Music and education

N°75, september 2017

Music is an activity that is found in all human civilizations. Studies in cognitive neuroscience are now suggesting that music has a transformational power on the development of the mind, which modifies cognitive, behavioural and social aptitudes throughout the course of human life.

How, in different countries, does learning music contribute to facilitating education, and does it form part of education policies?

Through the studies put forward here by researchers in neuroscience, but also musicologists, ethnologists, educationalists, and students and their parents, this issue first offers to reflect upon the structuring effects of musical practice on the development of the brain. Then, through several case studies, it considers the relations between music and society and the implications for education.

From Denmark to South Africa, from India to Venezuela via Senegal, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, France and Spain, the authors demonstrate the way in which musical practice translates into cognitive, social and identity change for the individuals involved, which has a positive influence on group cohesion.

An issue coordinated by Emmanuel Bigand, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, University of Burgundy, Institut universitaire de France



Dossier Music and education

Coordination Emmanuel Bigand

The transformational power of music: What are the implications for society?
Emmanuel Bigand

Music and brain plasticity 
Laura Ferreri
The human brain has the unique ability to modify its structure and function throughout our life, a phenomenon known as brain plasticity. Music is a rich and complex stimulus able to stimulate the whole brain, thus inducing important neuronal changes. What is the relation between music and brain plasticity? After an introduction on the neuroscientific interest in music and brain plasticity processes, this article aims at presenting the main findings on music-driven neuroplasticity. The effects of musical training and musical expertise on the brain will be first explored. Furthermore, the important consequences that music-related brain stimulation and changes have on the stimulation of other non-musical functions will be considered and discussed from a neurorehabilitation perspective.

Music in infancy
Emotional development, self-regulation and building cooperative social relationships
Laurel J. Trainor​
Music is often viewed as a frill in education that can be dispensed with at little cost to children’s development. In this paper, research is presented indicating that, very early in life, musical interactions can influence children’s social and emotional development, and likely contribute to the development of skills such as self-regulation that affect virtually all aspects of future success.

The cognitive sciences and traditions of oral teaching in Indian classical music  
Shantala Hedge​
Indian classical music (ICM) is one of the oldest musical traditions. It is an oral tradition. Various techniques and methods are unique to this oral method of teaching and the Guru–Shishya (teacher–student) tradition of teaching has been considered crucial since its origins in the Vedic era (c.5000 BC). The Guru plays the key role in passing on not just the technical knowledge of the subject but the true essence of ICM spirituality. Systematic research on ICM and its unique methods of teaching can shed new light on understanding its overall benefits from a psychological and neuroscientific perspective.

Learning pan : Learning to be in Trinidad and Tobago
From a personnal accomplishment to nation-building
Aurélie Helmlinger​
What do we learn when learning pan, Trinidad and Tobago’s national instrument, also called “steelpan” or “steeldrum”? Just like any other musical practice, playing in a steelband requires a variety of competences in which social, musical and various cognitive parameters like emotions, memory and motricity are intimately interlocked. Musical knowledge in the strict sense of the term is what catches the attention when we speak of transmission, but it is only one facet of a much wider range of abilities. A comprehensive overview of the skills learnt in a steel band is proposed here, with a focus on musical, social and political skills.

Music and Senegalese identities 
Moussa Sy​
Senegalese students’ lack of interest in music lessons shows that a change of approach is needed. Music is one of the important bases of traditional society in Senegal and integrates admirably with the various aspects of social life. This article seeks to enhance the value ascribed to traditional music teaching and its methods while encouraging students to be open to music from elsewhere, so that Senegalese music, drawing on new teaching blueprints, will convey the richness of its culture in a modern perspective.

When music sets the tone in a Danish high school
Musical culture, schooling and community in Class D at the Sankt Annæ Gymnasium, Copenhagen (2011–2014)
Henrik Reeh
The Sankt Annæ Gymnasium is renowned for its students’ results and for being home to an intense choral and musicological tradition. This article examines the trajectories of 32 students from the same class, all of whom obtained their baccalaureate in 2014 with a specialization in music and mathematics. A survey documents the role of music in their lives. The respondents describe music as the basis of a high school community. More than a specific form of knowledge, music reinforces intellectual discipline, promotes general culture and offers respite from academic pressure. In order to understand this coexistence between music and education, the relation between “individual” and “community” is examined and the notion of “culture” points to the interface that can describe the pedagogical dynamic in question. 

The “Orchestras at School” scheme and its impact on a local area
The case of the département of Mayenne in France
Denis Waleckx
Many schemes aiming to democratize access to cultural practice and consumption are based on a reinforced partnership between the ministries responsible for education and culture and local authorities. Drawing upon the convincing example of the deployment of the “Orchestras at School” scheme in Mayenne, this article seeks to shed light on the reasons that might explain its favourable welcome in this département, and to report on all the impacts it has entailed, both in terms of the development of solid and varied competences among the students involved and in terms of intergenerational transmission of knowledge and artistic outreach in the area.

Music and social cohesion in a decolonial moment in South Africa
Stephanus Muller​
This article describes the different institutional musical initiatives taken during the wave of protest that gripped South African universities in 2015 and 2016. It considers different types of responses –structural, archival and event-driven– which were advanced at this moment of crisis in South African higher education, and takes the example of Stellenbosch University in Western Cape (South Africa) to illustrate the way in which institutionally innovative approaches to the teaching of music at university could contribute to responding to students’ demands for the decolonial transformation of South African universities.

El Sistema at the crossroads​
Principles and perspectives of a global network​
Maria Majno
Since the creation of El Sistema by J. A. Abreu in Venezuela in 1975, this effort to achieve social inclusion based on collective musical practice has now spread to over 65 countries across five continents. The results at the educational and artistic level are as remarkable as the challenges that have been encountered in adapting to different contexts, while the effects are felt not only in the educational field but also at the level of cognition and socialization. This article reflects upon the international rise of projects inspired by this model, after an updated summary of the principles that inspire it.

The authors

Bibliographic references
Hélène Beaucher