You may be one of those adults who remember with distaste being forced to practice piano, or sit through an opera, in elementary school. In which case, you may see little point in advocating for music education—even if you’re a teacher yourself.
On the other hand, you probably remember the fun of the “Hokey Pokey,” nonsense songs, and impromptu parades with improvised musical instruments. So what should music classes offer the six-to-ten-year-old—just hilarious rhymes and active play?
Actually, we can give them that and the opportunity to learn about music history and the orchestra, without diminishing their enjoyment. When handled effectively, music education teaches physical exercise, motor skills, creativity, culture, and interpersonal empathy, all in one package.
It’s Good for the Brain, Too
It also contributes to the overall effectiveness of education. Most children who study music (and other arts) get better grades in all their classes, and are also more interested in school as a whole. Moreover, neuroscience says that the young, developing brain shows distinctly positive physical changes, especially in the areas that process language and perceptions, when regularly exposed to music. The classic practice of learning straight facts by singing them (or setting them to rhyme) really does work.
And, of course, music nurtures the creative side of the brain, encouraging improvisation and the exploration of new ideas. At the same time, it makes use of an often-ignored principle, paradoxical yet universal: true freedom and originality can only be achieved when certain boundaries are understood and adhered to. As every experienced musician knows, each performance of a symphony or song follows the same musical pattern—yet is unique in itself.
Should the Kids Play Instruments?
Children can get a lot out of simply absorbing music and the stories and culture behind it. If their learning goes no further, they will still develop increased listening and analytical skills, plus a greater appreciation for others’ feelings.
Nonetheless, they need opportunities to play “making music,” creating their own songs or testing out makeshift drums and whistles. And any child who shows interest should definitely be encouraged to take up an “official” instrument and reap the benefits:
- Learning a musical instrument develops motor skills, feel for harmony, and self-discipline.
- It provides opportunities for community and teamwork. (All young musicians should be encouraged to perform with groups as well as solo.)
- It opens the doors to new worlds of creativity and unique personal expression.
- It’s active learning—and immediately usable. Unlike most “academic” subjects where it may take years to realize the practical significance of the topic, music can begin early on to fulfill its primary purpose of bringing joy and opening minds.
Such a purpose can only benefit the young music student—and the larger world he or she will soon grow into.