Does music create intelligent kids?

Babies can apparently appreciate music before they are even born and we all have strong opinions about the type of music we enjoy, whether it’s Classical or Heavy Rock. But should music just be a hobby for children or is it a powerful form of training to improve young people’s abilities across the board?

It is only quite recently that some real research on the subject has taken place, with some interesting outcomes. You can read more on where Prof. Raymond MacDonald asks:

Is music the key to academic gains?

Even if it doesn’t actually make you more intelligent, it seems music helps to focus the mind. Prof. MacDonald tells us that music stimulates different parts of the brain and even learning lyrics can contribute to learning to read and memory skills.

However, is there any real proof that music is the relevant factor to intelligence in participating children? Is it possible that music, often seen as the most elitist of the Arts, simply attracts more affluent parents whose offspring are more likely to have had a ‘better start in life’ and so achieve more easily? .

Perhaps most importantly, just like being on the school football team, an interest in music can definitely help with forming social connections and working within a group. Maybe this is the core of the subject which should never be underestimated as a development tool – that feeling of pulling together to make a piece of music work or of having something to strive towards as a personal goal and finally achieving something which sounds good.

So, just like ‘brain training’, music is here to stay and it can play a big part in the ability of children to learn and retain information, to concentrate and to become more well-rounded in their approach to study and to life. However, in using music as an educational device, we must be careful not to make it mundane and so reduce the enjoyment of this most wonderful of art forms.

How to survive music theory

And what’s the point of it anyway?

So, you got your Grade 5 on your chosen instrument – well done! And what reward do you get? Yep, you get to take your Grade 5 theory exam. The thing is, even if it’s the first time you have done a music theory exam, you already know a lot of the required information or you wouldn’t have achieved everything you’ve done so far. It’s just that getting it all down on paper can be a little confusing, especially as some of the words will be new to you.

How do you give yourself the best chance of passing? Mainly by being positive and open-minded. Theory is nowhere near as complicated as it first seems as long as you try to relate it to actually playing music. There are lots of past papers available from any good music shop to give you an idea of what it will be like and recently, model answers have become available too so you can test yourself.

Don’t let yourself be easily put off. Understanding all this stuff now is what will make you a stronger musician in the future. You won’t always have a teacher and knowing about the different periods of music, styles of composition and the descriptive words that tell you how to play a piece will be really handy later on, particularly as you’re approaching the top grades.

There is another way!

If you really cannot stand the idea of a written theory test or you are being held back by not passing, talk to your teacher about the Jazz Exams or Practical Musicianship. These are practical exams not unlike the ones you are used to and a pass at Grade 5 will allow you to go forward. There’s more info at the Associated Board website.

Why not tell us your music exam experiences and your tips for getting through them – we’ll post the best ones right here.

Did Sullivan need Gilbert?

Was the union of Gilbert and Sullivan a match made in heaven or the end of a promising career?

It’s G&S time again. It comes around every Spring as regularly as Christmas in December. Everyone has heard of them but few realise what a loss the musical half of this partnership was to the serious Classical musician. If you think you know Arthur Sullivan, take the time to revisit this composer, particularly through his incidental music which is sadly under used. ‘The Tempest’ has several hauntingly beautiful moments, mainly due to the choice of orchestration. Manipulation of the orchestra is where Sullivan always excelled, a skill which, in the main, goes unnoticed among the audiences of his comic works. His Irish Symphony is also definitely worth a listen, evoking so easily the Celtic landscape.
This freely expressive style (learned to a large degree from Mendelssohn) is hugely constrained by the format of the comic operas which stick mainly to a simple rhyming verse and whose content has been called ‘light’ and ‘fun’ but also ‘banal’. It offers a much narrower opportunity for the expression of his own complex feelings within the music.

Of course, there is no denying the appeal of the Savoy operas but one cannot help but wonder where this phenomenal talent would have gone musically had he not met Gilbert and what we have missed. Fans will insist that Haddon Hall is one of his best works, attempting as it does to marry the style of plot from the Savoy operas with the true style of Sullivan’s composition. But for me it does not capture that intensity of emotion so typical of the pre-Gilbert era.

Although other serious works were composed during and after the relationship, they clearly suffered from it as Sullivan became increasingly disillusioned and once they began to collaborate, many will say that he was affected so deeply that he never regained the prowess of expression which was so stunted by the ever popular works they wrote together.