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Improve Learning with Classical Music - Mozart Effect


In 1993, a pair of researchers at the University of California, Irvine, showed that schoolchildren exposed to as little as ten minutes worth of complex classical music - the scientists favored Mozart piano sonatas - showed significant leaps in spatial-temporal reasoning abilities, which is the sort of intelligence that allows people to do jigsaw puzzles and solve geometry problems. This discovery, now known as the "Mozart effect," has since been transposed to a number of other mind-boosting scenarios: music students have been found to have higher IQ and SAT scores than the musically deprived; kids who listen to classical music from an early age display enhanced math and reading skills. Including music in your home school programs is highly recommended. Visit: music for homescooling.

The Mozart Effect

Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind and Unlock the Creative Spirit (Avon Books, 1997), claims that Baroque music has a positive effect on everything from dyslexia to post-surgical recovery rates. Listening to Mozart, says Campbell, has also been said to increase the ability to memorize prose passages, poetry, spelling lists, and foreign language vocabulary words.

Campbell, an enthusiastic popularizer of the Mozart effect, has established a resource center devoted to the mind-enhancing effects of music (The Mozart Effect Resource Center) and has published a three-volume CD/cassette set of music selections collectively titled "The Mozart Effect Music for Children." The three CD/cassettes - all totally Mozart - are titled "Tune Up Your Mind" (selections "specially selected to improve intelligence and increase IQ"), "Relax, Daydream, & Draw" ("to inspire creativity and relaxation"), and "Mozart in Motion" (to "explore body movement, motion, and motivation"). The set is available from The Children's Group, 1400 Bayly Street, Suite 7, Pickering, Ontario L1W 3R2, Canada; (905) 831-1142.

While some of the mental feats attributed to Mozart-listening may be exaggerated, the rewards of listening to classical music for its own sake are undeniable. The best introductory classical music series for children now available is Susan Hammond's wonderful "Classical Kids," a multipart audio series which includes Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mr. Bach Comes to Call, Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery, Tchaikovsky Visits America, Hallelujah Handel, and - for Mozart die-hards - Mozart's Magic Fantasy. Each includes an enchanting story, incorporating both historical information about the featured famous composer and excerpts from the composer's works. In Mr. Bach Comes to Call, for example, our family's favorite, a little girl named Elizabeth is resentfully practicing the piano when Bach himself drops by, accompanied by an entire boys' choir. Bach tells Elizabeth the story of his life (which included twenty children and a prison term) and plays excerpts from the Brandenberg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." In Mozart's Magic Fantasy, a young girl named Sarah stumbles into the world of Mozart's opera, "The Magic Flute," and meets a talking dragon. Available on cassette or CD from The Children's Group (see above) or from Music for Little People (P.O. Box 1720, Lawndale, CA 90260; (800) 727-2233). Individual cassettes cost about $10.95; Cds, $16.95.

Anne Gatti's The Magic Flute (Chronicle Books, 1997) is a picture-book version of the much-loved opera, complete with giant flowers and butterflies, friendly animals, and a prince saving a princess from the wicked Queen of the Night; the book is accompanied by an excellent audio CD. An abbreviated (42-minute-long) video version of the opera for children aged six and up, "Mozart's Magic Flute Story," is available from Music for Little People (see above). It's sung in German, narrated in English, and is visually spectacular. Video versions of "The Magic Flute" (and other Mozart operas) are also available from Opera World, Box 800, Concord, MA 01742; (800) 99-OPERA.

The Music Masters Series (Moss Music Group) also combines biographical information with musical selections by famous composers on audiocassette or CD. There are three different sets in the series, each covering seven composers on six cassette/CDs. Set I includes Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann and Grieg; Set II, Handel, Beethoven, Haydn, Wagner, Dvorak, Vivaldi, and Corelli; and Set III, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Strauss, Berlioz, Verdi, Foster, and Sousa. Each cassette/CD is about 40 minutes long and includes some 25 different musical selections, which means that listeners hear only short snippets of each. We found the biographies informational but unappealingly dry, and the musical presentation choppy; other listeners, however, claim that the effect is that of a story set pleasingly to music. Each set costs about $25.00 (cassettes) or $35.00 (CDs); available by mail order from Michael Olaf, P.O. Box 1162, Arcata, CA 95518; (707) 826-1557.

For an account of Mozart's life in print, Ann Rachlin's "Famous Children Series" (Barron's) is a collection of attractively illustrated picture books, describing the lives of famous composers as children. Titles include Bach, Brahms, Chopin, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. Mike Venezia has also written a delightful series of short (32-page) musical biographies for young readers. His "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers Series" from Childrens Press is illustrated with giggle-provoking little cartoons and (where possible) real-life photographs. Titles include Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, George Handel, Igor Stravinsky, Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The "Famous Composer Series" by Roland Vernon (Silver Burdett Press) includes several attractive biographies of great musicians, filled with illustrations, reproductions of period artworks, historical facts (in sidebars), and timelines. Titles include Introducing Mozart (1996); other volumes feature Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Gershwin, Stravinsky, Verdi, and Vivaldi. Kathleen Krull's Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (And What the Neighbors Thought) (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1993), is a collection of short biographies, all in one clever book, of nineteen famous musicians, among them Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky. These are catchy and fascinating; each biography is accompanied by a full-page color portrait of the musician by Kathryn Hewitt. (Readers learn that Mozart's favorite color was red, and that his most expensive possessions were his piano and his pool table.)

Other picture-book biographies of Mozart for young readers include Letters to Horseface, Being the Story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Journey to Italy 1769-1770, When He Was a Boy of Fourteen (F.N. Monjo; Viking, 1975), the story of Mozart's tour of Italy through a series of chatty letters to his older sister, Nannerl ("the Horseface"); Mozart: Scenes from the Childhood of the Great Composer (Catherine Brighton; Doubleday, 1990); Mozart Tonight (Julie Downing; Simon and Schuster, 1991); Wolferl: The First Six Years of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Lisl Weil; Holiday, 1991); and Young Mozart (Rachel Isadora; Viking, 1997).

Older kids may enjoy David W. Barber's Bach, Beethoven, and the Boys: Music History as It Ought to be Taught (Sound and Vision, 1986), a thoroughly irreverent history of music from the Gregorian chant through modern times. The history is presented primarily through a series of short biographies of famous composers. ("Mozart," Barber writes, "is just God's way of making the rest of us feel insignificant. Whenever you have just composed a piece of music that you think is particularly good, it is humbling to think that Mozart probably wrote a better one when he was nine years old.") Mozart also appears in Barber's When the Fat Lady Sings: Opera History as It Ought to be Taught (Sound and Vision, 1990), which begins with a humorous history of opera in general, followed by accounts of famous operatic composers and their operas, grouped by country of origin. Mozart appears with Haydn and Beethoven under "Teutonic Tunesmiths."

Families of classical beginners may also enjoy The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Music by Robert Sherman (Alpha Books, 1997): this is 352 reader-friendly pages long, all of them packed with useful information. (Chapter 1 is titled "If You Know Nothing About Classical Music, Start Here...") The book covers the different varieties of classical music, the instruments of the orchestra, music history, musical terms, and opera, and includes a series of useful appendices with suggestions for building your own classical music library.

For hands-on enthusiasts, The Music Pack by Ron Van der Meer and Michael Berkeley (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994) is a marvelous classical music kit in book form, filled with creative pop-ups, models, and manipulatives. There's a working model of the human larynx, a playable set of strings (with included bow), a working pop-up piano, a pop-up set of drums with miniature drumsticks, and a 75-minute CD with selections from such classical composers as Mozart, Handel, Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Berlioz, Chopin, Brahms, and Wagner. It's pricey (list price is around $50), but its's superb. Bellerophon Books (36 Ancapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101; (800) 253-9943) publishes an inexpensive coloring book titled Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which pairs black-line illustrations of scenes from the composer's life with an informational text. Zephyr Press offers Musicians: Exploring Music Through the Study of Six Great Lives by Chris Brewer, an activity book for kids in grades 2-6 based on the life stories of six famous composers (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Copeland), with related musical activities and hands-on projects.

For game players, the Composers Card Game is a rummy-style game in which players attempt to collect four-card sets picturing one of 13 famous composers - among them, Mozart. The cards, which cost about $5.50, are available from Michael Olaf (P.O. Box 1162, Arcata, CA 95518; (707) 826-1557). Music Maestro II, a board game of "musical instruments past and present," is a perennial favorite among music lovers. The board pictures 48 different instruments, from the medieval rebec to the twentieth-century electric guitar. The game includes three different packs of playing cards: Instrument Cards, each with a color illustration of a musical instrument; Conductor Cards, which include the name of an instrument and a series of three clues about its identity; and Ensemble Cards, which picture instruments in "ensemble groups" (for example, brass instruments, woodwinds, jazz instruments). Instructions are included for five different games, appropriate for players of different ages (from four on up). Also included is a cassette tape, for an audio version of the game, in which players match illustrated Instrument Cards to the sounds of the instruments on the tape. Music Maestro II costs about $25.00 from Aristoplay, Ltd., P.O. Box 7529, Ann Arbor, MI 48107; (800) 634-7738. Also from Aristoplay is Music Maestro Parade, a musical Bingo-style game for younger players. The game includes a cassette tape featuring the sounds of 32 different instruments. Kids match musical sounds to labeled pictures of each instrument. About $15.00 from Aristoplay (see above).

All of this Mozart exposure may or may not raise your kids' IQs. But they're almost certain to have fun.

For more music resources for children, contact:

Educational Record Center
3233 Burnt Mill Drive, Suite 100
Wilmington, NC 28403-2698
(800) 438-1637

Rhythm Band Instruments
P.O. Box 126
Fort Worth, TX 76101-0126
(800) 424-4724

West Music
P.O. Box 5521
1212 5th St.
Coralille, IA 52241
(800) 397-9378

Happy Birthday, Grandma Moses by Clare Bonfanti Braham and Maria Bonfanti Esche (Chicago Review Press, 1995) . A fun and fact-filled journey through the calendar year. About $12.95 from bookstores.

Home Education Magazine
(c) 1998, Rebecca Rupp

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