At the time of writing this post, I'm studying for an exam as part of a portfolio requirement to get my Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. I have a study guide book, covering everything that's going to be on the test, such as child development theories, math, science, reading and so on. One of the study tips the book offers is to put on background music that contains no lyrics and that music specifically is the great works of Mozart or any type of classical music. This is really great advice, especially for anyone who is preparing for a major test and it works quite well for me. Of course, it's not only Classical music that can be helpful for study time, but anything that is pleasant and without lyrics. (I also listen to modern Jazz as I study). However, I can't actually say that listening to Classical music has made me any smarter. Rather, it makes me a little more relaxed and focused before and as I study. In fact, there have been studies that disprove the 'Mozart effect', demonstrating that it doesn't actually make students smarter. Although there is some truth to the 'Mozart effect' being effective as a bit of a brain booster (as long as you're not just passively listening to a piece by Mozart and instead actually practicing it), the widely popular assumption that it will make you smarter is over simplified.
First, let's start with where the concept originated from. In 1993, a study by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky was conducted on 36 college students and published in the Nature journal. According to Kimberly Sena Moore in her 2010 Psychology Today article, The Mozart Effect Doesn't Work...but here are some things that do, the students were tasked to "take one of three tests of spatial-temporal reasoning". This involved the following:
"These tests, subsets of the standard Stanford-Binet IQ test, asked the students to visualize spatial patterns and, over time, to manipulate them.
Additionally, there were three pre-test listening conditions: a Mozart piano sonata, repetitive relaxation music, and silence. When the students listened to the Mozart, they performed better on the spatial reasoning test. But it was a temporary improvement--the effect wore off after 15 minutes".
Aside from the effects wearing off after 15 minutes, the researchers themselves never insinuated that listening to Mozart automatically makes students smarter. All that the study demonstrated was that listening to Mozart can easily calm the mind as one prepares to take a test. Even so, studies conducted in the years afterwards made no solid conclusions that it's a 100% given that listening to Mozart intensifies cognition.
So, if the 'Mozart Effect' is not effective as popularly assumed, then what is beneficial? Just because there is no easy answer to boosting intellect via the 'Mozart Effect' doesn't mean students can't benefit from learning classical music or any type of music for that matter. There has been evidence that students develop their math and reading skills as well as their abilities for self-expression through music that simple words alone could not express. Among the recommendations Moore recommends instead of relying on the 'Mozart Effect' are "[p]urchas[ing] child friendly musical instruments", "[e]nrolling in an early childhood music class" and "[e]ncourag[ing] participation in band, orchestra, or choir". Children learn about themselves and the world around them through play. By picking up a tangible object, they let unleash their imaginations and desire for exploration as they play with toys, in this case, instruments. Early childhood music classes are also a great way for young children to learn about music as well as taking on the opportunity to learn how to play an instrument. Through social interaction with others in the classroom and collaboration, children will be more engaged with the art form. As a result, they are actively learning the basic craft of music, which requires a deliberate practice.
What might not be a wise idea to encourage students to get involved in music is to solely focus on Classical music and using the 'force-feed' approach. Often when teachers choose to focus solely on classical music, it's usually out of bias for the genre and thus, children are more likely to have a hard time garnering an appreciation for it. Therefore, it does a major disservice to both the student's musical and cognitive development as pin pointed by Rachael Dwyer in her article, Force-feeding kids classical music isn't the answer. "Forcing classical music, indeed forcing any music on unwilling students", Dwyer writes, "is unlikely to achieve the sorts of positive benefits - musical or cognitive - that an engaging and varied curriculum will". The less music teachers encourage variety in music exploration in the classroom, the less likely their students are going to make a sincere effort to be adventurous in learning about music, the craftsmanship behind it or practice it themselves.
Another thing to bear in mind is that because music is an expressive art form, it takes genuine passion and love for the art form to practice the craft and hone the skills. This occurs when students go beyond passive listening and garner a natural desire for wanting to learn how to play an instrument. By doing so, students have not only gained an appreciation for music, but are boosting their brain function and cognition. In her article, 4 Interesting Myths and Facts about the Mozart Effect, Sheena White lists a few example of how music enhances the brain, including '[i]mproving memory', 'superior multi sensory processing skills', '[o]rchestrates neuroplasticity in the brain', etc. In addition to the listed benefits, "it can help kids learn emotional control". When children actively commit to learning an instrument, not only are they honing reading and writing skills, but they learn to take control over their anxieties and cope with stress. Even so, because music is art and art is self-expression, students can express their ideas and feelings through music more powerfully than what simple words can express.
All and all, the 'Mozart Effect' can easily be debunked as it does not necessarily make students smarter. However, exposing students to Classical music and other types of music through enjoyable and engaging means and activities will inspire them to improve their musical and cognitive abilities, leading to more effective results. Without the 'like it or not' approach and instead, exposing children at an early age to music through toy instruments, then building up to an enrollment in music classes and meeting other students as they get older, children will more likely find music pleasing. Their desire to practice more increases and thus, they start to develop their musical skills, cognitive abilities and self-expression. All the while, it's very true that listening to Mozart or any type of classical music of the Old Masters is a great way to relax the mind before studying for or taking a major test, but it's important to put into context how these effects actually work. After all, as an innovator of his time, Mozart was a master at his craft through deliberate practice and therefore, innovative musicians of tomorrow will truly be following in his footsteps by genuine desire and putting in the work.
We often underestimate how therapeutic art really is. Whenever some of the most awful things happen, that words alone aren't enough to ease the pain and trauma one is feeling, the ability to create and express such emotions is always there for us to retreat to. When creating a piece in response to tragic experiences and how they change the person's life, it's a reflection of the hardship that was endured and how one copes, leading to recovery and a stronger appreciation of life. Art inspires us to never take things for granted and show us that despite dark times, there is a light that always helps us carry on and makes us stronger than we were before. An example of such a creative piece that was born from the ashes of a tragedy and is a true inspiration is the independently released album, Inner Landscape, by pianist Antimo Magnotta.
Antimo Magnotta was a resident pianist on board the ill-fated Costa Concordia. After a long-time personal struggle, he composed an album reflecting on his experiences from the night of the sinking and dedicated it to the memory of the 32 passengers who were killed. Through the album, Magnotta retells his perspective of that night through by letting his music narrate. The title, Inner Landscapes, as stated by the musician himself, "is a music cycle inspired by my thoughts after the accident. It refers to this brand new landscape I was experiencing ̶ like a window in reverse. It is part of a slow and ongoing healing process". In an article by Lizzie Davis on Classic FM, Magnotta describes what happened the instant the Concordia hit the rock:
"People started asking 'what's going on?'. I tried to keep the passengers calm and said 'we will be getting some instructions from the bridge'. But the loud speakers were just delivering a ghostly silence...People were holding broken teeth in their hands, it looked like a horror movie, a nightmare. This big floating entertaining funfair turned into a death trap."
It started as any regular night, where Magnotta would perform at the café, when at about 9:45 PM, the impact shook the entire room, sending people off balance. Magnotta felt the bolts on his piano come lose, that the piano rolled out of its place. In the midst of the chaos, no one from the bridge communicated with the passengers and crew members about what was really happening or how much danger they were actually in. After helping some of the passengers and fellow crew members the best he could, Magnotta made his escape through a shattered window and caught the attention of a nearby lifeboat. He made it safely to land roughly by 3:00 AM.
The track listing sequence narrates Magnotta's experiences from that night, starting with a piece, dedicated to his daughter Sofia. The track Sofia reflects that he had last seen her 10 days before he left on board the Concordia and that she was on his mind when the incident was taking place. The next track, Where is Everybody recalls the sense of chaos and disorder that filled the room as a result of the long stress-inducing wait for rescue. Open Waters, Seven Short Blasts and One Long One and Abandon Ship depict what was taking place inside and the feeling of escaping the doomed vessel. The Crossing, I'm Alive and The Island paint a bittersweet image of survival. The piece, Thirty-two is composed of 32 notes, each note dedicated to each of the victims who lost their lives. In the final track, Losing Myself, Magnotta illustrates the effects the disaster had on his life and state of mind one year later upon his arrival to London. When delving into his situation as a result of the aftermath, Magnotta states:
"I lost my sleep, I lost my peace of mind and I lost my little savings. I was on the edge of poverty...I was suffering with post-traumatic stress and didn't want to play the piano...All I wanted to do was become anonymous and forget about my past...I had to learn how to play the piano again."
Picking up the shattered pieces in his life and relearning to play the piano again, Inner Landscapes served as therapy and rejuvenation for mind and soul for Magnotta. It was through this album project he could express the fears, hopes and tension he felt when the accident occurred. On his Bandcamp page, in the description for Inner Landscape, Magnotta highlights what he hopes listeners will be reminded of when they hear his music. "I found solace in my music and I hope it will serve as a reminder of the restorative power of art and the resilience of the human spirit". At a time when all seems lost in darkness, Magnotta reminds listeners of what comes after. When hardship and tragedy happen, it can be easy to ruminate in it to the point there appears to be no end in sight. In the end, because of that 'resilience of the human spirit', we as human beings are capable to grow stronger from even the most tragic events. We are not given a spirit of fear, but are blessed with a spirit of hope. The 'restorative power of art' is the reason why we create. Without our abilities to express ourselves through our God-given talents and creativity, ̶ just imagine for a moment how much sadder the world would be without art ̶ when tragedies strike, how would we inspire others during hard times? We try to find the right words to say when horrible things happen, but art can illustrate empowering sentiments that words alone can't do effectively. It is through works like Inner Landscapes that we are reminded that in the wake of tragedy, there is healing even in the most horrendous moments.
We all know art is restorative, but we sometimes underestimate its power and necessity. With Antimo Magnotta's story being told in the form of music, listeners can learn from his experiences that when a devastating event changes one's life, there is hope and alleviation. By using our artistic gifts as a means of therapy and self-reflection, we are reminded that after even in our darkest hours, we are capable of bring light into the world.
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.