Peter Banks is a chemistry teacher at Purcell School Of Music in the UK and viola player for Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. Asking the questions “Is there something in the arts that supports and enhances the study of the sciences?” and “Can music and the arts help improve our students’ understanding of chemistry?”, Banks takes readers through the importance of arts subjects in schools for a student’s science education.
Taking a look at some of the world’s finest specialist music schools, Banks contends that exam results at music schools are continuously significantly above the national margin. According to his findings, in 2015, The Purcell School’s GCSE Double Award Science (biology, chemistry & physics) exam average was 90%, Chetham’s School of Music was 96% and the national average was a low of 69%. While he acknowledges other factors including smaller class sizes and a higher proportion of students from advantaged backgrounds, Banks highlights that common thread between high-grading students at music schools is their musical ability.
Next up, Banks focuses on the many findings he has come across that display a direct connection between music and science education. A study by Adrian Hille and Jürgen Schupp found that musical students have “improved cognitive skills, increased conscientiousness and higher perceived control.” Banks then points out the BBC Tomorrow’s World experiment in which students were played either classical, rock or no music. “Those who listened to the music performed better in spatial intelligence tests than those who didn’t.” From his research, Banks asserts that there is a direct correlation between music experience and student performance.
Banks also touches on the advantages of the ability to read sheet music, recognise patterns and music structure. “As chemists, we often look for patterns. At higher levels, we look at patterns in molecules, reflections, rotations and translations, and the effect these patterns have on physical properties. These require complex pattern recognition skills, especially when looking at the three-dimensional nature of molecules”. Banks suggests that the process of reading sheet music enables his students to understand the data and patterns in the periodic table faster than any other subject he teaches. Moreover, he believes that due to the importance of timing during performance musicians develop a “keen sense of collaboration”, which can be used in the classroom during group work. He then sites that “in 2005, Bruno Repp discussed how musicians display much better coordination with predictable external events than non-musicians.”
Lastly, Banks turns to music analogies. By using instruments to help his students understand various concepts, he ultimately taps into a pre-existing knowledge base to help foster a new one. The chemistry teacher tells readers how he uses “the idea of harmonics to help explain electronic structure” or the many materials used to build different instruments to explain reactivity.
Closing his argument by stating that the arts “give another side to our pupils’ education and help them make sense of the world around them”, Banks encourages other educators and institutes to incorporate music and the arts into the world of science.
To read Peter Banks’ entire article, head to The Royal Society Of Chemistry.