I wrote this letter in response to a parent's question.
Why Music is in Our Schools
A few thoughts by a Music Teacher (this Webmaster)
Music is in our schools because it has been an ageless passion of human beings of every culture in the world. There has never been a culture on earth that has not found music to be intellectually and emotionally valuable. Music has its own visual and aural systems that have evolved over the centuries, including notation of rhythm, melody and dynamics. It has been used by master composers and folk musicians alike to produce recognized musical works of art. The craftsmanship and unique timbre of the instruments invented to produce music could be a worthy course of study alone.
Music stands on its own merits. Music is worthy to be studied and has value in itself and needs no other justification for its presence in education. Music has been included in public education since the time of the ancient Greeks, and has been included in American public school education for over 300 years. There are, however, reasons that music should be included in education apart from its own intrinsic value.
Music Helps to Educate the Whole Child
Children are innately responsive to music without being taught to have a specific response. As a grandparent, I see my less than one year old granddaughter’s eyes light up when I sing her a favorite song. She bounces and moves to the steady beat of the song. Though she does not have language as we know it, she vocalizes her version of the song at the same specific point in the song each time, without being taught that some songs are in AB form. Music reaches the emotions and fills a place in the child’s heart. Music allows a child to express joy in the most natural way for them, both verbally and physically, through singing, movement and playing of simple instruments. Music completes the picture and helps reach the whole child, including the emotional component.
Music Supports Learning in Other Subjects
Music is a valuable supporting pillar of what is sometimes referred to incorrectly as the “core curriculum”*. Modern studies show that students who play musical instruments and study music have higher math scores than children who do not. Music, being an abstract art form, aids a child’s abstract thinking. In my kindergarten and first grade classes, the musical rhythm of poems and nursery rhymes enhances a child’s verbal expression. It gives students to whom English is a new second language, the rhythm and feel of our English language, as well as a time to practice it in a familiar group setting. Musical melodies help children learn math facts, the days of the week, the months of the year, the relative order of our planets, States and their Capitols, learning to count in a foreign language, and the list of rote fact learning that can be enhanced by music is unlimited.
Music Students Learn to Work Cooperatively in Groups
At my school, music is a group activity and experience. The student must learn discipline as they learn music. They learn that in order to produce effective music; they must play as a unit and not just hit the instrument in an unorganized manner. Choir members learn that through discipline and musical skill, they can produce a more complex piece of music as a group, than they can as individuals. A Columbia University study indicates that students in the arts, including music, are more cooperative with teachers and peers, more self-confident and better able to express their ideas. Students who play, sing, or move in groups must learn to use their higher level thinking skills. Consider the complex processes involved in reading and playing a simple piece of music; a student must be able to interpret a score, its symbols, translate those symbols into an instrument specific meaning including its rhythm, dynamics, and fingering. They have to simultaneously keep in mind the importance of their individual part in the music ensemble i.e. should I play louder or softer here? Am I playing with the group or am I getting too fast or too slow? They have to consider the pitch and tuning of the voice or instrument, the proper pronunciation of the words, the meaning of the words and all of this takes place almost simultaneously. This complex activity can not take place without the student knowing how to behave and work in a group.
Music Brings Joy
This reason, on the surface, appears to be the weakest plank in my structure supporting the need for music in a child’s life. To me, as one who witnesses this joy on a daily basis, it is the strongest. I’ve seen the smiles and heard the laughter as a child moves and creates his own movements to the beat and joyful melody of a Celtic jig. I’ve seen children who come into the room with tense, concerned facial expressions, get into the peaceful flow of a Mid-Eastern circle movement, and the whole body relaxes and tension melts. As a teacher who has worked in secondary schools, I’ve seen students with poor academic grades, improve their scores in order to stay in choir or band and perform in a Texas region or state music event. I’ve had countless students tell me that the highlight of their educational day is coming to their band or choir rehearsal. As a teacher with twenty years of experience, I’ve seen many of my students continue to perform music as adults, in church, community and professional music organizations. Many of my former students make their living today by teaching, performing and creating music. Lastly, music enriches my personal life. It is not only my vocation, but my source of joy as I sing, play, write songs, record my performances and share them with people from all over the world, as close as "Hometown", TX and as far away as Finland.
This short paper is only a nugget in the gold mine of facts as to why music is an essential part of a person’s education. The reasons are myriad and thousands can be found in articles, books, in digital collections across the internet, and in millions of personal testimonies. If after reading this and other scholarly information on the topic of “Why Music” you have not begun to see its importance, I ask you to do only one more thing: Ask one of our elementary students this question, “Would you tell me how you feel about your music class? “I love music!” is the number one response. As a parent and grandparent, I don’t need anymore reasons to make sure they are in a music education class.
*Core Academic Subjects as Defined by No Child Left Behind 2002
The term ‘core academic subjects’ means English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography.
The following information can be found and fact checked at http://www.menc.org/resources/view/why-music-education-2007
Young Children and Music
Young children who received a year of musical training showed brain changes and superior memory compared with children who did not receive the instruction.
Music Students Report Low Lifetime Substance Use
Secondary students who participated in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances (alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs).
Healthy Social Development
With music in schools, students connect to each other better—greater camaraderie, fewer fights, less racism and reduced use of hurtful sarcasm.
Schools that have music programs have significantly higher graduation rates than do those without programs (90.2% as compared to 72.9%). In addition, those that rate their programs as “excellent” or “very good” have an even higher graduation rate (90.9%). Schools that have music programs have significantly higher attendance rates than do those without programs (93.3% as compared to 84.9%).
Students in Schools with Music Programs Have Higher Standardized Test Scores
Students in high-quality school music programs score higher on standardized tests compared to students in schools with deficient music education programs, regardless of the socioeconomic level of the school or school district. Students in top-quality music programs scored 22% better in English and 20% better in math than students in deficient music programs. Students in top-quality instrumental programs scored 19% higher in English than students in schools without a music program. Students in top quality instrumental programs scored 17% higher in math than children in schools without a music program. Students at schools with excellent music programs had higher English and math test scores across the country than students in schools with low-quality music programs. Students in all regions with lower-quality instrumental programs scored higher in English and math than students who had no music at all.
Integration of Music and Reading
Music instruction ... has been used effectively to aid beginning readers by reinforcing their auditory and visual reception and discrimination abilities, visual sequential memory, and language reception and expression abilities. Music experiences, thus, may foster the acquisition of students' basic communication skills. Integrated reading and music experiences, for example, may facilitate increased aural-visual discrimination and speech skills with reading and product positive attitudes toward reading.