Emotional intelligence is similar to the intelligence quotient (IQ). However, instead of trying to figure out how smart people are based on their answers to questions, emotional intelligence is more concerned with how people relate to others. School administrators have begun to understand more about how emotional intelligence plays into the lives of students, and more school districts have begun to integrate emotional intelligence into their curricula. Music classes are the easiest way to facilitate activities that can help students develop emotional intelligence.
It is widely accepted that participating in music classes can have a calming effect on children with a variety of emotional disorders or who struggle with behavioral problems at home and at school. In terms of emotional intelligence, music can help individuals to develop positive emotions such as empathy, active listening, and other pro-social behaviors.
While less research has been conducted on emotional intelligence and its connection to music education, the research that has been conducted has been promising. For example, one researcher examined the differences between musicians and non-musicians when it came to emotional intelligence, and the findings were quite interesting.
Researcher Glenn Schellenberg separated emotional intelligence into four categories: the ability to perceive emotions, understand how emotions operate, use emotions to facilitate critical thinking, and manage emotions in social situations. Schellenberg sought to find a connection between music and emotional intelligence, as well as to explain the meaning behind the higher IQ scores of musicians. Although the study's findings weren't considered statistically significant by scientific standards, there was a strong indication that musicians score better on IQ tests than their non-musical counterparts.
Another study focused on adults who completed a series of tests designed to gauge the connection between music and emotional intelligence. In one standardized emotional test, participants wrote about the emotions that they believed they would experience in hypothetical situations. The other test looked at participants’ ability to listen to classical piano while attempting to describe the emotions elicited by the music. Study participants with higher levels of emotional intelligence were able to accurately describe the emotions elicited by the music. By comparing the studies’ two sets of tests, it was revealed that the same emotions necessary to deal with everyday situations were the same ones used to identify the meaning behind the music.
One explanation was that listening to music and learning how to play it presents several inherent challenges that can only be mastered with a proper level of emotional intelligence and cognitive functioning, such as hand-eye coordination, attention span, and several other indicators.
Just as the Mozart Effect has been shown to increase students’ ability to express themselves verbally, additional research has examined how music can impact cognitive functioning in other areas of life. Research has shown that music students are better able to execute tasks that involve listening such as identifying songs. These enhanced listening skills can be essential for developing healthy emotional intelligence. Moreover, music has been shown to have a generally positive effect on nearly any task that a person is required to perform.
Developing Musical Flow
Both amateur and professional musicians often use the word “flow” to describe this part of the creative process. Flow basically refers to the creation of a musical piece intended to elicit a certain reaction from an audience and represents the range of emotions that musicians go through in the process. The performer is highly motivated to speak directly to a specific type of listener in the creation of the music, which requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. Developing an understanding of what type of music stirs certain emotions means that a musician must have a close connection to that set of emotions themselves.
Essentially, flow is the optimal music experience for both the musician and the listener. Researchers describe flow as a rewarding aspect of the musical experience—both for the performer and the listener. Once optimal flow is achieved, it creates a circular creative pattern of wanting to continue producing more emotionally impactful music. Despite the anecdotal evidence that links musical flow with higher emotional intelligence, there has still been a lack of in-depth research on the topic. What is known is that musicians who have higher levels of emotional intelligence tend to focus on flow and are able to engage in music creation for longer periods of time.
Helping children to deal with their emotions in a positive way is one of the chief advantages of participating in musical activities. Parents can help to encourage their children to develop an emotional connection to music before they are even old enough to participate in lessons on their own by introducing sounds and rhythms into their lives at an early age. As children grow up, it is important to nurture their musical interests and find new ways to engage them. Older children can also benefit, since learning social skills associated with high emotional intelligence will help them to navigate tough situations as they progress through school.