An Education in Music is an Education for Life
by Anna Contini

Every parent wants the best for his or her child – a sound education, full development of social, creative and physical skills, happiness and ultimately success in life. But with a myriad of extra-curricular choices out there, it sometimes can be difficult to make the right decisions.

Increasingly, studies are proving what many parents and music teachers have known all along – that an education in music can pay enormous dividends. Research shows that involvement in music powerfully reinforces such crucial characteristics as self-esteem, self-discipline, creativity and self-expression. It helps develop problem-solving skills, integrates subject matter across the curriculum, and correlates highly with overall academic achievement.

Some of the most important information comes from a benchmark study by Dr. James Catterall. Analyzing data collected by the U.S. Department of Education on 25,000 American students whose education and performance were tracked over several years from 1988 on, Dr. Catterall concluded that involvement in the arts in general during a student’s early years is strongly linked to higher academic performance in subsequent school years, increased scores on standardized tests, greater community involvement, lower school dropout rates and increased self-esteem. These benefits occurred irrespective of the students socio-economic status.

In view of the many benefits to be gleaned from an overall arts education, music lessons can be viewed as an investment in a child’s future. In a brochure entitled “Music and Your Child,” the Foundation for the Advancement of Education in Music cites seven important skills a child can learn by studying music:

Learning to perceive and derive meaning from musical sounds – for example, to identify a musical theme – sharpens a child’s ability to comprehend abstractions.

Solving Problems
The ability to understand a problem and reach an appropriate solution is one of the most important skills a child can learn. Learning the basics of musical language, such as harmony, or interpreting a work through performance teaches this skill.

Reasoning Logically
Applying particular lessons to other problems and situations requires sound reasoning. When a child learns to analyze a musical work or to improvise within a certain musical style, both inductive and deductive reasoning grow stronger.

Making Value Judgments
Learning to comprehend, consider, and evaluate in music can help a child make informed decisions in other aspects of life. Discriminating between great and lesser works or justifying musical choices in compositions can teach a child to make and uphold value judgments.
Using Symbols
Learning to read, write and interpret musical notation provides access to a non-verbal world of thought and strengthens the use of other symbol systems as well, such as mathematics and language.

A child learns to classify and generalize by learning to identify different types and styles of music, to recognize how different cultures use music for personal expression and to recognize common elements in different works.

One of the greatest gifts of music is its ability to cultivate our feelings and thoughts through non-verbal means. Being able to express feelings and thoughts, while responding to them in others, is indispensable in a child’s total development.

There is mounting evidence that the preschool years are the optimal learning time for developing musical abilities. Giving young children the chance to experience a variety of musical activities such as singing, dancing and playing an instrument can aid them in learning language skills, independence and control of their world. Sally Gross, a teacher for the Suzuki String School of Guelph, agrees that the ideal age to begin music lessons is between three and six. She explains that children undergo a growth spurt in their preschool years, so that if they are properly stimulated their brain development can be greatly enhanced. Leslie Wyber, Music Director for Guelph School of Music, reinforces the advantages of early music education: “Making music is such an integral part of childhood, and with happy musical experiences as youngsters all children can grow up with a lifelong love of making and responding to music.

A sustained, well-rounded education in music gives a child intellectual and creative advantages that last a lifetime. Musical involvement is a worth-while investment in a child’s future. In recounting the value of a music education, one must not overlook perhaps the single greatest benefit of all: music-making for the sheer joy of it!