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.
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.