The Educational Power of Music
Humans have an innate need for music. Rhythm and melody are as old as humanity itself – and these basic elements of music have spanned all creeds, cultures and countries.
Music isn’t just an enjoyable pastime, tradition or field of study; music is one of the most powerful educational tools in the world. Every child (and every adult) can benefit from music, in sometimes unexpected ways.
The strength of music at Clayesmore isn’t solely in our pupils’ academic achievements: it’s in the way passion is instilled.
Learning a Musical Instrument and Music Theory
The most obvious and visible benefits of musical education is learning to play an instrument and applying music theory. These skills are undeniably fantastic to have, and can open children to worlds of opportunity; but by themselves, they can be shallow skills if there’s no passion or interest behind them.
Learning a musical instrument does so much more than offer a single new skill – it activates the brain in countless ways. It invokes creativity and spontaneity. When taught in a supportive and stimulating way, music becomes fun beyond all imagination, and children learn without even realising that they’re learning. And they’ll never want to stop.
The True Benefits of Learning Music
Music may be an artform, but it’s really maths and physics working together. As music becomes more complex, time signatures and patterns can become easier to understand with the incorporation of mathematics. An interest in music develops an incentive for a better understanding of maths – even if it’s just a desire to know how harmonies and tones are mathematically related.
Music drives a thirst for knowledge – to know how sound works, how to affect it and how to use this knowledge to a musical advantage. This requires a knowledge of science: leveraging physics and biology could make your performance louder or improve your playing stamina.
Musical education carries with it many of the same hidden benefits as sport, with the same internal driver: becoming your best and loving the journey.
Friendship and Cooperation
Music makes lifelong friends. Bandmates are teammates, and children form strong kinships while they explore music together.
Music has a powerful way of drawing people together – because it simply doesn’t work if people aren’t working together. An ensemble will sound bad if they don’t communicate and respect each other deeply. Music encourages respect of others, to give them space to perform and contribute to the music.
There’s even evidence for it: a year-long study by Cambridge University concluded that music improves a child’s ability to empathise with others.
Synchrony has been shown to heighten a sense of affinity between children, and children and adults. It has a powerful social bonding element that works so well, it even has therapeutic benefit.
Music has fundamental links with language development, because we learn both in strikingly similar ways. Rarely is an instrument picked up for the first time and played fluently – just as a baby’s first attempts at speaking are rarely perfectly formed words.
We encourage babies to babble, gurgle and experiment with their voices until they begin to mimic words and eventually build vocabulary. We even mimic them in the process, babbling along and copying their endearing mannerisms to encourage them to keep going – even if they’re getting words completely wrong.
That stimulating encouragement and reassurance means that, in general, children don’t give up the challenge of learning to talk. When the same environment and attitude is applied to music, children enjoy it immensely; they learn and progress rapidly, and begin setting their own goals.
But music doesn’t just share similarities with language – it gives back to it. Reading and writing music is akin to reading and writing a foreign language, and playing music with others is like holding a conversation in another language.
Music is a language that everyone understands; but learning to speak it takes encouragement and passion.
Confidence is music’s real gift. A child that has music in their life, and has taken the opportunities that it provides (including public performance) will have been granted a voice and a presence that they can be proud of.
Public performance is a scary prospect for even the most gregarious and outgoing of children. But once they’ve done it, the response is almost always the same: “I want to do that again!” It’s thrilling to perform well and be rewarded positively. Continued positive reinforcement builds a confidence that took as long to earn as the skills behind it – so it’s one that children and the adults in their lives can appreciate.
Things can (and regularly do!) go wrong during performance – but music teaches children to trust their intuition. When taught well, children can recover from mistakes effortlessly mid-performance, and learn to improve without beating themselves up. That’s true confidence – and watching a child flourish, enjoy themselves and express themselves is an absolute privilege.
Oh – and all of these benefits apply to adults too. It’s never too late to learn!
Music in Our Heart
We are Clayesmore School, a prep school, senior school and sixth form college in Dorset. Music is in our heart, and 70% of our pupils play an instrument. We know that the educational value of music extends far beyond the academic, but that it feeds back into it.