There is a buzz in the scientific community around the impact music education has on brain development in young people. Recent research suggests that:
“I like to practise the keyboard because I feel like I can achieve so much... Practising is important to me because you learn how to play new things and can even compose. If you give up, then you don’t learn anything, but if you keep practising you can play anything!” Noah Reid, Year 3 student
A unique aspect of the Juilliard-Nord Anglia performing arts collaboration is that every child receives keyboard skills as a part of the curriculum from the age of five. Whilst scientific research lends support to our reasons for focusing on the arts in our schools, it is the real-life impact I would like to share with you here.
Initially, the idea of teaching a class of 24 five-year-old students to play the keyboard gave me sleepless nights. The first lesson was an eye-opener as many children in the class could not move their fingers independently of each other, and attempting to play C,D,E,F and G notes using five fingers was an impossibility! By Christmas, the magic had happened and most of these wonderful young people had achieved this goal. Two years in, I am now utterly convinced of the benefits for a wide-variety of reasons. Development of fine motor skills is an unintended consequence of the programme, and one that has far-reaching implications on other areas of the curriculum. These consequences are already being recognised by other teachers in the school where I teach.
“I love keyboard skills because we get to have challenges like adding trills and turns! Another thing I love is how we have learned to play diminuendos and crescendos. Learning in music is so much fun and it helps me add expression in my piano lessons!” Charlotte Clough, Year 3 student
Fellow teachers have also witnessed the benefits of learning the keyboard. According to one teacher, two boys who had difficulty manipulating small objects eventually made significant progress in their fine motor skills. Through small group work and keyboard skills, the teacher witnessed her students develop better hand control.
"Many of our students started the year having never played a musical instrument and by the end of the year they could begin to read notation and play songs. This is something that children in my class could articulate and mentioned at the end of the year that they were proud of. A great way for children to realise that if they persist and practise they can achieve!” said Mrs. Malone, Head of Year 1 at the school.
“I liked playing the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky because it had lots of contrasting dynamics. It is also very interesting to listen to because it is so lively, and the dissonant accented chords made it dramatic!” Audrey Marwood, Year 3 student
Keyboard skills are fundamental to the Juilliard approach and all music applicants to Juilliard are expected to have a working knowledge, whatever their primary instrument. The keyboard provides a visual aid for pitch and is the perfect medium through which to explore melody, harmony and theoretical concepts in an engaging, creative and explorative way. As the programme embeds, it is becoming evident that there are far more benefits to our young people than we imagined. If neuroscientists are correct, our unique approach to arts education will significantly impact our students’ attainment throughout their schooling, and continue to enhance brain function throughout their lives.