved in the arts tend to score better grades in all subjects than those who leave the arts out (check out American Demographics, March 1996). Wouldn’t it be ironic if music actually served to help us with the “basics” of living?
If I may, however, I’d like to submit the following notion. Music is not merely “beneficial” for “other” reasons, but simply is a beautiful and joyous part of the full gamut of human experience. Think of it like this: what would life be like without music? As featured in the October 1996 issue of Discover, music appears to enhance many aspects of human experience. It builds group cohesion. No known culture exists that does not use music as a major part of its religious and patriotic fervor. Mothers all over the world sing and hum to their children. Mitch Waterman, a psychologist at the University of Leeds, believes that music “arouses our brains to a state of heightened awareness…we use music…to make us feel. It keeps our brains going properly.” Hardly a minute goes by on any media broadcast without the charms of music. Some nations must know something that is lost on many budget-cutting educators in the U.S.: Japan, which arguably is one of the most industrious economies in the world, requires music and art as core subjects from K-12.
LIFE WITHOUT MUSIC…NO, THANKS!
With no music or art, we’d have no buildings, cars, games, sports, or dance. The internet likely would not exist (virtually or otherwise). If we rid ourselves of music and art, we’d no longer enjoy listening to birds or gazing at flowers. I seriously doubt that any such artless society has ever existed…at least not for long. I certainly wouldn’t want to live there. Would you?
So…does the Mozart effect work? Maybe. Maybe not. But I doubt such a question is all that relevant, after all. Whether you participate as a spectator, hobbyist, or professional, I say music stands on its own as a valid and beautiful part of life. So I’ll shamelessly borrow from an old ad slogan: “Things go better with music.” And moms…don’t let a tough economy keep your kids (or yourself) from music lessons. And playing Mozart around the house can’t hurt, either.