There is nothing new in the claim that musical learning possesses a
distinctive ability to transfer its effects to non-musical
areas. Throughout history, declarations supporting the beneficial
consequences of learning music have appeared and reappeared in various
literature and advanced under different guises. They have usually taken
the form of highlighting a perceived potential in music for
cognitive, emotional, moral, social and general intellectual formation.
The essay by Gabor Friss advocating
the Kodaly programme of instruction in Sandor's Music Education in Hungary (1975) is illustrative of this tradition:
'The academic record of children attending the music primary schools
is much higher than that of children attending the ordinary
primary schools, even where normal school subjects are concerned. The
reason for this ... lies in music's power to educate, in that
it can be used to master other branches of knowledge.' (p 161)
Friss was one of many who held that although the Kodaly educational programme was based on music, its objectives were not
'... it does not intend to educate towards music alone, but through music serves universal aims.' (p 192)
Statements like these no doubt helped to crystallise, at the time
they were written, the long-held belief in the educational and
cultural merits obtained from learning music.
Music has long been seen as providing some kind of spur to an
individual's general educational and social growth. In classical
times philosophical justifications and descriptions of its likely social
outcomes can be traced in Plato, whilst nearer our own time,
the sociologist Max Weber (1921) has drawn
attention to music's social function within the context of the
rationalisation of Western economic life under capitalism. Several other
references, taken at random and without due regard for chronology,
make the point and reflect something of an overall 'mental state'
existing over the perception of music's educational and social value.
In presenting some kind of counterbalance to alternative symbolic forms,
such as mathematics or science, it has been viewed as contributing
to the 'intelligence of feeling' (Witkin, 1974) since it is held to possess 'integrative potential' in being
able to 'break down barriers' (Paynter and Aston, 1970). Indeed, by way of reinforcing the search for utilitarian
pretexts for learning music at school, Paynter
included a ten-point list of qualities enumerated by a team
from British industry on what industry 'looked for in education' (1982:
pp 239-240). The claim here was that music education 'has
much to offer industry' since the employers concerned 'could see the
importance of music in relation to the qualities mentioned'.
These qualities included 'flexibility and adaptability; spatial,
mathematical and computational skills; self-awareness and confidence;
motor skills such as co-ordination and control; the ability to use
initiative in the absence of set procedures' and 'the desire to
do a good job.'
Nevertheless, whilst musical learning might defensibly be recognised
as offering a contextual catalyst for certain developmental
outcomes (Peery and Peery, 1987), the precise
relationship between what causes which effect remains a tantalising
mystery generating inevitable conjecture. The problematical nature of
this relationship demands close scrutiny since it simmers beneath
the myriad and often insistent claims periodically advanced within this
long-standing cultural tradition.
It could be argued that predicting what will transfer to what may be
too much to ask of any theory of transfer; preoccupations
with this problem may have misdirected prior research in the field. To
be sure, one would like a theory that allowed for fine-grained
predictions regarding the 'whats' of transfer. Furthermore, is it the
exposure to music itself that supposedly enhances cognitive
ability, or rather the musical instruction and learning that may
accompany such exposure? More generally, one might ask of such a
theory as to whether riding a bicycle would make it easier to drive a
car, or if, say, instruction in formal logic would make it easier
for a pupil to learn physics. Music educators would like to know if
learning to play the oboe, for instance, would make it easier
for a pupil to learn how to play the trumpet, or whether singing
improves the ability to play a brass instrument. In the absence of
such organising frameworks, the complexities of transfer threaten to
overwhelm our understanding of its component parts and of the
critical factors which often elude the observer. Efforts to frame an
over-arching psychological model of transfer would benefit from
some kind of analytical taxonomy in the light of which particular skills
and configurations of skills could be assayed.
The question of transfer and of its many ramifications, then, is a
time-honoured one in psychology and often provokes extreme opinions.
Some have claimed it is an elusive rarity (Thorndike, 1913), others that
it is ubiquitous in human learning (Hebb,
1949). Gardner (1977) writes of a
developmental pattern occurring in the child's increasing capacity to
deal with more than one symbol system; as the child attains adolescence
there is an increase in the ability to transfer information
presented to one modality into a form accessible to others. The
monitoring of several sensory channels also increases as information
is progressively intertwined from two or more sensory systems.
Many current arguments concerning transfer can be traced back to
their roots at the beginning of the 20th century. For example,
some people, even today, continue to maintain that the discipline of
regular practising of church music at a cathedral choir school
somehow spills over into the non-musical areas of a pupil's life. This
belief is consonant with a specific viewpoint still held about
transfer, namely that the mind acts as a kind of muscle that is
susceptible to strengthening by sheer exercise and stretching. Adhered
to implicitly for much of the 19th century, the expectation was that an
individual's mental faculties could be improved by exertion;
this essentially pre-scientific notion suggested a type of 'blanket'
transfer of training from one mode to another.
This 'discipline theory of transfer', as it was termed, was, however, to undergo disfavour from those (eg Judd,
1908) holding alternative views about the area. It was attacked by Thorndike who claimed that transfer occurs if, and only if,
tasks share 'identical elements' (Thorndike, 1913; Thorndike and Woodworth,
1901). By calling into question the inveterate notion that the
classics (the study of Ancient Greek and Latin) provided a cardinal
vehicle for 'developing the mind', Thorndike was to proclaim that
transfer was narrower in scope than would be predicted by formal
discipline and his 'identical elements' theory remained the prominent
explanatory concept held about transfer for much of the 20th
century. Despite disagreements taking place (Allport, 1937; Orata, 1928, 1945)
what exactly constituted 'identical elements', the position was widely
upheld and is still often cited in textbooks as a truism today:
if two situations share an underlying deep structure, for example, but
differ in their surface manifestations, transfer cannot be
expected, whereas if there are surface elements in common, such as
physical or perceptual similarity, then transfer will be a 'necessary
2. The Need For Targeting Transfer
Whilst the area of the transfer of learning has been accepted as one
permeating the wider area of learning itself, it is nevertheless
true that an exploration of its multifaceted nature has not received the
widespread attention that it deserves in the music education
literature. Music educators may wrongly assume that transfer happens
somehow by itself, crossing learning domains with ease and extending
outwards to general abilities. Furthermore, many studies that do address
the topic are embedded in other titles or topic areas.
In fact transfer is far from being an automatic function of either
learning or experience, musical or otherwise. A student whose
progress is impeded may be unable to generalise or to apply knowledge
and skills of whatever kind across a range of situations. If
this is so then the music educator is obliged to structure more
successful experiences that can promote student independence by
time and attention on the convertibility of knowledge and skills across
differing musical contexts. For example, music educators may
well be familiar with instances where pupils have been observed
executing particular aspects of performance technique in known contexts
and with high levels of accuracy, but where subsequent observation of
the same pupils has shown them to be confronting major impediments
when placed in unfamiliar circumstances. A commonly held belief is that
when a pupil has learned to perform a musical figure or passage
in one context, the skills and knowledge correspondingly acquired will
somehow unintentionally, or even mechanistically, transfer
to other situations. Such as assumption is unsound: there exists
substantial evidence that it is crucial for educators to target their
instruction specifically to facilitate transfer. (Mouly, 1960; Ellis, 1965; Garry
and Kingsley, 1970; Postman, 1971; Bower and Hilgard, 1981; Pressley
et al, 1987; Brooks and Dansereau, 1987; Brown and Kane, 1988).
Transfer depends on
the perceived similarity, either surface or structural, between tasks
and is highly determined by both the extent and the efficiency
of the initial learning. The application of any learned skill is
extremely sensitive to the context  in which
it was learned.
3. Transfer and Automaticity
Transfer is more complete the nearer in nature the learning tasks are
to each other; indeed, when such tasks radically differ then
the investigation into transfer effects can become a hazardous
undertaking. Arguably, the researcher into the area would be less likely
to encounter formidable difficulties when confining the work to a single
learning domain (such as musical learning). More recent inquiry
into the precise role of automaticity in performance (eg Neves and Anderson, 1981; Nusbaum
and Schwab, 1986) has incorporated much of Thorndike's earlier work and exemplifies how the study and understanding of transfer
can be helpful when applied to musical learning and performance.
When learning to play a musical instrument it is crucial for all the
sub-components of the activity to become automatic. The existence
of these indispensable automatic processes enables one to explain why
people are able to play instruments at all, for in order to
perform, (at least in the Western tradition), musicians are required to
remember clusters of assorted tasks simultaneously: blowing,
fingering, decoding the musical text, watching the conductor, following
the expressive and dynamic markings, and so on.
Although no invariable view exists over the exact nature of automaticity there is a consensus that the processes involved need
minimal or no attention for their execution on the part of the performer. Underwood and Bright, (1996)
the defining characteristics of automatic activities as ones that
develop with extensive practice, are performed evenly and efficiently
and are resistant to modification since they remain unaffected by other
activities. Future lines of research might well examine more
closely the nature of automaticity for there are several ways of
considering it. New and unskilled tasks that require conscious control
may coexist with familiar, highly practised activities at either ends of
a spectrum (Cohen et al, 1990). This
view would suggest that although the qualities of automaticity are
acquired through practice, attentional factors nevertheless may
continue to operate in the learner's cognitive activity. Alternatively,
automaticity may involve the hierarchical systemisation of
skills with the low-level sub-components automatised through practice (Sloboda, 1985; Smyth
et al, 1987). Palmer and van de Sande (1995), in investigating how learning sequences may be planned, have
postulated the presence of an interaction between serial influences and the structural boundaries constraining them.
Clearly then the topic of transfer is of paramount importance to
music educators, for the area is as diverse and variform as it
is for educators in other areas. Discovering how learning can
effectively be applied within new settings is a prime task for music
educators. But transfer's complex fabric poses additional questions
relating to exactly how musical listening might influence an
subsequent behaviour and performance success elsewhere. Edwards (1988) sums it up thus:
'Thoughtful performance teachers would admit that transfer pretty well summarises their whole mission in life.' (p 123)
'In the realm of culture the new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely in a harmonising pluralism where the
most contradictory works and truths peacefully coexist in indifference' (Marcuse, 1964, p. 61)
4. An Overview of Transfer
Transfer of learning means that experience or performance on one task
influences performance on some subsequent task. It may take
two different forms:
(i) performance on one task may aid performance on a second task (positive transfer), or
(ii) performance on one task may inhibit or disrupt performance on a second task (negative transfer).
Finally, there may be no discernible effect of one task on another,
an instance of 'zero transfer', an 'outcome' which can occur
either as a consequence of the equal effects of both positive and
negative effects cancelling each other, or as a consequence of no
effect of one task on the other. (Ellis, 1965)
The most straightforward exemplar would require both an experimental
group learning some maiden task (A) before learning a second
task (B). The control group does not learn (A) but learns (B). If there
is positive transfer from the learning of (A) to (B), then
the experimental group should execute task (B) more effectively than the
control group. This very basic model does not take account
the many variables that would apply, such as age and general
intelligence. The assumption has to be made that the two groups were
equivalent with respect to certain key variables and that during the
interval in which the experimental group learns (A), the control
group either does nothing or practises some unrelated task. What this
latter group actually does during this period of time is crucial
to the interpretation of transfer (Hamilton, 1950; Thune, 1950; Harlow,
This rather monochromatic account of the phenomenon of transfer
offers no clue as to its intricacy, diversity or ambivalence.
given the discussion thus far, it becomes clear that transfer of
learning can potentially include the effect of doing anything on
the operation of anything else so long as the two actions are not
simultaneously performed. Transfer can be defined as the consequence
of learning skills, knowledge or attitudes on later learning of other
skills, knowledge or attitudes. Questions relating to the manner
by which such skills, knowledge or attitudes can be applied in new
settings are central ones for the investigator into transfer effects.
As stated earlier, Thorndike and Woodworth (1901) tried to unravel some of the controversial
problems of transfer and to systematise explicit theories of it.
Then for some time the field of enquiry became embedded in more
general cognitive theories that dealt with transfer indirectly
by implication only. For example, from an information processing
perspective, one could deduce that transfer depends on how a memory
search is initiated, the kinds of memory modes accessed, and the extent
of their inherent connectedness to other memory modes. From
the perspective of schema theory, referred to later in this paper, it
could be argued that transfer depends on the activation of relevant
anticipatory schemata. More recently, issues relating to the area have
again surfaced and become explicit in several contexts, including
such matters as the cultivation of intelligence, the training of
strategies for learning (Nickerson et al, 1985;
Weinstein and Mayer, 1985), the study of how programming can affect cognitive skills and the study of how
inert knowledge could be effectively utilised in new settings (Pea and Kurland, 1984; Bransford
et al, 1986). These very different contexts call for a broad
perspective of a reality which can so easily escape recognition below
the surface of many psychological and educational investigations. For
transfer is far from being a unitary phenomenon, and there is
still no agreement on exactly how it occurs. Indeed it may occur by
different routes dependent on different mechanisms, or networks
of mechanisms: for example, one mechanism may be more appropriate for
the transfer of explicit knowledge and strategies, whereas another
may be more so for more general activities.
The issue of transfer has become a topical one. Several reports have
appeared in the press testifying to alleged benefits to young
children when they are exposed to music. The sincerity and conviction of
claimants is evident:
'I found that through musical activities children may develop many of the skills required for literacy and that children who
attended pre-school groups fared better in reading tests than those who didn't.' (A teacher of eighteen years experience who has
devised what is described as 'a pioneering literacy programme' through music. Report in a regional newspaper. 22 September 1998)
'Scientific research in the 20th century has revealed that
music plays a key role in the functioning of the brain and behavioural
psychologists have shown how it can aid the learning process.'
(A report in the Times Educational Supplement, 24 April 1998)
'Researchers at California University concluded that music
modifies circuits in the brain leading to improved thinking skills ...
primary pupils in Rhode Island, USA, made better progress in reading and
maths as a result of following an enhanced arts curriculum
with music teaching.'
(A report in the Times Educational Supplement, 1 May 1998)
It has been alleged that musical learning 'improves the cerebral software' (Rauscher et al, 1993), that
'learning arts skills forces mental stretching useful to other learning areas such as maths' (Gardiner et al,
1996) and we are told that 'the established findings of
educationists show that music in schools has measurable effects on
(Everitt, 1998). A report in the Guardian (25 May
1996) claimed that 'listening to Mozart improved spatial
reasoning skills' an hypothesis that was investigated in the UK when
11,000 children in 250 schools were randomly split into three
groups, one listening to a Mozart quintet, one to pop music, and one to
live conversation from the radio. The article ends by saying
'in tests of spatial reasoning, the pop listeners scored 56% compared
with 52% for the others.' It also included the statement that
'boys in cathedral schools performed better in all subjects, even when
they were not academic, because they were learning music'.
The claims of Rauscher, Shaw and Ky working at Irvine, California,
already alluded to, are also echoed and described in this report.
Students in the Rauscher experiment had been given three sets of
standard IQ spatial reasoning tasks with each task prefaced by ten
listening to the two-piano Sonata, K.448 of Mozart
listening to a relaxation tape; or
The report asserts that the performance of the students on the
spatial reasoning tasks that followed the Mozart listening was better
than for the other two listening conditions, whilst also declaring that
the enhancing effect of the music was temporary and therefore
'unlikely to exist much beyond the ten to fifteen minutes during which
the students were performing the spatial task'. As it had originally
appeared in Nature (14 October 1998) the report had ended with the
authors hoping that since only one musical example had been used,
various other styles and composers should also be investigated.
Two other reports can be cited here. Firstly, the Rhode Island report by Gardiner et al (1996).
how work that had been introduced to groups of first-grade children,
aged between five and seven years, to music and a visual-arts
curriculum, had been co-ordinated with other subject areas with the
emphasis on sequenced skill development. Many of the 'test' group
children had not performed well at kindergarten as compared with the
'control' group, the latter exposed to what the researchers describe
as 'just the usual visual arts and music training typically encountered
in the public-school system of the States'. Apparently, the
'test' group had caught up with the 'control' group after a mere seven
months, even outstripping the latter in mathematics, despite
the fact that the 'test' group had contained children of whom less than
40% (as against the 'control' group's 70%) had scored marks
at, or above, the national average in post-kindergarten testing. The
credit for this distinction was accorded to the Kodaly
method that had been used for the music teaching in the school.
Secondly, a Swiss report (Spychiger et al, 1995)
described an interregional school experiment and was
entitled, 'Better Formation with More Music'. In this experiment fifty
classes had received five weekly music lessons in place of
the usual two. At least three of the additional music lessons had
resulted in a reduction in the number of lessons of mathematics
or mother-tongue instruction, the hypothesis being that the increased
music teaching would over-compensate for the diminution of weekly
hours instruction in other subjects, ie that in spite of fewer lessons,
the pupils would learn as much as other students, and gain
in musical competence as well as in concentration, creativity,
motivation, even perhaps in physical development. In suggesting that
the report title, 'Does more music teaching lead to a better social
climate?' warranted an affirmative answer, the authors professed
to detect an increase in sociographic integration,
concluding that the increase in music education could have
enhanced the effect of social coherence even though their observations
did not include detecting any traceable enrichment in feelings
of social community as a whole. 'Strong statements could not be the aim
of this paper', the authors admit, indicating their view that
the derivatives of music education are rather more complex than is
usually assumed; increased music teaching needs time to develop
its impact on such specifically non-musical factors as social behaviour.
Notwithstanding the reservations felt by these authors, the general
thrust remains clear; music does help to improve task performance
in other areas, and even if it does not, then it certainly does not
hinder such performance. This viewpoint embraces one made earlier
'School time spent on music and other arts activities has no negative
effect on academic achievement as reflected by standardised
Undoubtedly these reports and others like them, as well as their
accompanying claims, have had an impact on public opinion in the
States and elsewhere. This change of heart, if such it is, has been
tellingly encapsulated in a picture of President Clinton presenting
one of his saxophones to a youngster in April 1998 to signify the
inauguration of a 'Save the Music' campaign pinpointing the necessity
for reinstating music tuition in the high schools of the United States.
6. Interpreting Results: the need for caution
Rauscher claims the existence of a correlation between music and the
operation of the brain's higher functions, such as reasoning
and recognition. By listening to Mozart, or by playing a keyboard before
being tested, students will perform better on spatial-temporal
tasks since, so the argument goes, music directly affects cognitive
processing by priming neural circuits situated near to those used
for aspects of cognitive processing. However, as Hallam and Katsarou
have stated (1998), Rauscher's interpretation
refers to only a very restricted aspect of cognitive functioning since
the effects appear not to extend to other aspects of logical
reasoning. Moreover, it is unclear why a single piece was used in the
testing and why the assumption is tacitly made that 'complex'
music (which is alleged to enhance abstract reasoning) is held to be
synonymous with 'classical' music, and that 'music lacking complexity'
(alleged to interfere with abstract reasoning) is synonymous with
'non-classical' music. Furthermore, the relationship between the
tests is never explained, nor is the unsubstantiated statement made
about the way music might actually be assimilated:
'... as musicians may process in a different way from non-musicians, it would be interesting to compare the two groups.' (Rauscher
et al, 1993.)
Possibly an implied reference is being made here to work by Pollard-Gott
who demonstrated (1983) how
repeated listening to music examples can result in thematic extraction
by professional musicians, ie those possessing a musical background
(in the conventional sense of that term) appeared more readily to
perceive the significance of a composition's thematic material than
musically naive subjects. Clarke and Krumhansl (1990) and Deliege and El
Ahmadi (1990) have also investigated this area,
the work of the former revealing how musically trained subjects tend to
segment music, identifying the significance of boundaries
existing within a piece of music, whilst that of the latter has focussed
on the presence of two organising principles at work in the
way listeners perceive musical form, namely those of sameness and
difference. Significantly perhaps, both musicians and non-musicians
revealed basic congruities in their respective perceptions of music, a
finding which calls into question Rauscher's unqualified supposition
suggesting the contrary. Rauscher's work seems to assume such
'differences' when, in fact, the evidence for them is not compelling.
Whilst it may have been apparent to his team of researchers that
listening to Mozart (or being involved in playing a keyboard)
prior to testing gave an incisive edge to the performance of
spatial-temporal tasks requiring reasoning, the test itself was too
and lacked the sufficient focus to lend it entire credibility; future
work will have to take other variables into account. Such variables
could include the kind of music used, the personality, temperament and
recent life-history of the individual listener, the listening
environment and context, metacognitive factors, and the relationship
between observable short-term gains and any symptomatic long-term
effects - indeed the very robustness of transfer itself as a phenomenon.
Underlying weaknesses in research design as well as ill-considered
verdicts over music's potential for activating the 'cerebral
hardware' have left unexplained central questions relating to the nature
and existence of these connections. There is still uncertainty
as to how music listening skills might transfer to listening situations
beyond the music classroom. The Rhode Island report is undermined
by the fact that the pupils did not start the experiment at the same
age. Moreover, it avoids any mention of the socio-economic dimension.
The Swiss experiment, though intriguing, makes unscientific judgements
and fails to demonstrate conclusively the consequences of increased
music education on several dimensions of the social climate; the report
contains too many 'might's' and 'possibly's' and other such
conditionals in the language to make its evidence appear compelling. As
the authors themselves are forced to acknowledge, the likely
derivatives of music learning seem relatively cursory when compared with
the high expectations that common-sense might lead one to
harbour. But to them the results of this somewhat unrigorous three-year
experiment were clear:
'The results indicate that the benefits of EMT (Extended Music
Teaching) ... indicate the development of an interest in music.
No negative or scholastic effects were observed amongst the entire
experimental group in spite of the reduced number of lessons in
certain subjects.' (Zulauf, 1993)
Accordingly, many of the studies gaining national press attention
fall short by not convincingly addressing the question as to
whether it is the musical learning at all that has caused pupils to
perform differently in other areas. Whilst visibly plausible in
appearing to pioneer breakthroughs in our grasp of these areas, they
have, in fact, presented a case not borne out by the data assembled.
Moreover, merely establishing certain relationships between learning
domains and 'abilities' tells one little about any causal linkages
that might, on the balance of probabilities, exist between them. Of far
more interest is the question as to why such reports are thought
to be necessary in the first place.
One would reasonably expect musicians, music teachers and the music
industry to extol the educational advantages of learning and
playing music. Proponents of some of these studies are often
well-intentioned music educators engaged in a campaign to reassert
threatened position within the curriculum. At a time when coercive
economisation endangers the very existence of many music programmes
(as true in the UK as it is in the United States), this compulsive
willingness to embrace any such research is certainly understandable.
But in the worst cases of this ever-growing line of enquiry, we can see
instances of methodologically flawed enquiry misleadingly
upheld as 'truth'. Therefore caution and discretion are both necessary
in interpreting these reports, for sometimes in such work,
as in much else in life, we tend to see only what we are looking for.
7. Uncertain Outcomes: the Kodaly system
I began this article with a reference to the Kodaly system. Long
suspected to have important implications for learning effectiveness
in non-musical domains (eg Kokas, 1969; Hurwitz et al, 1975),
this form of musical education
offers pupils a multifaceted perceptual and cognitive training and is
aimed at instructing all children, not just those perceived
as being musically gifted. Besides using a variety of techniques
including hand-signs, clapping, games as well as reading staff notation,
the Kodaly system places a strong emphasis on choral activities since it
is through singing, it is claimed, that pupils receive
their most meaningful experiences. Furthermore, the development of
rhythmical skills is emphasised in the programme with the teaching
of folk songs from which the instructor abstracts basic rhythmic as well
as melodic units. Through a step-by-step process, the Kodaly
instructor increases the child's awareness of these rhythmic entities
and in turn uses them to create new rhythmical constructions
which the child may use in new combinations. The progressive development
of singing and other musical skills thought to be necessary
for the promotion of pupil competence is reinforced by what its
adherents see as a logical ordering of subject content accentuating
continuity and sequencing. Musical activities are mostly
teacher-directed and didactic, whilst the materials evolve through
music for children to the 'high art' music of such composers as Mozart,
Beethoven and Schubert.
If any mode of teaching and learning music could be said to unlock
the door leading to enhanced pupil non-musical learning, conventional
wisdom might suggest that this system held the key to it. The kind of
systematic rhythmic, melodic and choral development provided
by the training must surely be able to influence the child's sequencing
ability in such a way as to improve other areas of cognitive
development. And initially, it was the case that much of the exploratory
research, particularly in Hungary where the programme began,
professed to show that the Kodaly system was exerting a dynamic effect
on such areas as visual observation, spelling, language
learning and movement. These conclusions tied in with other studies
reporting correlations between musical ability and other facets
of intelligence, such as creativity (eg Barkoczi and Pleh, 1982). But again it has to be said
that it is one thing to establish these 'relationships' and quite another to identify causal links between them. (Herbert,
1974; Wolff et al, 1975; Douglas, 1976; Kalmer and Benis, 1979;
Karma, 1982; Laczo, 1985; Cropley, 1991). The consequences of using
the Kodaly programme are mixed. Bain (1978) reported a positive transfer to body percept through the use
of a modified Suzuki and Kodaly instructional programme, and Hurwitz et al (1975)
claimed that Kodaly
instruction positively affected temporal/spatial abilities but neither
of these studies reported any transfer to verbal abilities.
Bain believed that early music training could increase a child's
sensitivity to his/her 'inner dynamics' and create a more flexible
means to achieve cognitive goals. However, he observed that 'the
heuristic value of specific educational experiences remained limited
to one domain' (p 80). Positive effects of such instruction on verbal
ability have indeed been demonstrated, but with special populations
of disadvantaged or neurologically impaired children (Aten el al, 1984; Pirtle and Seaton, 1973). Both of these
latter studies used music learning tasks specifically targeted at verbal enrichment. But neither Lauder (1976)
nor Sharman (1981) could show transfer effects from music activities to reading skills even though the music
instruction had been intentionally interlocked with the reading instruction. In the light of such uncertain outcomes, as Wolff
has stated (1978), it would seem that whilst there may be some
observable, quantifiable effects of music education on the development
of understanding and cognitive abilities, the argumentation used in so
much of the work to support the claim appears inexact and the
conclusions drawn largely improbable. For no general theoretical
approach as yet exists that would adequately account for the assumed
non-musical effects of music education. Whether it is imparted through
the Kodaly system, or not, music instruction per se
cannot be guaranteed to fabricate specifically desired and discernible
non-musical by-products even when that instruction has complied
with the targeting imperative and has been highly structured towards
8. Schema Theory and Cognitive Views of Transfer
Being able to discriminate between assorted strands of aural
information is a primary requisite for successful musical learning.
Musical perception is analogous to visual perception in that it
constitutes a process of intelligent reconstruction with learning
taking place when pupils gain greater freedom in being able to elaborate
their representations in the discovery of new relations presented
to them within sound stimuli. The human perceiver processes information
in many ways depending on which features are given priority
to, or, at least, are accessible to the learner. The prime focus for
such an engagement with sound material is affected by the defining
contexts in which a particular figure is embedded: a new context would
suggest new priorities and reveal new features.
At the heart of modern cognitive psychology lies the concern with the
flow of information, namely its acquisition, transmission,
storage, retrieval and transformation in the learner's mind. In this
conception of learning, memory is seen as a highly structured
and interconnected system with understanding occurring when new
information is related to existing knowledge; transfer is therefore
likely to occur when the learner has encountered the relevant prior
information. (Royer, 1979; Shuell,
1986) Schema theory, which has grown from this area of psychology,
is more accurately a wide range of theories addressing the
nature of this structure. Schemata are connected and hierarchically
managed frameworks constituted of other (sub) schemata like data,
abstractions, percepts, concepts, mental images, 'know-how' and other
assorted variables (Howard, 1987) and
occupy an uppermost position in learning. In being both abstractions
from experience as well as representations of it, they facilitate
pattern recognition and at the broadest level affect the amount of
information an individual actually takes in.
Singley and Anderson (1989) stated that memory
consists of two principal categories: declarative and procedural.
Declarative knowledge requires 'proceduralisation' by being executed
directly without the student having to think about it. An example
may help to clarify this further.
Music's inherent curriculum status can become downgraded in the eyes
of those that would hold a view of it that it is somehow 'weak'
in 'hard facts'. This viewpoint underestimates the weight attached to
the very knowledge that a person needs to be creative in the
first place. In music, to be 'creative' one has to know certain aspects
of knowledge - a crude viewpoint would hold that such aspects
would include familiarity with the theory and conventions of staves,
clefs and keys; in whatever style the music is created there
will always be supporting codes comprising 'inert' knowledge that has to
be known. Reading music demands that the learner understands
the nature of written material, and is, itself, a domain-specific part
of the more general ability to read.
All knowledge is constructed hierarchically (Neves and Anderson, 1981)
and initially encoded as declarative
knowledge, ie as sets of facts. An individual beginning to learn a
musical instrument has to know what to do, where to place the hands,
how to blow or to hold the instrument. But this essentially declarative
knowledge, whilst indispensable to the learner is, by itself,
insufficient to maintain a performance since it requires transforming
into procedural knowledge. Any performance solely based on declarative
knowledge will be uncertain and weak for the student will be having to
think, for example, where to place the hands when playing a
keyboard instrument. By proceduralising declarative knowledge the task's
memory load is reduced and the student can then attend to
the aesthetic, interpretative qualities of the performance; the task
becomes less a matter of what to do than how to do it. Whilst
declarative knowledge is concerned with facts and things, procedural
knowledge is that leading to action, a fundamental distinction
having implications for the teaching of intellectual skills and
productions. In the sphere of music, procedural memory may take the
form of intellectual procedures such as motor schemata or the analysis
of harmony. (Schmidt, 1975; LaBerge,
1981) And just as the acquisition of declarative knowledge will not
ensure that procedural knowledge has been obtained, so the
reverse is also true. Effective teaching means that the teacher has
recognised something of the intrinsic mutuality and interplay
of these two important provinces. (Singley and Anderson, 1989; Postman, 1973; Milner,
Schema theory has been applied to musical learning in the work of both Jones (1982) and Bharucha
(1987); their ideas are intriguing since it is likely that they
could hold strong implications for music educators for an understanding
of transfer. Jones has advanced a concept of 'ideal prototypes', ie
long-standing conceptual models moulded from autobiographical
experiences with music. All of us have a 'reservoire' of aural
experiences, banks of data constructed from a life-time's involvement
of varying degrees with an extensive terrain of listening, performing,
and, perhaps, composing transactions. Jones sees his prototypes
as forming 'expectancy schemata' serving as templates for comparison
with musical input. For example, I may have formed an ideal prototype
of music derived from a particular style or historical period. Whether
or not the music is known to me, my processing of it would
allow me to correlate any incoming musical material with any
expectancies I had about it through the activation of expectancy
The links between this view of prototypes and the area of transfer of
learning are considerable for Jones' work goes some way towards
explaining why one can classify musical styles, periods and
performances. A strong affinity with Hans Keller's
notion (1970) of foregrounding and backgrounding in music is also suggested:
'The background of a composition is both the sum total of the
expectations a composer raises in the course of a piece without
them and the sum total of those unborn fulfilments. The foreground is
simply what he does instead.' (Keller, 1970)
The concept of expectation is woven into the writings of musical theorists and is a salient aspect of the temporal dynamism of
music (Meyer, 1956; Schoenberg, 1954); 'a dominant chord, for example, indicates that
the tonic has yet to come' (Schenker, 1906). Any
musical context establishes a graded array of expectations
that offer the basis for ambiguity and for varying degrees of
resolution. As described by Meyer, expectations may, or may not, be
conscious, but their generation and subtle violation is crucial both to
the psychology of emotion and to music aesthetics (Mandler,
Bharucha's work looks at computer simulation models of spreading
activation of schemata and the effects of priming listeners with
tonal contexts on their musical processing. He acknowledges that, as
listeners, we are broadly familiar with Western patterns of expectation
(there are powerful and authoritative accounts explaining them in terms
of chord and key relationships) but goes further by investigating
the question as to how these expectancies might be generated and what
the psychological operations could be that elicit them. Bharucha
views schematic representations as components of a larger,
interconnected system that includes sequential memory traces of specific
pieces of music. The acquisition of schemas mostly occurs in a cultural
context; those that are dependent on perception and cognition
are valid only for those individuals who have acquired these schemas
through continuing contact with the style of music specific to
their culture. Accordingly, Bharucha's work is restricted to a proposed
harmonic model that characterises the internalised structural
apparatus of an average Western listener who has had a life-time's
exposure to habitual chordal relationships. However, he writes:
'No compositional prescription or value about tonal music is in any
way entailed. The claim is only that if musical context engages
a schematic representation, perceptual facilitation will occur
automatically in accord with the representation's structural constraints
... music that at least mirrors an internalised representation is likely
to be more accessible to the average Western listener.' (Bharucha,
1987, p 27)
The overall thrust of this article has been to suggest that:
(i) the formulation of an overarching theory of transfer remains a distant vision
(ii) the results of research on general transfer of musical learning have so far shown inconsistency; and
(iii) the claims being made by some people about the effects of
learning music on non-musical areas should be treated with
The degree to which music can be said to affect cognitive processing
at all requires continued and sustained inquiry from researchers.
Gifford (1988) has stated that it is unlikely
that an individual's mental faculties are improved through what
he calls 'the power of music'. Instead, he strongly argues that a sense
of achievement in music performance could induce positive
attitudes whereby both concentration and memory may develop through
being transferred to other curriculum areas. This perspective
has also been voiced by Gagne who held (1978) that good study habits acquired in any domain of learning
possessed the potential for transferring to other domains.
However, the cognitive argument cannot be entirely discounted. As has been suggested (Hallam and Katsarou, 1998)
music's potential to influence mood may be accomplished through
relatively primitive brain mechanisms which, while they can be brought
under some conscious cognitive control, may well operate independently.
Mood might therefore be altered without the influence of interfering
memories disturbing cognitive processing. Calming, relaxing music
appears to exert a positive effect on children when they are remembering
words from sentences, whilst music that has been thought of as
aggressive exerts a negative influence on cognition in relation to
recall. How these effects occur remains an open question. Future work
could impact on our comprehension of cognition; disentangling
transfer's intricate and multiple mechanisms and probing into the nature
of musical processing are long-term tasks linked to existing
knowledge about memory, reasoning, categorisation and problem-solving.
Greater attention is needed in research work over the issue
of the very potency of transfer's dynamic; given that a task has been
mastered, for how long will transfer persist? In memory tasks
delay sometimes even facilitates performance (Thorndyke and Hayes-Roth, 1979).
Future examination of transfer
should also differentiate between its many transitory effects and those
consequences that are more long-term. Furthermore, if the
key to an understanding of transfer's behaviour in musical listening
tasks lies at the cognitive level, which seems likely, then some
of its worthwhile corollaries may be accomplished by the priming of
neural circuitry, while others may be mediated more by mood and
therapeutic arousal. Although much in these fields of enquiry remains
speculative there is every reason to hope that persistent dissection
of transfer's mysterious textures will encourage music educators to
wrestle with these eminently practical matters.
 The context of a transfer situation will be
determined by events occurring close to it in time or that
are retrieved from memory during the performance of the transfer task.
The context of two situations can affect perceived similarity.
Any salient shared component, whether surface or structural, will
increase the likelihood that two situations will be viewed as being
similar by the learner. To some extent the learner's expertise in the
area will determine whether the salient similarities noticed
are surface or structural.
 A sociogram is a diagram in which group interactions are analysed on the basis of mutual attractions or
antipathies between group members.
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