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Why Is Music Education Important?

Why is music education important? Often regarded as merely an extracurricular activity, elective, or “easy-A”, music programs are frequently defunded or altogether cut because of their seeming lack of necessity or relevance to other “core subjects”. A leading cause of these misperceptions is the lack of awareness of both the academic complexity of music and the benefits that music experiences provide. Further discrepancies occur within the field—what purpose does music serve students, why it is necessary to offer music experiences for students in schools, what music should be taught, who should lead music programs, and who should learn and participate in music—and detract from the overall purpose of music education, which should be providing meaningful musical experiences for all students. Music, an intrinsic facet of life, has existed throughout history as an entity that transcends mundane life. Whether experienced through performing, listening, improvising, or composing, music encompasses and unifies the mind, body, and soul, as all three interact intimately with one another. Experiences in music are sought universally because of their power to elicit feelings of joy and pleasure, the spiritual and profound, and to deepen those feelings beyond meanings words can provide. In the words of Reimer, (Reimer, 2000).

Because music has such ability to evoke emotional responses, music education as a subject area is often viewed as non-academic and considered simply a pleasurable pastime. However, music education entails a wide range of intellectual skills and offers opportunities for cross-curricular engagement with core subjects, including literacy, math, history, and science. Regarding literacy, music students are required to read and write music notation, study poetry and texts, and sing in foreign languages. Students practice math skills while counting and subdividing rhythms, and learn aspects of science in discussions of pitch, sound, frequencies, and anatomy of the breathing and singing apparatus. History and social studies are frequently incorporated in study of composers, time periods, cultures, social issues, and current events. In addition, sight-singing, ear-training, and reading and writing music notation require high-order thinking and application of skills. While statistics popularly show that students who participate in music tend to have higher scores on standardized tests, although not demonstrated in scores, students also receive a more in-depth, well-rounded education, including more advanced use of application, transfer, and critical-thinking skills. Because of its vast benefits to the quality of human life, music should be a significant and valued part of education. Although students may experience music in the home, church, community organizations, culture, and from other sources, as determined at the Tanglewood Symposium, the primary responsibility of providing meaningful musical experiences and education to young people lies within school music education programs (Tanglewood, 1968). Providing comprehensive music programs taught by quality teachers ensures that students of all socioeconomic backgrounds are given opportunities to learn and experience music. At this impressionable and often vulnerable period of life, students should be provided with opportunities to experience the invaluable effects that music can generate, frequently functioning as community for students who feel isolated, feelings of joy for students who are troubled, and a profound sense of purpose for students who feel lost. From an educational standpoint, because it employs such a variety of skills and knowledge and is one of the only subject areas that utilizes the mind, body, and soul, the study and performance of music truly encompasses and necessitates growth of the whole person.

The basis of music education in the United States is centered in Western art music. This foundation provides a vast collection of repertoire to study and perform and serves as a platform to teach tonal harmony, form, notation, history, and the study of music as an art. While continuing in the Western tradition, educators should additionally include music from other cultures and genres into their instruction. Incorporating music from other cultures not only provides an expansion in styles of repertoire, but enables us to utilize music to discuss histories, cultures, and current social issues from around the world. Also, as modern society has greatly shifted focus to popular music, teachers should consider including elements of popular music to enhance transfer for students who are most familiar with those styles of music. Additionally, as it stems from folk and jazz music, the history of popular music provides an opportunity to discuss history and other styles of music in the U.S. as 20th century music so widely diversifies. A well-constructed curriculum based in Western art music with incorporation of multicultural music and diverse genres allows music teachers to produce a positive and welcoming environment for musicality, creativity, and diversity.

Upon considering characteristics of successful music educators, first and foremost, music educators should value music and be committed to sharing its value with others. Educators should work to ensure that all students, regardless of background, are provided with musical experiences that inspire an appreciation for and desire to continue to participate in musical experiences as they transition into adult life. Advocating for school and community support and awareness of music programs and their enhancement of individual lives, teachers should “lead in efforts to ensure that every school system allocates sufficient staff, time, and funds to support a comprehensive and excellent music program” (Tanglewood, 1968). Understanding the impact that they have upon their students, music educators should strive to be a positive example, both musically, demonstrating continued participation in musical experiences, and personally, exemplifying integrity and respectable conduct as role models. Competency in musical abilities, both in knowledge and skills and in performance practice, should be standard to ensure students are provided quality instruction. Music teachers must be leaders and continue to seek knowledge, both in their subject area and in other disciplines, aspiring to become more well-rounded individuals and teachers. Educators should also participate in professional development and remain up-to-date on current educational practices and technology that may enhance their instruction. However, above all, teachers must strive to connect with people and students, utilizing music to bring people together and inspire them to value the art of music. While students will not all continue to pursue music as a career, perform part-time, attend classical music concerts, or even consciously seek out musical experiences after transitioning to adulthood, students should all be provided equal opportunities to experience music in the school setting. Although students are impacted differently by music, they should have equal opportunities to partake in the countless benefits that music can provide. The benefits of creating music, especially in an ensemble setting can provide a positive social bond and emotional connection that can be highly valuable for young people. Additionally, because of the complex knowledge and skills required to read, create, perform, and analyze music, students become better critical thinkers and more well-rounded learners. How students choose to utilize and pursue music is up to them. However, if teachers effectively teach the subject matter, provide meaningful musical experiences, and focus on teaching for transition, the students will hopefully be inspired to pursue musical experiences in some manner during their lifetimes.

The study of music and its implementation in schools goes far beyond simply serving as an outlet for students to express creativity and become exposed to transferrable skills. Music education continues to be thoroughly studied and evaluated to achieve a more refined focus on the goals and purpose behind providing musical opportunities and experiences for all people.

This revolutionary call for change within school programs markedly directed the path of music education during the past 50 years. However, many of the concerns presented in the 1967 symposium are still issues in music education today. For this reason, it is of utmost importance that music educators hold sophisticated teaching philosophies that address these fundamental concerns regarding music’s place in our schools. Teachers must know the unique benefits—mental, physical, and spiritual—that an academically rigorous exposure to a wide range of music can afford to students. Teachers should know how to advocate effectively for the availability of music education for students of all ages and from all backgrounds. Not least of all, teachers must continue to educate themselves in order to most effectively embody the benefits of music education in which they so strongly believe, and in order to relate these unique benefits to their students.