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The Benefits of a Music Education

January 5, 2012

Guitar duo, little kids rockIs there anyone who does not enjoy some form of music? From our mother’s first lullabies, and accompanying us through holidays, celebrations, sports events, and rituals, music has added beauty, grace, vitality and expression to our lives.

Music can be enjoyed alone and with others. It can be a space for solitary meditation. It can provide an opportunity to connect with various like-minded groups of people, from garage band pals to “Sing-Along-Messiahcasts of thousands. It is a portal to our self-expression and an opportunity to appreciate others in new ways. The music experience can be active performing or passive listening. As the poet Sidney Lanier wrote, “Music is love in search of a word.”

In addition to the pure joy of music listening or participation, music study helps us in other real and substantial ways. The National Association for Music Education groups the benefits of music education into four categories:

Success in Society

Every human culture uses music to carry forward its ideas and ideals. Music study provides children with an internal glimpse of other cultures and teaches them to be empathetic towards the people of these cultures. Performing helps us to conquer fear and to take risks. The U.S. Department of Education stated "Many colleges view participation in the arts and music as a valuable experience that broadens students’ understanding and appreciation of the world around them. It is also widely recognized that the arts contribute significantly to children’s intellectual development." The arts in general create jobs, boost tourism, spur growth in related businesses (hotels, restaurants, printing, etc.) and improve the overall quality of life for our cities and towns.

Success in School

Skills learned through the discipline of music transfer to study, communication, and cognitive skills useful in every part of a child’s school curriculum. The discipline of music study—particularly through participation in ensembles—helps students learn to work effectively in the school environment without resorting to violent or inappropriate behavior. Recent studies show that students who study the arts achieve higher grades in high school and are more successful on standardized tests such as the SAT.

Success in Developing Intelligence

Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning. There is also a causal link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things). Music students learn to think creatively and to solve problems in imaginative ways.

Success in Life

Music study develops skills that are necessary in the workplace, such as teamwork and discipline. It focuses on “doing,” as opposed to observing, and teaches students how to perform, literally, anywhere in the world. Music students learn craftsmanship and what constitutes good, as opposed to mediocre, work. Former President, Bill Clinton, who enjoyed playing jazz on the tenor saxophone, came first-hand to this conclusion, ”Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and, by studying music in school, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective.”

Kathy Butera is Lecturer/Supervisor of the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department at Columbia College Chicago. She was formerly Executive Director of Sherwood Conservatory of Music (now merged with Columbia) and has held management positions with the Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Chicago symphony orchestras.