Music Education Beyond the Mozart Effect
by Daisy T. Lu, Ph.D.
Music Specialist, Cascade View Elementary School, Tukwila School District, WA
Adjunct Faculty Member, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA

Since the late 1970s, education has witnessed two challenging trends: "Back to the Basics" and "Integration of the Arts." As we enter the millennium two decades later, little has changed in schools. This status quo is perhaps caused by ignorance and the resulting unwillingness to change even when the scientific evidence is obvious. We have seen the dangers of overly specialized education - education that dispenses information but does not foster understanding. The results of this provincialism can be seen in graduates who are skilled but lacking in education, prepared for life's labor but not the fruits of labor. Music is one such "fruit of labor." It is the language of emotions. Not raw emotions but emotions corralled by intellect, emotions rendered articulate. Music is a valuable key that opens the gate to world history. It offers access to the souls of civilizations past and civilizations still in the making - a ceaseless quest to wrench order from chaos.

"Back to the Basics" and "Integration of the Arts" may initially appear to be contradictory. But in essence, they are complementary. Basic skills are generally regarded as reading and writing for the communication of thoughts and experiences. Music learned and appreciated deeply enhances the basic skills of thought processes inherent in critical reading and writing.

Symbolic codification, such as notation in music, of thoughts and experiences is a prerequisite to communication. This symbolism can be expressed in word or art form. In Piaget's term, musical activities are symbolic plays predominant in the pre-operational stage of child development. Word and art represent thought processes inherent in learning. Although our schools emphasize word symbols, we must now place equal, if not more, emphasis on the use and interpretation of artistic communication, allowing for the enhancement of creative and innovative thinking, discovery of new ways to problem-solve, and broadening of knowledge and skills in all areas of human behavior. What makes the arts indispensable in both concrete and abstract learning is that it embodies and unites cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic experiences as well as their responses.

If education aims to integrate thought, then feeling and action should be fundamental. The multiple areas of the brain must be engaged for learning to take long-term effect. Eurhythmics is one concept which begins with education in rhythm, the life force in nature, the inner pulse of humankind. Music education should be primarily concerned with stimulating, cultivating and preserving this heightened sense of rhythm. Any complication in meter must be heard and felt. It isn't mathematics that solves the problem, but the aural image plus its physical interpretation - a progression toward a goal that establishes a musical resolution. Founded by Swiss musician-educator, Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, Eurhythmics integrates rhythmic movement, ear training and improvisation. Rhythmic movement in response to intelligent and sensitive listening develops both tonal and rhythmic concepts, and thereby enhances deep understanding, enjoyment, and performance of music.

All music has rhythm. It is movement heard, felt, and seen. Listening to Mozart's music and focusing on rhythm alone involves attention to complex elements that provide temporal cohesion in music and organizes and structures sounds in time. Rhythm embodies beat, pulse, accent, meter, duration, tempo, density, texture, form, and rhythmic patterns. If one were to listen to music with all these in mind, certainly the brain will be well stimulated. Yet musical elements go beyond rhythm to include melody, harmony, timbre, style, dynamics, meaning and emotion. Eurhythmics activates a feeling for music which, in Greek terms, includes dance and drama. A sense of order and balance is created internally, and imagination develops simultaneously. Such an approach to music education encompasses cognitive, affective, and psychomotor behaviors.

As an aural art, music stresses listening skills. Listening is essential to cognitive development. Here, one may reflect on the "Mozart Effect" - a temporary increase in spatial reasoning skills after listening to the music of Amadeus Mozart. It is more likely that long-term effects on intelligence require that one must listen to music actively and attentively. One must perceive and respond to this expressiveness of music as it moves out of the realm of affect to the realm of cognition. Psychomotor skills as a natural response to music constitute rhythmic, melodic and harmonic movement as well as form and dynamics in music. Getting "into the music" as an active audience will involve anticipation in phrasing along with all the elements of music previously discussed.

Child psychologists emphasize the value of movement experience for enhancing intellectual development:

"A pre-requisite of the ability to think is the construction of internal representations of external events. The processes involved in organizing and structuring perceptual information into sensori-motor schemata are invaluable aids to higher mental processes." - Lindsay and Norman, 1972 -

Classical compositions demonstrate how these concepts can be integrated in the music lesson. Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" is perfect music for exploring story line and dynamic changes. Finding a physical movement that mimics the rhythmic idea is a creative challenge. Mozart's Andante from Concerto in C Major may have its full meaning felt more deeply with these added words. "Reach....., and higher, and higher..... then I'm floating down." Beethoven's Scherzo from Symphony Number 1: "I want to go; I don't want to go" can go with pantomime, hands on hips, and the changing of directions and focus at certain musical phrasing. Haydn's Third Movement in Symphony Number 94 (Surprise Symphony) may have these words added for more intense participation, "Touch, touch, touch, touch, touch, touch; reach ....." while patting different parts of the body with the hands in quick succession, and then reaching skyward on the word, "Reach." Repeat the motive until the "surprise" when the students instantly make a big jump and freeze. Examples of active listening and involvement in musical activities demonstrate how the different parts of the brain can be stimulated to bring about true understanding in meaningful and interesting ways.

Listening to music passively does not leave "imprints" on the brain. Active listening with bodily responses and the use of creative language, while involved in the various elements of music, constitute a rich environment where authentic long-term learning takes place. Jane Healy, author of Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think and What We Can Do About It, contends that many of our children's minds are endangered because they are living in a "neurally passive" environment. This deprives the brain from the stimulus needed to build neuronal connections (Touchstone, 1990). Listening to Mozart's music while being guided to involve the different faculties of the mind as they synchronize with the body may be a legitimate way to look at the positive results of such an activity.

To sum up, the making of Eurhythmics, the basis of music education that involves multiple areas of the brain in challenging and creative ways, rests on three major factors:

  • First, we must create in young students a true feeling for rhythm by means of bodily experience because the neuromuscular system is the seat of all rhythmic movement.

  • Second, because bodily rhythm is by its very nature musical, the goal of Eurhythmics is to teach students how to listen to music. Therefore, music education must emphasize in-depth ear-training in the form of musical dictation and sight-reading.

  • Third, as Eurhythmics brings into play, simultaneously, such diverse behaviors as attention, analysis, spontaneity, sensitivity, and physical expression through movement, it can lead to a harmonious synthesis of children's abilities in a higher form and, in turn, create a feeling of fulfillment and abundance.

The real challenge to be met are methods that permit the achievement of lifelong growth and benefit, not just short-term or temporary benefits as reflected in the Mozart Effect research. We must help children attain essential concepts as they utilize the strategies for learning that will extend active and functional use in later years. We must engage our students by invigorating the process of learning through the fine arts, an education focused on setting "hooks" to capture attention and appeal to many levels of experience at the same time. We must empower our students by engaging the brain to its fullest capacity at all times. Listening to Mozart, or Beethoven, or any of the great masters will certainly assure the sharpening of thinking if we keep students actively challenged in meaningful musical activities.


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