Special Education the Role of Music

There is no doubt that music plays a powerful role in our lives.  It can rev us up to exercise or calm our frazzled nerves after a hectic day at work.  Music even has the power to move us to tears when it stirs an emotional reaction.  How then, does music play a role in special education?

Emotional behavior:

If music has the ability to touch those hidden places we all carry inside, it proves a tremendous tool for the special ed teacher.  Consider the words of Dr. D. A. Hodges, who wrote the Handbook of Music Psychology: “Research in neurological functioning supports the association between music and emotion, both of which are processed in the right hemisphere of the brain.” 

For students with emotional problems, music can help soothe upsets and frustrations.  Consider the child that arrives in class all flustered and agitated.  If music can indeed relax and calm him, he is more likely to focus and participate in class.

Processing information:

Dr. R. Joseph, author of Neuropsychology, Neuropsychiatry, and Behavioral Neurology, writes, “It is well documented that patients with left hemisphere damage, who may be unable to speak or recognize words, can sing a melody.”

For this reason, some special education teachers have found it helpful to set their lessons to music.   When students cannot understand or remember certain things, singing them helps make it easier.  Case in point : Most of us easily learned all 26 letters of the alphabet as very young children.  The reason?  It was accompanied by a catchy tune. 

Organization of thought:

It has been said that music is defined as “organized sounds and silences in a flow of time.” Classical music, due to its orderly composition, helps the brain brings order and organization to the thought process.  Called the “Mozart Effect,” studies show a marked improvement in student scores after their Involvement with music.

Nature magazine, in 1996, reported “Music training helps under-achievers. In Rhode Island, researchers studied eight public school first grade classes. Half of the classes became ‘test-arts’ groups, receiving ongoing music and visual arts training. In kindergarten, this group had lagged behind in scholastic performance.

After seven months, the students were given a standardized test. The ‘test-arts’ group had caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22 percent. In the second year of the project, the arts students widened this margin even further. Students were also evaluated on attitude and behavior. Classroom teachers noted improvement in these areas also.”

It seems music does, indeed, play an important role in education.  For the special education teacher, this is especially encouraging.  If music is as powerful a medium as demonstrated in this article, special education programs should incorporate the “sound of music” into their daily routine.