May 11, 2023; Unhurry Expert Research Team
In This Article
A study demonstrates the benefits of music education to adolescent health and wellbeing. The impact of music education among adolescents extends beyond a surge in neural connections in their brains. It boosts their well-being says research by University of Southern California (USC).
The study was published by the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
Music activity to help strengthen connections to school and community
Given the context of pandemic, the study results are significant amid nationwide mental health crises, A USC Thornton School of Music researcher said.
“We know that the pandemic has taken a toll on student mental health. The many narratives of learning loss that have emerged since the start of the pandemic paint a grim picture of what some call a ‘lost generation’,” said Beatriz Ilari, an associate professor of music education at the USC Thornton School of Music and corresponding author of the study.
“Music might be an activity to help students develop skills and competencies, work out their emotions, engage in identity work and strengthen connections to the school and community,” she said.
Powerful benefits of music education
The research work was supported by grants including one from the Fender Play Foundation, a non-profit organization that places instruments in the hands of youth who aspire to play and reap the powerful benefits of music education.
Evidence of those benefits continues to mount, although many states and school districts have reduced the amount of class time, faculty and curriculum dedicated to the arts amid budget crunches and changes in curriculum standards.
Beatriz Ilari also contributed to prior studies, including a longitudinal one by the USC Brain and Creativity Institute, that demonstrated children who learn a musical instrument have enhanced cognitive function.
Music education contributes to improved creativity and confidence
Other research also has shown music education contributes to improved creativity and confidence, better mental health and emotional stability, and student performance, according to a paper published last year by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Impact of music on positive youth development
For the study, the scholars of Tufts University examined the impact of music on “positive youth development,” a measure of the strengths of adolescents and their potential to contribute to society.
Researchers also included measures for school connectedness and hopeful future expectations.
The researchers administered anonymous, online surveys to 120 students from 52 Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools.
The survey questions covered the key domains of positive youth development including competence and confidence.
Past research shows that adolescents who manifest these attributes are more likely to make positive contributions to society and less likely to engage in risky behaviors later in life.
Music training in early years lead to overall positive outlook
Beatriz Ilari and her fellow researchers, including USC Thornton alumna Eun Cho, found many positive effects.
They found that students who started music education before age 8 were more hopeful about the future, and younger students receiving musical training scored higher in key measures of positive youth development.
The research team also found that younger students scored higher in key development measures than their older peers.
Sixth-grade students, for example, scored higher for overall positive youth development than — eighth-graders, and scored higher in the confidence domain than both seventh and eighth-graders.
Seventh-grade students also scored higher in overall positive youth development than eighth-graders.
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Non-binary students scored lower in overall positive youth development
In completing the study’s survey questions, students were invited to choose from multiple gender categories beyond the usual binary gender options, including “non-binary” and “prefer not to answer,” to identify themselves.
Non-binary students scored lower in overall positive youth development and connection than girls.
They also scored lower in confidence and connection than boys.
“Given the high levels of depression and suicide ideation among LGBTQ+ and non-gender conforming students, it is crucial that research examining adolescent well-being move beyond the gender binary,” Ilari said.
“In addition to filling critical gaps in the existing literature, results from our study can be used to inform the development of programs and policy for all young people,” she further added.
The study included students of diverse backgrounds.
However, students participating in a virtual music education program primarily came from poor neighbourhoods, indicating disparities in access to formal music education.
Participation in multiple music education programs lead to higher level of confidence
In addition, the study explored students’ engagement in different music programs, including the Virtual Middle School Music Enrichment (VMSME), a tuition-free, extracurricular program that focuses on popular music education and virtual learning.
The program is available through a school district partnership with the Fender Play Foundation.
Researchers found that students participating in multiple forms of music education and for longer periods of time scored higher in measures for competence and hopeful future expectations.
Some participants in these groups were also enrolled in private lessons and/or playing in small ensembles that offer more individual attention than large group classes.
In contrast, students in the extracurricular VMSME program came from low-income neighbourhoods and participated in fewer extracurricular activities.
Disparities in access of formal music education
“By expanding access to instruments and music classes for students from low socioeconomic areas — a population that is often left out of school music programs — VMSME contributed to the democratization of music education,” Ilari said.
“Throughout the pandemic, students in public schools, especially in urban areas, were disproportionately impacted by the lockdowns that deprived them of physical and social contact with peers.
VMSME brought together students from different neighborhoods and at a time when forming peer groups is essential to social identity development.”
More research is needed to better understand disparities in access to formal music education, Ilari said, but she said programs that give student agency in their learning and allow them to engage with peers from other schools, like VMSME, have the potential to promote learning and wellbeing.
Materials provided by University of Southern California. Original written by Nina Raffio. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Beatriz Ilari, Eun Cho. Musical participation and positive youth development in middle school. Frontiers in Psychology, 2023; 13 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1056542
University of Southern California. “Music education benefits youth wellbeing.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 January 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/01/230118195730.htm>.
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