Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Benefits of Music - Christopher Sparkhall, Director of Music

There are frequent articles in the press talking about the beneficial effects of learning a musical instrument. In recent times, music has variously been credited with developing better synaptic pathways, helping fend off dementia in later life, improving cognitive function; aiding the process of speech and language learning and more besides.

Canford is currently involved in a long-term study with the Psychology department at Goldsmiths, University of London, which is investigating whether learning a musical instrument has an effect on attitudes to academic work in teenagers and, related to that, whether it can then show an improvement in academic outcomes. Last summer, almost all of our Shell pupils sat some standardised and specially designed tests which measured aspects of their musical and academic abilities and their attitudes to work. Although the most interesting and useful conclusions will only come in several years’ time, the information from last summer’s testing provided both some helpful confirmation of things we thought were the case, as well as some useful observations which will inform some lively discussions at Canford.

There was some initial evidence for a positive impact from musical learning on academic attitudes too. As the study develops and the evidence base builds, we will continue our involvement with the project. Looking beyond the study, analysis of our own A Level and GCSE results from last summer showed that those pupils involved in learning a musical instrument and musical ensembles gained significantly better academic GCSE and A Level grades than those who were not.

As Dr Wilkinson, our Director of Studies rightly observes, “Correlation is not causation: there will be many factors behind why an individual pupil achieves the grades they do. However we can be reasonably certain that involvement in musical activity does not distract from academic work and that there may well be some substantial benefits to it beyond the purely musical.”

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