Of course, in the past, there was no need for studies like this because musical performance was a more regular part of people's lives. Notice I said musical performance because so much of music today is passive - listening, observing - but not doing the things that can truly help us become more ... human. Church choirs, community bands, even the singing of the National Anthem have all dwindled.
The other sad thing is that no matter how many studies come out that suggest the link between music and thinking, we seem to be preaching to the choir (pun intended). Who is reading the plethora of studies and saying "YES! Let's add more music to our curriculum!" I am guessing very few. Project-based learning - yes! Flipped Classroom - yes! More collaboration and creativity - yes! Guess what? Music has been doing all of that for centuries.
Lest this blog post sink further into despair, here are the truly uplifting stories that have crossed my radar in the last few weeks.
Article #1 came from the Pacific Standard. The academic achievement of 180 students in an IB program in Quebec was studied. It revealed that the students who choose to continue music study after it became optional in school scored higher than their non-music counterparts in 23 out of 25 classes. And in the other two classes, the non-music students rated only marginally better. But the end of the article was the best: "It's conceivable that kids who feel socially connected (say, as members of a school band) develop the confidence and self-esteem that can lead to intellectual curiosity, and better grades." If this is true, then I would like to see studies that say the same of other non-music socially connected groups.
Article #2 came from artsjournal.com. One of this year's Nobel prize winners, Dr. Thomas Sudhof, a Stanford University neuroscientist, said his most influential teacher was his bassoon teacher. His quote: "My bassoon teacher, Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours." He also says he would like to have dinner with Mozart to find out if his creativity was "conscious or inherent".
Article #3 came from the New York Times editorial page on October 12, 2013, and is entitled "Is Music the Key to Success?" One of the best quotes is from Microsoft's Paul Allen, who says music "reinforces your confidence in the ability to create". Another is by advertising exec Steve Hayden, who says, "Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others." But the real gem of this article is the fact that the famous people mentioned - Chuck Todd, Alan Greenspan, Paula Zahn, Paul Allen, Woody Allen, and others - were all strong musicians who learned communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration (the 21st century skills) from the study of music. No, kids, you don't have to become a professional musician. But the study of music will help you become a success at whatever you choose to do.
Lastly, I've been holding onto this tweet for awhile. Good old Albert Einstein, himself a talented violinist, said the following:
Perhaps someday there will be a direct, uncontested link between music, test scores, and intelligence that people will believe. But then I would worry that the establishment would insist that music programs only be delivered in the way that created the conditions in the original research project. That would be anything but creative, and therefore, not music.