Books & Literature

Book Review: The Music Advantage, by Dr Anita Collins

EDUCATION: The latest international neurological research reveals the extraordinary and often surprising benefits of learning music for children.

A useful guide for anyone at a loss with a struggling student.

Featured in ABC’s Don’t Stop the Music documentary, musical expert Dr Anita Collins shares some fascinating and recently discovered scientific findings with the release of her first book The Music Advantage. The research shows that learning music enhances brain development.

Dr Collins’ book is based on the neuromusical research of many worldwide experts which proves that music and language processing are closely connected. She cites research that demonstrates musicians generally have higher executive functions, higher developed memory systems, and a higher cognitive capacity. The evidence shows that musicians also tend to solve problems more creatively and efficiently than non-musicians.

The book is divided into four main parts so, regardless of whether you are reading it as an educator or a parent, you will easily be able to locate the relevant material. Among others, there are chapters relating to school environments which document the transformative effects of teaching music to students. The evidence shows that teaching music can help to manage behaviours, improve educational outcomes, and increase resilience as students become comfortable with discomfort and failure.

Each chapter of the book has a theory supported by a personal story. For example, one topic Dr Collins discusses is how the brain’s connection of sound to symbol when playing an instrument is then subconsciously applied to learning to read. In other words, each letter and word is a symbol that connects to a sound. She reflects upon her own struggle in learning to read (despite her mother being a teacher), explaining that she had the ‘aha’ moment and was reading within six months after learning the clarinet.

Despite this format, which demonstrates that the author has significant data and research to back up her claims, the book is trying too hard to convince the audience. Clearly, Dr Collins is passionate about making music learning a mandatory part of education in schools, yet it feels to the reader like she is pushing this agenda rather than letting the extensive evidence speak for itself. As such, it comes across as a little didactic.

Nevertheless, one can only gain from reading this book. In particular, those that work with disadvantaged youth, behavioural and developmental therapists, and anyone working with adults with limited cognitive capacity might benefit from the research presented here.

Dr Anita Collin’s amazing skill as an educator is obvious; she explains each scientific theory in simple terms and in a relatable way, so readers finds themselves having several ‘aha’ moments.

Reviewed by Rebecca Wu

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: September 2020
RRP: $32.99

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