Music rings mental bells

4th September 1998 at 01:00
Researchers claim that a little Schubert in the cowsheds increases milk yields. But opinion has always been divided on the effect that music has on children's schoolwork.

Parents generally believe that it isn't sensible to listen to music and study at the same time; teenagers insist it makes no difference.

That debate will never end, but there is a growing body of evidence that some music can help children's academic performance and behaviour in school.

The latest study to examine the effect of music in the classroom - a small-scale project involving 30 primary pupils aged 10 and 11 - suggests that calming music can improve children's scores in memory tests and may even make them nicer people.

Two researchers at the Institute of Education in London, Dr Sue Hallam and her colleague Georgia Katsarou, divided the children into three groups and carried out two tests.

The first required the children to supply the missing word in 10 sentences they had read earlier. In the second exercise pupils read two short passages about children who were presented with a moral dilemma and were asked to predict whether they would act selfishly or not.

The first test showed that the 10 children who listened to a restful piece of music (Albinoni's Adagio in G minor) while memorising the sentences remembered more than twice as many words (6.9) as the pupils who had been exposed to a more aggressive work (John Coltrane's The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost). They recalled 3.3 words on average while the third group which had worked in silence remembered 4.9 words.

A similar pattern emerged from the second test. The children who listened to the Albinoni were most likely to predict that the story characters would be kind to one another while those who had heard the Coltrane piece were the least optimistic.

Hallam and Katsarou admit, however, that their study provides only a small contribution to our understanding. Much more research is needed, they say.

"The effects of listening to background music on children's altruistic behaviour and success in memorising text", by Dr Susan Hallam and Georgia Katsarou, London Institute of Education. Tel: 0171-612-6279

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