Music has considerable significance throughout our lives, whether we enjoy the excitement of performing, the creativity of composing or simply the pleasure of listening. Through music, learners shape their personal, social and cultural identities.
Recent research by Professor Susan Hallam of the UCL Institute of Education strongly suggests that music can also contribute significantly to aspects of literacy development such as memory, reading skills, listening skills and fine motor coordination. For the greatest impact, she recommends active involvement in creating music from an early age. Children should experience regular opportunities to express themselves in innovative and motivating ways, and should have access to active learning both in and out of school.
Education Scotland, in collaboration with the Artist Development Academy, has launched Dare to Dream, a unique music competition (bit.ly/DareToDream16). Primary and secondary pupils have the chance to record and release a charity single for Children in Need 2016. This is part of our continuing drive to develop music education and provide an incentive for children and young people to create music – after all, the expressive arts play an essential role in the Scottish curriculum.
Hallam’s research into the effect of music training on memory highlights the links between musical ability, language production and auditory discrimination skills. “There is considerable and compelling evidence that musical training sharpens the brain’s early encoding of sound leading to enhanced performance on a range of listening and aural processing skills,” she writes.
Research has also found that musical activities focusing on rhythmic skills boost reading, particularly for children requiring support. A literature survey by Dr Rachel Drury from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland finds a strong link between knowledge of musical nursery rhymes at age 3 and success in reading and spelling over the next three years.
It is worth considering the extent to which music, and composition in particular, can provide a unique insight into a learner’s emotional wellbeing. Children may often reveal their feelings through creating and performing music, opening a door to pastoral support.
With a renewed focus on raising attainment and eradicating inequity across Scotland, there has never been a better time to reinforce positive perceptions about the impact of music and expressive arts generally. The findings of Professor Hallam and Dr Drury present a powerful case that effective music education leads to better outcomes for children in literacy and other key areas.
The quality of teaching needs to be high for the power of music to be realised within education and, crucially, children need the chance to perform and create music in an encouraging and supportive environment. Dare to Dream will provide a unique opportunity to do so for a national audience.
Alan Armstrong is Education Scotland’s strategic director for school years