Music is a powerful thing

Sponsored: Michelle James, CEO at SingUp, explores the powerful effect of music on our mood, health and ability to form personal connections

For a long time music has been known to have a phenomenally powerful effect on us. There’s a reason why music plays an integral role in almost every culture, and reams of research show how music benefits us in relation to our mood, health and forming of connections with one another.

Why aren’t we all doing more of it?

Engaging every child in regular, high quality music-making can seem like a tall order when faced with pupils who arrive at school with varied musical backgrounds. However, it’s possible to find starting points that level the playing field and engage the whole group. Singing has been proven to be a particularly good way of doing this and of helping teachers create an inclusive environment. It can form a direct pathway to specific musical learning outcomes and can be used to enhance cross-curricular learning in the classroom.

The quality of the artistic output itself shouldn’t be disregarded. But with children and young people who are going to be varied in their natural ability – due to previous opportunities to do something musical, parental support, cultural references and backgrounds – it can be unhelpful to set firm benchmarks of what level they should be able to achieve in their singing or music-making by a particular age. What is important is the journey. That you begin in one place, able to do certain things and then progress to a point where you can do those things better and learn to tackle new challenges with enjoyment and a sense of achievement, rather than anxiety and pressure.

Now is the time to harness the multitude of benefits of music for all children

We are poised on the brink of a new industrial revolution. In December 2017, McKinsey Global Institute produced a detailed report entitled “Jobs lost, jobs gained: workforce transitions in a time of automation” in which they presented a proposition that by 2030 robots could have replaced 800 million jobs. They look at the impact of this on the labour market – what jobs will be likely to be automated, by AI or robots, and which new types of jobs will be created. In essence, they have analysed which human-driven occupations will thrive and which will disappear. Although no predictions at this stage can be 100% accurate, as educators – and for some of us, as parents too – we want to know how to best prepare our children for these seismic changes.

Interestingly (for those of us concerned with creativity and so-called ‘soft skills’) McKinsey state that workers can best adapt by “spending more time on activities that require social and emotional skills, creativity, high-level cognitive capabilities and other skills relatively hard to automate”.  In other words, we need to improve and cultivate areas that are inherently human.

Image courtesy of Michaela Greene and SingUp

Is music ‘soft’?

I must admit that I take issue with the term ‘soft skills’ as a starting point, and even more so the notion of there being ‘soft subjects’. Knowing about the way in which studying music develops and enhances the brain, I can’t see that there’s anything ‘soft’ or inferior in comparison to a study of Science or Maths. In his book Musicophilia the late neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks describes case studies of patients he worked with and how, with the development of brain imaging, it is possible to see the physical changes that take place in the brain through musical study. Researchers published a paper in 1995 that described how through MRI scans of the brains of musicians, they could see that the corpus callosum (connecting the two hemispheres of the brain) was bigger than in the brains of non-musicians. There was also visibly increased volumes of grey matter in areas of the brain that are responsible for motor, auditory and visuospatial functions. Sacks concludes by saying “anatomists today would be hard put to identify the brain of a visual artist, writer, or mathematician – but they could recognise the brain of a professional musician without hesitation.”

Aside from the development of the neural networks that a study of music promotes, the process of playing music or singing together also develops many of the skills that employers already look for in job candidates and which will become ever more important with the rise of automation and AI. Teamwork, empathy, listening well, understanding values, problem-solving and critical thinking all fall into this category. At Sing Up we have a tonne of evidence and research demonstrating that what teachers leading singing observe happening in their students is a development of these capabilities through the processes of singing together, learning new songs, working to improve their singing, and preparing to give a performance.

The process of playing music or singing together also develops many of the skills that employers already look for in job candidates and which will become ever more important with the rise of automation and AI

Fewer young people than ever are choosing to study music at GCSE, A level and to degree level. It seems to me, that in an age when we need to be preparing our children for a world in which artificial intelligence may replace all but the most human forms of creative thought and problem-solving, we need now to be encouraging and supporting the study of the arts and creative subjects rather than making them subordinate to STEM subjects.

Tweet @michellejjames1 and @SingUpTweets to continue the conversation.

Sing Up

Sing Up offers you a complete singing package through a digital music platform, termly magazine and training so you can place singing at the heart of education.

Sing Up Membership packages are flexible and well-loved by teachers across the world. Joining will enable you to cultivate strong communities and healthy, happy and confident individuals.

Membership includes access to all the repertoire you’ll need, from pop to classical, specially arranged to promote good vocal health in young voices. Sing Up’s teaching resources are designed to help you use singing for cross-curricular learning in the classroom or to act as a complete foundation for musical learning across the school, with early years to age 18 and beyond.

Make a commitment to music for your pupils throughout the school year – click here to find out more.

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