This topic is one of the most important ones that occupy the waking hours of all passionate musicians and educationalists. Over successive years here in the UK, there appears to have been a deliberate attempt by politicians to dissolve education in The Arts in favor of a core curriculum that draws its focus on Science, Mathematics, and the English Language. While I am not in any way suggesting the absence of value in these subjects when they are placed and promoted in a manner that is detrimental to Arts, I feel there is a dilemma that requires action.
Why Is Music Education Important
There has been a significant body of research extolling the benefits of a musical education over at least the last three decades. The benefits of participating in music from the very early stages of life, and in some cases, pre-natal, are well documented. These benefits include things like the development of language and reasoning, increased coordination, furthers emotional development, memory, develops creative thinking, spatial intelligence, and teamwork to highlight but a few key areas.
The unique element that music education seems to offer is developed in areas that few other subjects do and noticeable improvement with ability in these different subjects. If you remain unconvinced so far, then take a moment to reflect on what Chinese philosopher and poet Confucius wrote: “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”
One of the paramount considerations when thinking about music education is that it offers children the opportunity to participate in music; to be actively involved. This to my mind is of particular relevance today when so many of the activities that children engage in are passive and undertaken through an interface such as a phone, iPad, or computer. Even though tens of thousands of children listen to music, it is being presented with a chance to participate in music and its creation that is extremely valuable. It allows interacting with other participants, uses your imagination, and develops new skills. This, in turn, can lead to improved self-esteem, alongside simply having a lot of creative fun.
Consider the skills that are used when you learn to play an instrument. For any instrument you may choose, it requires a whole raft of abilities, all of which grow and develop during the learning process. Hand-eye coordination, reading musical notation, (essentially a learning a new kind of language), working with melody, harmony and rhythm are but a small selection of skills you acquire during instrumental learning. Learning an instrument involves engaging in a deeper way of listening to and participating in music. If you have the chance to play your instrument with a teacher or other students, then the benefits increase and the demands on the individual student in conjunction. This requires considerable focus from the student, and this alone can yield huge and lasting value across all the subjects that children study at school.
All the work and concentration involved may sound counter-productive, especially after of during a busy day. Still, numerous musicians at all levels find that the practice of playing or indeed writing music can be genuinely relaxing. For many, it is that concentration alongside the heightened awareness of practice that brings a more relaxed state. Perhaps it is also the knowledge that you are positively occupied in a creative activity that can create calm and a sense of peace. If you watch a jazz musician when they are deep into a solo passage, improvising freely from their hearts and minds, you may notice their eyes are closed, and a look of focused serenity covers their face. It could be viewed even as a kind of meditation allowed to flourish through the play of rhythms, melodies, and harmonies with each other.
The curious aspect of music is that it is us that make it. By this, I mean that a scientist can tell you the frequency of a pitch or series of pitches, but it is the human brain that constructs these pitches into a melody. Likewise, the musical elements that create a composition taken as individuals’ components can be explained in a variety of ways through science, but only when they are assigned meaning by human beings do they truly become what is recognized as music. This gives the music an extraordinary place in the human psyche that travels back to our furthest ancestors. The inclusion of music into any learning environment is utterly essential, even a fundamental human need.
Music can break down social barriers and can push aside prejudice. Consider how jazz began to bring together the black and white community in America at the turn of the 20th Century. This is a generalization in some respects, but the integration of two distinct genres of music into what became called ‘ragtime’, made a significant contribution to the dissolution of segregation. In education, music offers a forum for children of every ability and background to join in, be part of something creative, form new friendships, and develop a vast range of essential skills.
Music connects people by celebrating cultural differences through the commonality of the art itself. In broad terms, this kind of musical fusion can link almost any unconnected genres of music by recognizing the similar elements of rhythm, melody, form, texture, dynamics that underpin all music. Come of the most notable compositions of the 19th, 20th, and 21st-century compositions have been conceived through the influence of other cultures. It has become a central part of the continuing evolution of music and children, through music education, can be part of this.
Imagine for a moment what the world would be like without music. For me, it’s impossible to imagine, but if the music were not art, then there would be such a cultural black hole as to require a reinvention of what it means to be human. If you find this an unacceptable position, then think about the music industry, the enormous revenue it generates, the jobs it provides, and the wide variety of entertainment and culture it offers. According to ‘UK Music’, the ‘true’ value of the economic music industry is £3.5 billion. This takes into account the revenue that can be traced and adequately accounted for, but never the less represents a significant figure in one country alone.
Music education should be at the very heart of our learning community. Without music, the world could not function, and as Nietzsche claimed, “(Music’s) main purpose, however, is to lead our thoughts upward, so that it elevates us, even deeply moves us”.