Music improves young minds

Music improves young minds

WHEN a pregnant Anita Collins worked through her 80,000-word thesis she often told people she was having two babies, one with her mind and another with her body.

As she corrected the punctuation on her completed PhD document the researcher and clarinettist held in her hands a finding which was helpful to all mothers.

Dr. Anita Collins, Assistant Professor of Music and Arts Education, at the University of Canberra.

Dr. Anita Collins, Assistant Professor of Music and Arts Education, at the University of Canberra.Credit:Graham Tidy

She had concluded children who learn a musical instrument in a disciplined way grow a bigger, better brain.

''I was trying to find a PhD topic that was as exciting to me at the start as it was at the end,'' said Dr Collins, who at one point considered a career playing music.


''After my music degree I wanted to explore other avenues than being a rank and file member of a professional orchestra.''

She hopes her research will in some way help change the way music is viewed in Australian schools.

Teaching music because of its neurological importance rather than its beauty alone was a lesson she hoped to impart to people writing school curriculums.

It could help students learn across a range of other subjects. However, her research shows that music education needs to be disciplined for at least two to four years before it can ''sculpt the brain''.

For parents wanting a definition of what disciplined musical training involved, Dr Collins suggested one group session, followed by an individual lesson with a teacher, plus three practice sessions each week.

''It's also the social part of making music that is beneficial,'' she said.

There are challenges, however, to growing the gravitas of music education.

''Music education is an expensive venture and much of it is seen as being extra to the curriculum,'' she said.

Her research brought together studies by dozens neuroscientists across the world, many of whom had analysed the affect of music on the brain but were not relating their findings to how music was, or should be, taught.

''Why didn't they [the neuroscientists and music educators] talk to each other? The language is totally different.''

Part of Dr Collins' PhD involved exposing teachers in training to the research of neuroscientists and tracking how their opinion changed from music being valued only for its expressive qualities to being considered highly important for a student's overall development. The scientific community's perspective on brain plasticity has changed radically from a time when the brain was thought to be static but recent findings have found the brain is always changing and growing.

As Dr Collins writes in her thesis, the greater the plasticity, the healthier it will be in old age.

Phillip Thomson is a Public Service Reporter at The Canberra Times.

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