Out of tune on musical education

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2011, 12:00am


Is there a connection between maths, creativity and music? Einstein, an accomplished amateur violinist, certainly thought so. And many tiger mothers today have taken his advice to heart by forcing their children to take up an instrument at a very early age.

But for researchers studying how we learn, such connections are a little less clear, says Louis Lee Ngar-yin, assistant professor of educational psychology at Chinese University.

While there is a growing body of research indicating that students who follow a strict regimen of musical study can do better in school, Lee cautioned against such sweeping claims on the connection between musical education and intelligence. 'There is very little clear-cut evidence that playing music leads to improved performance in academic disciplines,' said Lee, noting there were many variables involved.

This has not stopped local parents - looking to give their children an edge in a competitive education system - from enrolling them in music lessons and enforcing strict practice schedules from an early age. Whether it is out of the belief that music makes their children smarter or simply to bulk up their university applications, music education is rarely a matter of choice.

While any kind of musical education was bound to benefit children, there was a concern that by focusing on external results rather than developing musical appreciation, parents and children would sometimes miss the point, said Bright Sheng, composer and artistic director of the upcoming Intimacy of Creativity, hosted by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, that is part of the Einstein extravaganza.

Sheng said all too often parents paid huge amounts of money for weekly piano lessons, but never took their children to hear a pianist perform.

Lee said making children learn an instrument for a university application was not fostering interest in music at all.

Shifting motivation to something external made it more likely that children would lose interest in music for its own sake, he said. Pupils learn that playing an instrument was something you did to get into a good school, he said. Once at university, 'they don't play any more'.


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