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Music and the Mind

By Suzan Mullane. ‘Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.’ So sayeth British playwright William Congreve  in opening Act 1 of the Mourning Bride.

Long before any understanding of neuroplasticity, many poets and musicians were aware of the healing and learning properties of music’”even in 1703. Fast forward 300 plus years and we’re having similar discussions, but science has changed the narratives.  Levitin’s ‘This is Your Brain on Music,‘ answers provocative questions like: What do pet scans and MRI’s reveal about how the brain responds to music? Or why is that in some societies singing is linked to the survival of a culture. Is musical preference shaped in utero or is preference a question of nature or nurture?

What we do know is that music is often linked to powerful moods. Consider the last time a certain melody brought you to tears or spontaneous joy.

Our brain on music reveals some secrets. But there is more.

Eric Jenson, author of ‘Teaching with Poverty in Mind,’ offers brilliant suggestions in his book ‘Music With the Brain in Mind.’ Music enhances instruction and music can calm the brain. Whether it is perceptual motor skills or recall, creating new neuropathways through music so students can focus intently on curriculum with less stress is good pedagogy. As educators, we know that the ‘sit and get’ method does not work for all’”literally leaving many students bored out of their minds.

I agree with Jensen. As a student of music therapy who later became a kindergarten teacher, I used Orff instruments to teach syllabication and choral readings to teach nursery rhymes with Big Books. The results were amazing. Sight word vocabulary increased four fold and the children loved it. We danced and sang stories and traced letters in the air while we sang. We even sang when we lined up or practiced social skills. At the end of the year, parents were delighted to see how well their students read with such vigor. The beauty in reading acquisition through music is that it eliminates so much stress. Pure joy!


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