Music is amazing for brain development, and should be an essential component of modern education.
Music education helps with language development, increases IQ, and improves test scores, just to name a few of the many benefits. However, our schools seem to be cutting music education at an alarming rate. There are a lot of reasons why this is happening, but I’d like to address one specific component. Music education is a service that we provide, and if we want to increase interest and show others its importance, we need to overhaul how we go about structuring and providing it.
1. Encourage Original Composition
Teach music the way we do visual art, and encourage kids to create! Kids aren’t going to be thrilled, or even satisfied, to simply replicate “Hot Cross Buns” all day. I know I wasn’t, and I grew into an adult that works in the music industry. Teach them music theory and encourage them to improvise. Why should we deny the fact that this area of study – that improves math and logic skills – also happens to be a rewarding creative outlet? Does everything have to fit into a stereotype in our educational system? We can’t simply teach children how to read music if we want to get a level of enthusiasm and interest that allows music education to thrive. We need to give children the tools required to start experimenting with composition at an early age.
2. Start Kids Early
We start art in preschool, why not music? There’s a very good reason why so many companies work to hook youth on their product – it’s effective. Why not take a page from the commercial world and work harder to generate interest in music education at a young age?
Cuts to elementary school music education cause decreased participation in middle and high schools after time.
With decreased and belated participation, we see more than just stagnated musical skill level in our society. Children miss out on the full benefits of this amazing brain development tool at a critical and early age, when brain development is so elastic and has so much potential. It may cost less in the short run to cut music from elementary schools, but what is the true long term cost of that decision? How much untapped potential in human capital are we losing down the line?
3. Be Inclusive
There are too many music programs for children that require auditions simply to enroll. What would the state of things be like if we did that with math? History? Sciences? I can hear it now: of course we don’t do that with those subjects! That would deter students from enrolling. It would further widen the class divide in our society by allowing even more advantage to children with wealthy parents and private tutors. Auditions cause competition, and competition in an economy breeds specialization. Children will be forced to specialize at early ages – when they should be branching out and exploring different pursuits!
We recognize the reasons not to do this with other subjects, so why are we still doing this with our music programs?
There are numerous motivational factors that must drive an educator to run a selective program. On a basic level, running a highly skilled youth ensemble can help get funding and boost a career. But our priorities need to change; childhood development for each and every child enrolled in a school is what education is all about. So don’t avoid the challenge, be inclusive.
A good educator can teach kids that fall into a wide range of skill levels and skill sets. An inclusive program is an opportunity to create a positive model of a collaborative environment, and encourages artistically hesitant children to take risks and reap rewards. The willingness to take risks and the ability to function in a collaborative environment are critical skills for adults today. Educators should create inclusive environments that foster those skills.
4. Teach Popular Music
This is the simplest one of them all. If you want to increase enthusiasm and participation, teach music that kids enjoy! You don’t have to discount or avoid classic compositions, just make sure you slip in some popular compositions to keep the kids enthusiastic about music. There are centuries of compositions to share with your students, so don’t disregard a whole group based on how many decades have passed since their composition. The ability to peak student interest might have more value than you think.