Do the benefits of music education justify the use of precious school funds? My most recent posts discussed the challenges schools face with budget cuts and how diminishing funds affect music and other programs in public schools. Despite these challenges, the benefits of music education far outweigh any monetary cost. Among other benefits I will discuss in future posts, music education helps improve elementary school students’ social development.
Few students in a music education program will grow up to be professional musicians. However, music education still has many benefits to offer young students, particularly in the social realm. Musical involvement most often involves a team or group effort, whether in an orchestra, band, or choir setting. Each student has a unique responsibility to fill within the group. This kind of responsibility fosters commitment, dependability, and strong interpersonal skills. Music education also teaches students leadership skills that will benefit them in different aspects of adult life. Because the basis of music education is active and engaging, music students develop teamwork and creative thinking skills as well as cultural awareness.
Students will one day enter the workforce, which requires skills that cannot be learned in academics. These skills can be developed through music education. States looking to make changes and reform the workforce of future generations can look to music education as an alternative. Playing music helps students learn about the nature of work, as they try to make the group sound and be better through the collective and individual efforts of each musician. As teachers, administrators, and parents consider the skills that a music education delivers to students, they should recognize that students who receive a music education perform significantly better than their peers on standards of professional success. According to a 2007 Harris Interactive Poll, 88% of people with graduate degrees participated in a music education experience. Furthermore, 83% of people with incomes above $150,000–including doctors and lawyers–had past music experience. As schools consider what they can do to improve their students’ future, music education should be kept at the top of the list.
Music education also develops teamwork and cooperation skills in young children. In order for an orchestra, band, or choir to perform well, all players must work together harmoniously towards a single goal, which is reached through learning music, attending rehearsals, and practicing. The ability to work in a team is often cited as a key skill that students need to function in society, and yet it is rarely developed in classroom settings that measure individual performance. Respondents of the Harris Poll mentioned that skills they learned in music help them today in their careers. Nearly 75% of adults with music education agree that it prepares people to be better team players in their job while 60% agree that music education has influenced their creative problem-solving skills .
Music does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. It allows students to use their own interpretation. Students involved in music education learn to think creatively and solve problems by imagining various solutions while rejecting certain rules and assumptions. Albert Einstein’s musical hobbies served as an example of his personal creativity, providing for him the kind outlet needed to invent. He once remarked, “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”
When playing a composition, thoughts must quickly turn into action. Music researcher Frances Rauscher says, “The combination of constant vigilance and forethought coupled with ever-changing physical responses is an educational experience of unique value. Students of music also learn to think creatively as they study how details are put together thoroughly. Music standards, when applied to a student’s own work, demand a new level of excellence and require students to stretch and think outside the box.”
Along with creative thinking skills, a study of music education also provides children with an internal glimpse of other cultures and teaches them to be empathetic towards the people of these cultures. This development of compassion and empathy, as opposed to development of greed and a “me first” attitude, offers young students a bridge across cultural gaps that leads to respect of other races. A music teacher taught her fourth grade students the importance of being culturally aware through a series of eight music sessions. When discussing her plans with other educators, the teacher devotedly stated, ”I consider it my responsibility to expose children to the world of musical possibilities. It fits well with their social studies curriculum, too, because music is a way of knowing culture.”
Administrators need to favor an education that promotes critical capacities and a complex understanding of the world and its peoples. We need an education that refines young students’ creativity, team building skills, moral character. Administrators need to support an education that cultivates human beings rather than intellectual machines. Administrators need to insist on the crucial importance of music education. The students don’t make money for the school, fix the economy, or make the budgets bigger – they do something far more valuable. They make the world worth living in.