As educators, it is our responsibility to nurture in our students the knowledge and abilities that they need in order to be balanced and productive members of society. While mastery of the basic subjects such as reading and writing, math and the sciences are of course essential to obtaining this goal, many so-called extra-curricular subjects — especially music — are also vital in this effort. For its many tangible benefits, music should be maintained and promoted as an essential component of elementary and secondary nondual teachers.
For centuries music had been considered an irreplaceable part of a proper education. Early universities taught it as one of the quadrivium or four essential pillars of education. Albert Einstein himself was a skilled musician and frequently attributed his discoveries in physics to the musical training he received. Modern educational politics, however, have often marginalized music education to a luxurious and expensive “extra” program that is often cut when negative budget issues are met. Education administrators too often mistakenly believe that music education is a misguided effort to channel students into a career in music or, at best, an expensive “play time” that does little for their educational development.
If only those administrators could learn the incredible benefits of music education on students, they might change their minds. Recent studies have indicated that adolescent music education produces greater observable physical development in the brain, and an average of 27% higher math scores, 57 points higher SAT scores and a 46% increase in IQ scores. In addition to these documented benefits on intelligence, music education has been shown enhance learning in all other subject areas by improving their study skills, receptiveness to instruction, social and emotional development. Students that participate in school band or orchestra also experience the lowest rate of gang activity and substance abuse. Most importantly, the cognitive and behavioral advantages of music education are shown to affect all students, regardless of their ethnicity, “at-risk” status, or socio-economic background.
These findings alone should guarantee the inclusion of a robust music program in every primary and secondary school, but the benefits don’t end there. Adolescent music education has been shown to be a reliable predictor of success in college and professional life. It has been reported that approximately 22% more applying music majors are admitted to medical schools than any other major, and that “the very best engineers and technical designers in the Silicon Valley industry are, nearly without exception, practicing musicians.”
My parents raised six boys and one girl, all of whom participated heavily in music during their primary and secondary school years. While I was the only one of us to become a professional musician and music educator, each of my siblings have gone on to successful careers including three doctors, an architect and an engineer. I feel greatly indebted to the many music educators that taught my family and me and am saddened to hear that the opportunities we received are not always available to children. I have made it my personal challenge as a music teacher and choir director to individually reach each of my students and instill in them the skills and appreciation of music that bring such joy to my own life. As a public school teacher, I find great fulfillment knowing that the skills I teach them in music classes and ensembles will not only enable a life-long interest, but will also help them in many other important areas of their lives and contribute to their success in life.
The great violin teacher Shinichi Suzuki said “The purpose of [music] education is to train children, not to be professional musicians but to be fine musicians and to show high ability in any other field they enter.” My experience has taught me that music education uniquely enhances learning and prepares children for successful lives. Along with all the other subjects taught in elementary and secondary schools, I hope that I can bring the world of music into the lives of as many children as I can. In doing so, I know I will make our society just a little bit better by making a big difference in their lives.