Keeping a Musical Beat Is Linked
to Academic Skills
In a 1994 feature in the Los Angeles Times, writer Maia Davis
describes a motor-skills class at an elementary school in Ventura,
With all eyes trained on their teacher, the group of second-graders
at Ventura's Mound School tried to follow her every move as they
clapped their hands, slapped their thighs, and kicked their heels to
the tune of bluegrass music.
But some children were struggling: Their hands hit their left knees
when they should have gone to the right. Their legs flew up into
kicks at the moment that they should have hit the floor.
"It's kind of hard to get the message down to your legs as fast as
the music," 7-year-old Kerianne Hewitt said.
The elementary school launched the (motor-skills) class four years
ago based on research showing that the ability to respond
physically to a musical beat is closely linked to children's skills in
reading, writing and concentration.
"We have noticed (the class) helps kids concentrate and hold their
attention span longer. We have seen kids who have difficulty
reading and writing improve because they are able to organize their
thoughts better," said Principal Beverly McCaslin.
Teacher Joanne Bowie leads the motor-skills instruction every
Friday for each of the school's first through fifth-grade classes.
During some classes, the students clap, march, or jump rope. In
others, they recite poems to music. "I try to present it in a variety
of ways just to keep the interest up," Bowie said.
But the goal in all the class activities is to help children learn to
keep a steady one-two beat with the music.
Bowie bases her instruction mainly on workshops she has taken
from Phyllis S. Weikart, a retired physical education professor
from the University of Michigan.
A nationally recognized expert in motor-skills development for
children, Weikart maintains that children should begin to develop
an innate sense of timing when they are infants.
When care-givers pat or stroke babies to the tune of a lullaby, for
example, they are helping the children make a connection between
what they hear and what they do, Weikart said in an interview
from her Michigan home.
That "hearing-feeling connection," as Weikart calls it, is what
allows children to listen to something that is being said or watch
something that is being done and follow the directions. 'What
you're linking is action, thought and language,' she said.
And having a sense of inner timing allows children to speak or
read in whole sentences instead of just one word at a time.
But studies show the number of children with the ability to keep a
steady beat has declined in recent years, from a range of 80% to
90% to about 10%, Weikart said.
"I feel it's probably the most fundamental of all the problems we
face in education today," she said.
(Weikart) believes that the fault lies partly with adults who
mistakenly believe hat children respond better to the rhythm of
words or syllables than to a steady beat. Many adults today, for
example, clap the hand game "Patty Cake" with children to the
rhythm of the words' syllables rather than to a steady one-two beat.
"What's happening today is that the children are receiving
movement stimulation in rhythm rather than in beat," she said.
At Mound, Bowie said she finds at the beginning of each year that
only about one-third of the students can independently keep a
steady beat. By the end of the year, the number climbs to two-
And the children said they have become more confident about their
abilities to move to music.
"I was just really shy (at first)," 8-year-old Jordan Frye said. "It's
just really neat to see that you can dance."
For Source information, return to Why Music? Links and Info Page

To Music Education Links

Return to Main Menu