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The Benefits of Music Education and Its Resources

by Cyndy Rodgers

Music is the universal language. Study any culture from any period of time and you will find people expressing themselves musically. Call it the rhythm of life. Researchers say we actually possess an internal beat. When we tap our fingers we do it at about 600 milliseconds per beat, a little slower than half a second, the same rate that our heart beats. Scientists say this rhythm is key to our existence. We use it not only to make music, but also to coordinate our brains and bodies, keep track of time, and filter the multitude of events that make up daily life.

Living with this internal beat, it is no wonder that music provides so many benefits to the human brain. I’m sure you have heard about the importance of early exposure to music for children in regards to enhanced cognitive development. And you probably have heard that music education raises test scores in math and science in older children. But did you know? Music expands your brain!

According to research by Eckart Altenmüller from the Institute for Music Physiology and Musicians’ Medicine University for Music and Drama, in Hanover, Germany . . . "Music education causes remarkable central nervous adaptations. In short, music-making turns out to be the behavior, which probably most effectively induces short- and long-term brain plasticity." Neural plasticity allows the brain the ability to adapt to environmental factors that cannot be anticipated by genetic programming. Altenmuller says, "It seems plausible that an increase in cortical neuronal connectivity or in gray matter density might improve general cognitive abilities."

Another study out of Germany, from the University of Munster also finds music enlarges the brain. In their 1998 report they found that an area used to analyze sound is 25% larger in musicians.

Okay, you’re sold on the idea music education is good for children, all children. So here is the puzzle: According to a recent Department of Education study, one in five schools in America does not offer music classes. In schools that do offer music education, not everyone participates. In what is called the nation’s report card, The National Assessment of Education Progress found that only one in four eighth graders play an instrument.

Why? School budgets are strapped for cash. This, coupled with increased spending on technology and special education, often puts music education first on the chopping block.

Right about now, many parents would be feeling a little overwhelmed by this dismal scenario. However, the majority of you reading this are homeschoolers. You have taken control of your child’s education. Your question may be, "How do I find the resources to give my child a good music education?"

A good place to start is MENC -- the National Association for Music Education.This non-profit organization has been around since 1907. Today it boasts over 100,000 members in all levels of music education. MENC offers its members access to three on-line journals that offer teaching techniques, updates on timely issues, and the latest trends. Members also have access to networking with experts in the field.

Other resources available through MENC are teacher’s guides and lesson plans. For example, a recent search found a lesson plan using the Ken Burns PBS documentary Jazz. MENC has a comphrensive list of music education topics. For more information go to www.menc.org

A great resource for those of you living in Iowa and its surrounding area, is West Music. Founded in 1945 in Iowa City, today West Music has locations throughout the state. They are one of the largest piano dealers in Iowa. West Music also offers instrument rental and repairs as well as a full line of music education books. West Music also offers an online catalog at www.westmusic.com.

West Music is an advocate for music education. With this in mind, they have programs to make music a part of your life no matter your age. Their Weekend Warrior Program set its sites on adults. Their web site states "Weekend Warriors is about rediscovering the joy of making music by playing in a band. The goal is to have fun - PERIOD!"

Here’s how it works: They connect you with people your own age who have similar tastes in music and who share your busy lifestyle. Then they provide a rehearsal space, all the gear - guitars, amps, microphones, drum sets, keyboards.You practice once a week for four weeks, at a time that works best for your band. West Music provides you with a seasoned pro to "coach" your band to success. And then they book you a gig at a popular hotspot so you can perform for your family and friends. What a great way to rediscover your musical side!

West Music also supports a program for young children. They sponsor the Kindermusik program, a nationally-recognized early education program for children ranging in age from newborns to 7 years old. In a class, educators lead parents and their children through activities using music and movement. The goal is to expose young children to the benefits of early music education.

This program seems like a natural fit among homeschoolers. Just listen to West’s philosophy: "Every parent is the child’s most important teacher. Every child is musical. The home is the most important learning environment. Music nurtures a child’s cognitive, emotional, social, language, and physical development. Every child should experience the joy, fun, and learning which music brings to life."

Kindermusik is available throughout the country. Go to their web site www.kindermusik.com to find a teacher in your area.

For those of you living in the Northwest -- Washington state to be exact -- check out Music Works. Music Works is a non-profit, community music school that believes everyone should be afforded access to all aspects of music education. Their web site states: "At Music Works students from 15 months to adults have the chance to experience the full cycle of music – studying, performing, composing, and recording. Music Works is a comprehensive musical community with resources to help develop the skills and musical potential of each student."

Music Works offers private, semi-private and group lessons. They also support Kindermusik programs, instruction in music technology and audio engineering as well as music therapy services. They even have special classes just for home schooling families. For more information go to www.musicworksnw.org.

If you live in Southern California, then check out Cornerstone Music Conservatory. Located in Santa Monica, this 33-year-old music school creates innovative music programs for children of all ages. Programs include Baby’s First Music Classes, for children ages seven months to 20 months, Music Train, and Music Adventures are for toddlers and pre-schoolers, offering games and music in a fun-filled environment. For Children age 4-and-a-half and up Harmony Road Piano Course, focuses on ear-training, note-reading, piano instruction, singing, ensemble experience, improvisation, and composition. Cornerstone also offers introductory instrumental classes in piano, percussion, and strings. Additionally, they give children the opportunity to be part of a choir. The Westside Children’s Chorus meets one afternoon a week and is open to children ages seven to 15 years. Contact them by phone at 310.586.7403.

Looking for band instruments, then Woodwind and Brass is the place. They offer woodwind, brass, orchestral string and percussion instruments. In addition they have keyboards, amplifiers, software, music, D.J. gear and more; all at reasonable prices. Currently they are offering free shipping. Check them out at www.wwbw.com.

If you want a home-based program to learn piano, then Simply Music may be for you. Described as a "playing-based program" versus a "reading-based program" it boasts that students will have 25 songs they can play at will without mastering note-reading and music theory. They offer programs supported by a Simply Music trained teachers or programs supported by CD’s books and videos. It’s written for novices who desire to play piano but do not have a background in music. For more information go to www.simplymusic.net.

When looking for a music instructor check out schools in your area. Middle and high school music teachers may have time to teach homeschoolers one day a week. Many travel from school to school and still don’t work full time. Look for community support from Art Councils and Recreation and Park Departments. If a group of homeschoolers brings a group to these organizations, they may create a class.

Local colleges can also be a resource. Go to the Music Department and you will find everything from starving students looking for extra cash to community outreach programs. Colleges are also a great place to network with Who’s Who in the music business in your area. Most college Music Departments have a bulletin board where you can post a request for the type of teacher you wish to find.

If you would like your music education program to focus on history rather than playing an instrument, there are numerous resources to study the history of music. Beautiful Feet offers a new guide titled The History of Classical Music Study Guid. See their website at www.bfbooks.com

Another terrific music history program is the Meet the Composers Series available at www.rainbowresources.com It consists of 18 lessons, each with a different composer, his history and a CD that samples his music. More great sources for music education materials can be found at www.resourcefulhomeschooler.com. There, you can find story books like Bravo, Bravo-- a Night at the Opera or Meet the Orchestra as well the celebrated software program Music Ace.

Even though the research on brain development found that the key to receiving the benefits of music education is in learning to play an instrument, music exposure in any form is beneficial. Borrowing a CD from the library, attending free concerts at local schools or parks, and just singing in the car, will enhance your child’s learning and honor their internal beat.