Swiss Investigation

Worldwide research aiming to prove the intellectual and social benefits of providing more music education has been steadily increasing. At a time when music in UK schools is taking a hammering in local authority and school budget decisions, it's the turn of Switzerland to add further weight to the debate with a superb example of the effects of giving more music lessons at the expense of other subjects. Follow this link for a brief abstract of the research. This research complements other work recently published in America

Music minus maths equals

During the school years 1988/89 to 1990/91 seventy classes of children aged between 7 and 15 - comparatively evenly spread throughout the primary and secondary schools years and integrated into the different educational systems of the cantons in Switzerland - became involved in a wide ranging experiment with the curriculum. The number of 45 minute music lessons in 35 of the classes was increased from two to five lessons a week by reducing the time spent teaching maths or language

Children in the remaining 35 classes continued with just one or two music lessons a week and were used as a control group. After three years, the children in both groups were asked a series of questions designed to compare their intelligence, cognitive ability and social integration

The objective of the research was: "to scientifically test the supposition that increased music lessons (singing, production of music in a group, dancing, teaching notation and listening to music) enhances the ability to concentrate; memory, linguistic ability, motivation and communication skills are improved and that benefits can be expected across all other school subjects.


The research was initiated by Ernst W. Weber with the support of Maria Spychiger from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland and Dr. Jean-Luc Patry of the University of Salzburg. The whole 3 year experiment was co-ordinated by a specially formed group - IASEM "Interkantonale Arbeitsgruppe fur Schulversuche mit Erweitertem Musikunterricht" (The inter-cantonal group for school experiments with increased music tuition) with financial help from the Swiss National Science Foundation

On completion of the experiments, teachers were updated each half year on the progress of the scientific evaluation and news of ways forward for music education in Switzerland

The research aimed to test the results more scientifically than had been done previously. The idea to reduce the main subjects by one lesson per week had not been done before, "This had the additional advantage that the expansion of singing/music by three weekly lessons was compensated from the other subject areas and so there was no additional cost." Each participating class paid a small annual fee to IASEM. In addition, teachers paid a twice yearly fee for two one-week training seminars, once during the holidays and once during the school term

Teacher training seminars

The teachers in the experimental classes all enjoyed singing and were able to play an instrument. The teachers were also given the training seminars to pass on knowledge, ability, suggestions and stimuli for their lessons, without undermining the normal curriculum

The teachers of the experimental classes were free to plan their lessons within the framework of their cantonal curriculum. Circumstances varied according to their ability, interests and local conditions. "It was also important that tuition was not to be biased in any one area - e.g. towards the teaching only of pop music or singing with the guitar

German and French language seminars gave an opportunity to meet and exchange information across language barriers. Other additional meetings and communal performances were held between different cantonal groups

Neurological perspectives

The advent of PET scans and less intrusive brain mapping techniques have begun to provide more insight into the brain lateralization ideas of the early seventies. (Subject knowledge, the empirical, logical and grammatical content - often regarded as the basis of a good education - are mainly processed in the left hemisphere, whereas structures, colours, shapes and music are mainly processed in the right hemisphere of the brain.

Because music is also partly processed in the left hemisphere, the researchers claimed that, "positive effects are expected because both parts of the brain are not only used similarly, but also because they have to communicate with each other better, which causes a balancing in the brain activity. Thus the basis for an overall harmonisation of personality is created

Power to change

The Arts - particularly music - have traditionally had difficulty in scientifically communicating their role in the development of the individual and society. Art defines the culture but what has culture to do with intelligence, behaviour, emotions and learning? The idea of music having a wider influence isn't new - there are examples throughout history of music's power both for good and evil

The researchers said, "Music has always been regarded as important throughout reformation movements. It has been used for manipulation, for example, for political means during the period of national socialism and in the former GDR. The concept of music being educational on a social level can not only be used in a positive sense but can also - in conjunction with ideology of any kind - be misused for reasons of power.

Measuring the effects

The problem of measuring the effects of any intervention like this is one which was addressed from the outset. "There was no previous music-pedagogical research which could be utilised, not just from a theoretical viewpoint, but also as far as measurement techniques were concerned. Therefore, these had to be taken from other areas or specially developed.

Psycho/Sociometric testing

The idea of a correlation between music tuition and individual personal development needs more research. More work is needed about the effects in the socio-emotional and group/community context. There are examples from history of music's ability to build a better community. In other disciplines more data is available, however. There is, for example, a growing battery of information and results from successful teams, organisations, and individual leadership qualities from the management development world. Could these psychometric and sociometric techniques and their results be applied to measurement of the beneficial effects of music

Measurement times

Three measurement times were set up. At the beginning of the research in the autumn of 1989, at the end of the school year 1989/90 and the final measurements were taken in May/June 1991. Comparative measures were taken in both the experimental classes as well as in the corresponding control classes. The data was collected by members of the research team as well as other researchers, mostly students of psychology. Some measurements were taken by the teachers themselves

Benefits for teachers

The researchers had some speculations to make about other effects of the research, "Job satisfaction for teachers has not been deeply explored in any systematic research but the evident information shows an undoubted increase in engagement and satisfaction in the job. These positive side effects in our school experiments gain an extra importance from the viewpoint of the much noted and explored 'Burnout Syndrome', which is comparatively rife in the teaching profession.

"The extended music lessons in the school experiments gave the teachers the chance to use their full capacity in a subject in which they are especially competent and motivated. The accompanying opportunities such as training courses, public performances, parent information and so on must have been stimulating and must have helped to increase their self-esteem. Such activities and events are excellent means to avoid the burnout syndrome, and it is surely not accidental that the teachers who have been longest in the profession gained more job satisfaction and relate their relevant positive experiences in the school experiments most avidly. We cannot afford burnt out teachers, and what's more, they don't deserve to be thrown into the fire.

Music macht Schule

This experiment had a great impact on both the researchers and the participating schools. In a wide ranging conclusion they assess the broader affects of their work. Firstly they justified the decision to reduce time in other main subject areas. "The idea to extend music lessons has already got quite a tradition and is far more established in other places than it is here. The reduction of main subjects for the sake of the music tuition is however, unique. The additional lessons have, in previous experiments and current tests, always been undertaken alongside the normal curriculum.

The researchers gave two reasons for their extraordinary decision

"The first was the conviction that even with extended music lessons no loss would be suffered by the main subject lessons which had been reduced in hours of teaching. The second reason was pragmatic: no additional costs were incurred as no additional lessons were required and the pupils were not put under any extra strain.

"It is only to be hoped that music will gain in importance. Even though, today, it is very widespread indeed and has great meaning to many people, it still exists as a little wall-flower in the educational system.

This research has pushed the argument for increased music lessons in schools much further than before. The DfE will hopefully beginning to take note. SCAA is already listening to researchers in America. Two academics from the Rhode Island research team recently spoke at the SCAA International Music Conference in London