The soundtrack of success: Music's positive impact on learning

The soundtrack of success: Music

In Australia, more than one million primary school students aren’t learning music as part of their day-to-day education, despite a growing body of research showing the importance and positive impacts of music education.

In Australia generalist teachers are given only 17 hours of music education training, compared to 160 hours in Korea and 350 hours in Finland.

Renowned Finnish education expert, Professor Pasi Sahlberg, points out that most Australian students do not have a dedicated music teacher and that the quality of young people’s music education can vary significantly depending on where they live.

“In high school, my dream was to become a primary school teacher. In Finland, all primary school teachers are also music teachers. It’s a requirement,” he said. “Not having a consistent music teacher and program here is a chronic problem.”

Studies show that singing and playing music can be effective ways of boosting young people’s learning outcomes, as children who are constantly exposed to music are found to exhibit longer attention spans, emotional stability, resilience, and cognitive capacity.

Importantly, music education has also been shown to help students progress in crucial learning areas such as English, Science and Mathematics – subjects which have seen a decline in student outcomes in recent years.

Bringing music education into the 21st Century

One organisation that is actively working with schools across Australia to provide quality music education is Amplify, which enables any teacher, regardless of their music knowledge, to teach music with confidence. What’s more, less than 15 minutes preparation time is needed for every lesson, saving teachers valuable time.

Natalie Kradolfer, co-founder and managing director at Amplify says the state of music education in Australia in 2024 looks a lot like it did in 1954 – that is, for schools not using Amplify.

“Whilst there are obviously exceptions at some schools with fantastic resources and music teachers, music education hasn’t evolved a lot in the classroom,” Kradolfer told The Educator.

“From teachers still relying on books, CDs, and DVDs through to old-fashioned repertoire that students don’t connect with, it’s a subject area that hasn’t kept up with the changes in the industry.”

Kradolfer said the teacher shortage has forced schools to look more creatively at how they are staffing their programmes, adding this has been a great opportunity for schools to reimagine how curriculum music can be delivered in the classroom.

“Instead of seeing it as a separate subject, that a specific teacher needs to teach in a specific classroom, that students only go to for a short period of time, Amplify is allowing teachers to integrate music into a regular classroom by supporting all teachers to teach the music curriculum.”

A game changer that is easy and accessible

Kradolfer said that from Amplify’s very first pilot through to its new 2.0 version, the program’s improvements continue to focus on the needs of the teacher and making Amplify easy and accessible to use in the classroom.

“From a software perspective one of our exciting new features is our very own music streaming player. This means that all music is streamed directly from Amplify in the classroom and teachers don’t have to use an alternative external source, which streamlines teaching,” she said.

“The other amazing benefit of this is that all the songs that students and teachers know and love, have been specifically curated for primary school audiences so there is no risk of playing something with inappropriate lyrics or themes and of course, there are no ads! By making it easier, teachers are excited about playing more music in their classrooms.”

Additionally, says Kradolfer, Amplify has created more interactivity within the lessons including features that allow a piano to be played on an interactive panel, an integrated metronome and several fun interactive games.

“We also continue to add new lessons to our core curriculum mapped programmes as well as additional content such as brain breaks, special event modules and Amplify Play, which are instrument focused units.”

Success stories

Kradolfer said teachers at one public school in Southern Sydney were “blown away” by the deep engagement from the students during lessons and their ability to recall information from the lessons, months later.

“This was something that hadn't been witnessed as strongly in other subject areas, deducing that it was due to the quality of the teaching resources and the modern delivery,” she said.

Staff at another public school, in North West NSW, were amazed at the positive impacts it had on social interactions in the school, Kradolfer said.

“Students who hadn’t previously socialised were proactively choosing to come together at break times with other students to continue playing music collaboratively, including students in support classes.”

The program has also shown teachers how music education can bring out previously unknown skills in young people.

At a public school in Northern Victoria, students who were previously disengaged in the classroom were demonstrating skills that teachers weren’t aware they had.

“Students had a sense of achievement, accomplishment and a newfound sense of belonging in the classroom that was having a positive impact on their attendance at school.”

Kradolfer said the positive sentiment and efficacy of teachers who are excited about teaching a music lesson has been evident in all schools using the program.

“It was something that they never thought they would have to do [old school mentally of music specialist teachers] and the sense of accomplishment they feel when they do an Amplify lesson is having a hugely positive impact at a professional level at schools,” she said.

“Schools are reimagining how music is taught at their school and it is working! By integrating it into day-to-day learning and making it more inclusive for teachers to be a part of, it is having hugely positive effects on all areas of school life.”

The great equalizer opening hearts and minds

Looking ahead, Kradolfer sees significant potential for quality music education to revolutionise student learning, engagement, and wellbeing.

“Music is the subject that has the power to unlock student potential. It is the subject that all too often gets put in the ‘too hard basket’, yet it irrefutably has the biggest impact on student success and wellbeing,” she said.

“By creating educational experiences that bring students’ interest from outside the classroom into the classroom, students will be more deeply engaged. And music is a great subject to do that with.”

Kradolfer said while schools often get caught up with music being something that students must play and perform, the act of listening to, and appreciating, music allows for all students to connect with music in different ways.

“Think about the Taylor Swift phenomenon that just swept through Australia. So many different people from so many different backgrounds coming together through music. It is so powerful! And that power can be created with the right tools in the classroom,” she said.

“Having music in the classroom creates connection and connection equals emotional safety. If students are feeling secure in their classroom, it’s going to have a positive impact on all learning areas.”

Kradolfer pointed out that soft skills like creativity and collaboration are some of the most important that schools need to be developing for the future workforce, and that music is one of the best subjects to helping students to develop these skills.

“Music is a subject where there is a lot of scope for personal interpretation. It is the great equaliser, because it has something for everyone,” she said. “It opens minds, it opens hearts.”