Linking Music with Other Learning Areas

What’s in greatest demand today is not analysis but synthesis—seeing the big picture, crossing boundaries, and being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole. —Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

Life is interdisciplinary and multisensory. We learn through all the senses, and we embrace the richness of opportunity and experience that is befitting our multi-intelligent capacity. The richer the brain diet stimulated by the senses, the more complex the brain becomes. Learning material presented with pictures and sound provides an emotional attachment that makes it easier to remember and more enjoyable to learn. The most effective memory-building techniques are based on the principle of association, and the strongest associations are emotional. This is multisensory learning.

Our senses evolved to work together…which means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once. —John Medina, Brain Rules

Subject compartmentalisation limits student opportunity to find and observe connection. Schools claim to be holistic by nurturing mental, physical, artistic, and spiritual aspects of the self. In reality, though, the emphasis is very much on mental education, which results in curricula that lack context and are reductionist and fragmented. Interdisciplinary education is a mindset that looks for opportunities to make connections among subjects. It encourages thinking about content from different viewpoints and results in a creative synergy and a more personalised education. Students need opportunities to discover connections between disparate bodies of knowledge; this is an axiom of creative thinking. The probability of being creative favours the connected mind. Fostering creativity is an overarching aim in just about every curriculum statement worldwide. Are our general education systems up to the challenge of fostering and sustaining creativity, innovation, and imagination in their students?

A real education is the ability to perceive hidden connections between phenomena. —Václav Havel, Czech playwright and politician

 Many of the world’s foremost thinkers were at the intersection of disciplines. Pythagoras of Ancient Greece (570–490 BC) believed that by connecting the natural properties of different doctrines he could discover the secrets of the world. Pythagoras was fascinated by the relationships between music, numbers, the cosmos, and psychology; he was a synthesiser. His great contribution to music was the formation of the diatonic scale, which he developed through mathematical research and scientific investigation. Pythagoras may well be the first person on record who employed music as a therapeutic agent. He believed that beauty and truth combine in music and that music can “quell the passions of the soul”. In his philosophy, medicine and therapy were based on music. He called the medicine obtained through music “purification.” Hence music played an important part in Pythagorean education because music could purify both manners and lives. Those who committed crimes were prescribed “pipe (possibly the panpipe) and harmony” to shape the mind so that it became cultured again. At night Pythagoreans sang certain songs to produce tranquil sleep and induce sweet dreams. In the morning they sang different songs to awaken and prepare for the day. Sometimes the music was instrumental, played on the lyre alone. Pythagoras considered the study of music essential for a rational understanding of God and nature. If education is about integrating thought, Pythagoras and the Greek thinkers who followed him led the way.

Possibly the greatest multi-intelligent person was the insatiably curious Leonardo da Vinci, who was accomplished at so many things. This list hardly does him justice, but his occupations included painter, musician, inventor, scientist, sculptor, architect, mathematician, and writer. Da Vinci’s approach to learning was fully intersectional, cognitive, and sensory. He studied the art of science and the science of art, which generated enormous creativity. He believed that no singular entity should be studied in isolation from context. Like Pythagoras, da Vinci believed that every part of the universe is linked and thus affects every other part. Biologist Charles Darwin regretted not having a greater involvement with music, realising in later life that it would have had a major impact on his intellectual development. Today employers such as Microsoft look for creative types who can find and make connections between seemingly unrelated bodies of knowledge. Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating believes that rationalism without a higher and more conceptual “poetic strand of life” is incomplete. Keating discusses the power of synthesis between beauty and reason in his 2011 book After Words. His inspiration comes from music and beauty. Keating says:

Music has always been a large part of what makes me tick. When I was listening to music I would always have the pad out to write the ideas down. You listen to a great work, something that was created afresh; you hear the majesty of these works and your head and soul gets caught up in them. When that happens you are in for bigger things and you will strike out to be better.

Specialists are not enough. Society needs synthesists and big-picture thinkers. Creativity expert Hideaki Koizumi asserts “Great innovation and new ideas emerge from trans-disciplinary connections”. Opportunities abound to find connection between music and the other Gardner-defined intelligences. I will explore these in future posts.

 mi music


 An excerpt from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin

The Music Trust (review)    VMTA (review)

“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, New Haven, USA.

“Super book. I am so impressed!” – Donna Michaels, USA

“Fantastic book, simply brilliant! – Ian Cooper, Norfolk, UK

“Don’t miss this opportunity!” – Mary George, USA

“Rarely do I come away feeling so inspired. Incredibly beneficial.” – Music Matters Blog

“Such a practical book. SO glad I purchased this. – Jocelyn Beath, NZ

“Most stimulating!” – Nicholas Carpenter, Prebendal, UK

“A must buy for every music teacher and music student” – William Bruce, Teacher of Strings, UK.

“Deeply impressive, the breadth of research is fascinating!” – Robert Chamberlain, Team of Pianists and Monash University Piano Staff, Victoria Australia.

“Awesome! I want to recommend it to every teacher I know” – Michael Williamson, Australia

“I loved it. Extremely helpful and inspiring!” – Cheryl Livingstone, Australia

“The best resource for music educators” – Andrew Heuzenroeder, Australia

“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.

Amazon UK
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Australia: Contact for direct mail.

front cover final

Also by Michael Griffin


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents.  “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

BookCoverPreview Bk 2

Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!”  – St George College, Australia

Available at

BookCover VR

‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 123 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“This is really good for all kinds of vocal groups, choirs, conductors. Bravo!!”

“The thinking person’s guide to training a choir. Love it!”

“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”

harmony bk cover

Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging.  Available at


Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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Posted in Music Education
4 comments on “Linking Music with Other Learning Areas
  1. Further support for this hypothesis is found in the connection between law and music. Many composers and lyricists attended law school and even practiced law: Handel, Tchaikovsky, Chabrier, William Gilbert, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter, and even Banjo Patterson. It also helps explain the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, The Barristers Big Band, and the Scales of Justice Jazz Combo.

  2. Elaine Sharman says:

    a very important discussion – see ISME research seminar1980, my research on the effects of music on young children’s reading. So much has discovered about the help that music gives in general learning, we know that music should be a publicly funded fundamental part of all curricula in all schools.

  3. Joe Martinez says:

    I eagerly await your future posts.

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