If music be the food of thought - take care;Letter

16th January 1998 at 00:00
I refer to the report (TESS, December 26) "Sounds like a winner for maths". While there may be evidence to suggest that listening to background music can improve performance - as in Higher maths results, for example - I am slightly concerned that too much emphasis may be placed on this particular use of music. The fact that it received front page prominence only serves to heighten my concern.

It would be interesting to know if John MacBeath's research differentiates clearly between the concepts of listening and hearing; music is increasingly assuming a background responsibility and overuse of this will, I believe, lessen a person's capacity to listen purposefully to and appreciate the music for its own sake.

It is unlikely that a pupil will perform a Bach prelude and fugue better when simultaneously attending to a mathematical equation. Should we then assume that if a pupil in the act of swotting maths enhances their performance when listening to classical music, the actual content of the mathematical material (and the pupil's motivation towards it) is not as meaningful as it might be?

While I am not against such research taking place, I am anxious only that a balance is maintained. Music teachers must still fight their corner to have their subject academically recognised. The communicative potential of music (not least for those who have special needs), the opportunities it provides for progressive, creative and expressive activities, its power to develop social and interactive skills as well as to further aesthetic and artistic understanding must always take priority.

I am inclined to think that J S Bach would not disagree.


Lecturer in music Northern College Hilton Place, Aberdeen

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