Why should we be teaching music in schools?

“It is widely acknowledged that music education can improve numeracy, literacy and social interaction and it deeply confuses and saddens me that we are having to fight so hard to save it” – Nicola Benedetti

It is no secret that the significance of music in schools is currently undervalued, it has lost ground to the core subjects, an obsession with improving numeracy and literacy; but does increasing the emphasis of these at the cost of music improve education? Two Years ago, the ISM, Incorporated Society Of Musicians began voicing their concerns over the proposed further funding cuts in music education, warning government officials of the implications that would follow their decision if they approved the proposal, exclaiming that it would “cost the soul of the nation”.

So why does the educational system keep undermining the importance of art and music? Have we as a society lost the ability to appreciate art? Learning an instrument can play a key role in a person’s development. The skills learnt can be linked to developing a greater understanding of self, encouraging soul searching and abstract thought, improved numeracy skills, literacy, decision-making, multitasking, social interaction and teamwork… the list goes on.

The American Psychological Association has recently released a paper in which it strongly suggests that having regular music lessons will improve a child’s ability to read and respond to sound. Dr. Nina Kraus of Northwestern University states, “we are finding that music training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner… music automatically sharpens the nervous system’s response to sounds”. In the Journal of Neuroscience many scholars argue that rhythm also has an important role in learning languages, “we know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills“, adds Dr. Nina Kraus.

Despite a multitude of articles providing ample evidence to highlight the value of music education, it seems foolish and blinkered for one to not acknowledge the qualities it brings. Perhaps we need to delve deeper into the topic in order to understand why certain members of the population see the arts and music as a ‘secondary subject’. One argument is that many children have no interest in the subject at school, or that the music curriculum is too focused towards a classical repertoire and many find it difficult to relate to genres that they are unfamiliar with?

How many youngsters listen to music that is not in the charts? The forum for expanding their appreciation to more than the current offerings is limited. I’m not just talking about classical music, children are not being exposed to enough musical genres for them to gather an appreciation for genres such as Classical, Folk, Jazz or Rock music… Alas Pop music in recent years has typically had a negative impact on children. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) have released numerous reports saying that there is sufficient proof to suggest that popular music videos in particular are inextricably linked to mental health issues such as depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and anti-social behaviour.

So if popular music is having a negative affect on children, then why not encourage appreciation of other musical forms? If the theory were correct, would we see a reduction in the amount of mental health issues in the UK if schools put more emphasis on music education from an earlier age? Without a grounding in art appreciation perhaps something of the human soul will be lost. Art and its creation has been one of humanities greatest achievements and gifts.

If the appreciation and creation of art is downgraded as a meaningless token, to be superseded by structured learning only, what will that mean for the children of tomorrow? Will we deliver a society that has lost something special, the consideration of enjoying art and music as its own reward – rather going out at the weekend listening to a pumping beat through the haze of inebriation. That’s not to say that we cannot or should not enjoy the propulsive beat found in clubs or on the radio; it merely just limits someone’s musical horizons, artistic stimulation, and increases the risk of mental health problems in young children, especially if this is the only genre that is known.

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