Parents, teachers and primary aged students have had to experience the grating sound of a beginner’s violin or the cold ‘toots’ from a recorder. None of these sounds are conducive to developing a child’s love of music. In this article, Robin Ashfield, director of Percussion Play, discusses how outdoor musical instruments can support social, emotional and educational development of students along with their love of music!
The value of music
Music in early years and primary education is one area of the curriculum where the benefits go far beyond the development of musical skills. Being exposed to music from a young age has been proven to encourage teamwork, self-confidence, empathy, improved communication skills and intellectual curiosity¹. Individuals who have had the opportunity to develop these skills and behaviours in early life often become happier, healthier and higher achieving adults than those who do not.
Research tells us that music increases our ‘feel good’ dopamine levels . Music can also change moods and reduce conflict. The ease of experimenting using the pentatonic scale that always produces a pleasing sound, builds self-esteem and inspires continued engagement which can have a long-lasting impact on their development.
Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation, states that “a music-rich experience” brings “a very serious benefit to children as they progress into more formal learning”. Luehrisen’s observation is supported by numerous studies which have concluded that being exposed to music and playing musical instruments impacts positively on a child’s social, linguistic and behavioural development.
Today, schools strive to implement high curriculum standards to help students excel in SATs tests and gain necessary skills for future job opportunities. However, while this is all important, many creative school programs such as art and music are deemed unnecessary and cut from the curriculum due to budget constraints.
The important and often unrecognised fact is that musical instruments don’t have to produce an awful sound when a child is early on in their development. Regardless of the number of people playing, certain musical instruments, including tubular bells, duo xylophone, babel drums, and even an alto quartet ensemble with colourful congas, can be designed so that the sounds are harmonised. In this way, even the youngest child experiences an incredibly positive outcome from their musical engagement.
Additionally, there are many benefits of musical instruments being outdoors, including stimulation of all of the senses and awakening our connection with nature and with each other. It’s easy to see why so many schools are adding outdoor musical instruments to their playgrounds and outdoor classroom areas.
Not all children are physical; not enjoying climbing frames or running around a playground. They prefer sensory play opportunities or quieter zoned play areas. Empty or underutilised playgrounds can frustrate pupils during their break times. They can lead to boredom and ultimately prevent students from thoroughly unwinding between classes. This frustration and boredom can then be taken back into the classroom and as a result, education can be negatively impacted.
Let’s look at the ways in which music supports the broad development of children in schools.
The first thing to recognise is that music education involves a high level of memorisation. Even at a very basic level, students learn read music by sight, play the proper notes on their instrument or recall lyrics; benefiting their memory. In one study (www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0028393211000613), musicians outperformed non-musicians in auditory, visual, and memory tests. Music is also easily stored in our memory. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? You can use music to help children remember things. Examples include using common tunes to memorize facts, playing meditative music during study time, and using music resources when presenting materials.
Powerful study habits
The benefits of music for language and literacy
Various studies show (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5078758/) that consistent music education improves a child’s vocabulary and enhances their reading comprehension skills. How does it work?
The area of the brain controlling both musical ability and language comprehension may be more related than previously thought. Music education requires students to recognise and repeat pitch, tone or enunciation of words.
Especially in young children, music directly benefits the ability to learn words, speak them correctly, and process the many new sounds they hear from others.
The links between music and language development are well recognised.
Special Educational Needs (SEN)
The benefits are also strong in children with special educational needs (SEN).
In a research paper entitled ‘Music and Dyslexia: A New Musical Training Method to Improve Reading and Related Disorders’² Michel Habib and his team conclude that playing musical instruments can be; “beneficial with
children with dyslexia and can lead to improvement in reading and reading comprehension”.
SEN schools universally teach their pupils to be active learners and to find their own unique way to effectively communicate their needs, wants and opinions. Yet, they find that the classroom isn’t always the best place for learning and that their students may be reluctant to utilise their outdoor spaces due to mobility issues. Pupils who otherwise might struggle with expression come alive when playing outdoor musical instruments.
Additionally, outdoor music instruments allow them to interact with each other in a new way. As they learn to play instruments together they also learn key social and cooperation skills.
Outdoor musical instruments are also a fantastic way of ensuring an outdoor space is accessible. Instruments can be installed to cater for a variety of mobility requirements. They can be spaced out thoughtfully to ensure all students can access them and the instruments themselves can be amended to cater for pupils.
Students who have an appreciation of music score higher on the SAT. One report indicates 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math for students in music appreciation courses.
Outdoor musical instruments introduced at an early age can also better prepare students for their working lives; today more businesses require creative and artistic talent.
Early introduction to harmonised music can help them solve problems by thinking outside the box and realizing that there may be more than one right answer.
We often think of playing a musical instrument as a solitary, individual expression but it also can teach children about collaboration and teamwork. When music from harmonised instruments produces a beautiful sound, it can keep students engaged and provides the ideal first step into musical education, which can lead to a great love of music later in their school lives.
We commonly see children who may struggle to engage with their peers working with others on the musical instruments to produce an incredibly positive auditory results.
Students learn how to work together and build camaraderie.
Finally, in the current climate and with the pandemic’s negative impact on mental health being a serious concern in schools, we should also consider the emotional benefits of music. Music can be relaxing and a way to fight stress. It can help students to work with their peers to become more emotionally developed, with empathy towards each other. Playing freely on our instruments with no teaching required helps to build self-confidence and social development.
Outdoor musical instruments can help schools and students in a variety of ways. They can help to foster a positive school culture, support the educational focus of students after their break times, they can facilitate communication skills and encourage positive interaction between pupils. Life size outdoor musical instrument provide children with a non-threatening introduction to the incredible world of music.
¹ Salimpoor, Benovy et al ‘Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music’ (2011) Nature Neuroscience Volume 14 (2011)