Forty-years ago, 54% of all American households had at least one family member 5-years or older taking music lessons and learning a musical instrument, compared to a mere 38% in the 1990s. And currently from 8th grade to 12th grade there is on average a mere 40% enrolled in public school performing arts and music programs. Beginning with the decline of the U.S. economy in the late 1980s concomitant with unemployment, the well-documented budget crisis has led to the decline in public school music programs. During the 1970s and 1980s, fewer discretionary funds were available to school districts due to steep increases in shared costs for special education. And the situation has been compounded by the elimination of the position of Fine Arts Coordinator in many school districts which means there is no one to keep music “on the table” when budget constraints are discussed at the administrative/district level.
Still, almost all K–6 schools offer some type of required instruction in music. But at the middle school level, changes in the instructional format and the addition of electives in other arts courses, such as fashion, interior design, media, dance and theater, although legitimate fields of study, have reduced the importance of music. High School music programs consist mostly of performance ensembles, which comprise marching bands, jazz bands, choirs, strings and even full orchestras, however, these ensembles are largely elective. There has been a rise in piano college majors, but it’s worth mentioning that these are mostly international students.
Moreover, the value and role of music education in American schools has been affected by the 2001 education reform movement (Leave No Child Behind Act) and changes in the organization and delivery of instruction. In other words, emphasis on test scores in the areas of reading, math and science has also led to the decline in music programs, but other forces are at work too.
Instant Gratification Isn’t Always Gratifying
With the advent of the Internet and the accompanying computer-related technology boom, the quality and quantity of music education has seen a steady downward trend and de-emphasis. Let’s face it. Computer technology has changed just about everything kids are interested in commensurate with things that don’t take much effort. Therefore, the idea of sitting and playing an hour a day to learn a musical instrument is not what kids want to do. Further, children these days are being recruited for so many other activities, whether it’s soccer, gymnastics, or swimming, that they’re currently living in a culture of deflection, distraction and instant gratification, which greatly contributes to a broad trend away from educational practices that engage students in critical thinking and practical skill acquisition that result, in part, in the declination of music programs and thus, music students as well.
One emerging theme that is continually seen is the tension between playing sports and taking music lessons in childhood. The idea is that you either play sports or you learn an instrument and that gifted students find themselves pressured into team sport participation that then compromises their musical education. Implicit in this theme is the notion that parents these days just don’t get what music lessons are all about and that team sports are widely seen to provide benefits for children while music lessons do not.
Unfortunately, children and adults alike have been conditioned and programmed in todays’ technologically advanced era for instant results, whereas learning to play a musical instrument is not about spontaneous results, but rather the path of patience, focus, perseverance and delayed gratification; a path that builds better “smarts” and attributes, but less traveled in the modern world.
So, is music education important? There’s no question! In fact, it’s been shown that music helps develop the brain academically in areas involved in language, reading, math and reasoning, as well as a link between music and spatial intelligence – the ability to visualize shapes with the mind’s eye which is the mental feat that architects and engineers perform when they design buildings, or the capacity that permits a chemist to contemplate the three-dimensional structure of a molecule, or a surgeon to navigate the human body. It’s what Michelangelo used when he visualized a future sculpture trapped inside a lump of stone. So, music lessons and thus, the development of spatial thinking is an important predictor of achievement in science, technology, architecture, engineering and mathematics!
21 Proven Abilities That Music Lessons Help Build & Develop In Music Students
- Focus: Children with ADD, ADHD or learning disabilities who tend to lose their attention benefit greatly from music lessons because they teach them how to stay focused on one thing at a time. Students must also wait for their turn and listen to their classmates play and thus, learn to show their peers respect; to sit still and be quiet for designated periods of time, and to be attentive.
- Language & Reasoning: Students who have early musical training will develop the areas of the brain related to language (i.e., verbal ability, pronunciation, diction and vocabulary) and non-verbal reasoning (i.e., drawing inferences, problem solving and understanding concepts and consequences of actions without the use of words). The left side of the brain is better developed with music, and songs can help imprint information on young minds.
- Memory: Even when performing with sheet music, student musicians are constantly using their memory to perform. As a result, music students tend to develop a better memory than non-music students, historically referred to as, the “Mozart effect.” More specifically, music students have been shown to develop a better verbal memory (i.e., word and vocabulary recall), and the skill of memorization can serve students well in their education and beyond.
- Work Ethic: Learning music promotes craftsmanship, perseverance and integrity, as students learn to want to create excellent work instead of mediocre work. This desire can be applied to all subjects of study and in life.
- Coordination: Students who practice with musical instruments can improve their hand-eye and feet-eye coordination. Compared to playing sports, children develop greater fine motor skills when playing music.
- A Sense of Achievement: Learning to play pieces of music on a new instrument can be a challenging, but achievable goal. Students who master even the smallest goal in music feel proud of their achievement, as well as increased self-worth.
- Education Longevity: An enjoyable subject like music can keep kids interested and engaged in school. As a result, student musicians are likely to stay in school longer and obtain competency in other subjects as well.
- Success in Society: Music is one of the fabrics of society and can shape abilities and character. Students in band or orchestra develop planning skills, drive to excel, and are more patient, less aggressive and less likely to abuse mood altering substances over their lifetime.
- Emotional Development: Students of music tend to be more emotionally developed, with compassion and empathy towards their peers and other cultures. They also tend to have higher self-esteem and are better at coping with anxiety due to overcoming the fear of performing in front of others and being judged.
- Pattern Recognition: Children develop math and pattern-recognition skills with the help of musical education by developing competency in counting, scales, tablature, sheet music, sight reading, basic problem solving and understanding of rhythms.
- Better SAT Scores: Students who have experience with music performance or appreciation score higher on the SAT. One report indicates 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math for students in music appreciation courses.
- Auditory Skills: Music students can better detect meaningful, information-bearing elements in sounds, like the emotional meaning in a baby’s cry or a tone of voice. Students who practice music can have better auditory attention, and pick out predictable patterns from surrounding noise.
- Imagination & Intellectual Curiosity: Introducing music in the early childhood years can help foster a positive attitude toward learning and curiosity. Artistic education develops the whole brain and develops a child’s imagination which aids in spatial-thinking and visualizing how to construct a bridge, building, aircraft or molecules in biotechnology to aid science and help the human race.
- Stress Management: Students can fight stress by learning to play music. Soothing music is therapeutic and especially helpful in helping kids relax and get their minds off social, family, hormonal and academic pressures.
- Self-Discipline: Kids who play an instrument learn time management by having to be on time to their lesson and planning and setting aside time to practice. They learn self-control by developing patience, listening and persistence. They learn how to fail and keep going by rising to the challenge of learning to master playing their instrument despite obstacles in their life.
- Life Preparation: Investing in creative education can prepare students for the 21st century workforce. The new economy has created more artistic careers, and these jobs may grow faster than others in the future.
- Creative Thinking: Kids who study the arts can learn to think creatively. This kind of education can help them solve problems by thinking outside the box, brainstorming and realizing that there may be more than one right answer.
- Teamwork: Many musical education programs require teamwork as part of a band or orchestra. In these groups, students learn how to work together, peer interaction and communication, which encourages teamwork, as children must collaborate to accomplish group goals such as creating a crescendo or an accelerando.
- Responsible Risk-Taking: Performing a musical piece can bring fear and anxiety. Doing so teaches kids how to take risks and deal with fear, which will help them become successful and reach their highest-potential later in life.
- Self-Confidence: With encouragement from teachers and parents, students playing a musical instrument build higher self-esteem due to feeling special and a sense of accomplishment. Musical education develops better communication skills for students, as they develop better listening skills and are more effectively able to communicate their feelings and problem areas, as well as learn to accept and give constructive criticism instead of unproductive sarcasm.
- Happiness: It must also be remembered that learning an instrument is a lot of FUN! Music provides great social opportunities to you and your children in participating with music programs, performances, theater and recitals; meeting other parents and fellow musicians, as well as musical euphoria and contentment when mastering a piece or a segment of a piece, which equates to one happy kid!
More Than A Wishin’ Musician
So, it goes without saying that people and societies would be better off with more music education in their lives. I believe, however, that a discussion on music education cannot leave out the all-important aspect of career opportunities for musicians. I’m absolutely aware that a music education should not and cannot have for a goal to transform every single music student into a professional musician or a “Rock Star.” You cannot, however, avoid the fact that if you offer more and better music programs that more individuals will eventually want to make music their career and, although saturated, could be successful at it with perseverance, like any other career or job, like I have done.
As a drum instructor for over 30-years, I’ve seen parents tell their kids as they’re picking them up from a lesson, “Well, you can’t actually be a rock star when you grow up!” My point is, find other ways to enable, encourage and find your child’s intrinsic motivators if they can’t get that in schools. Don’t tell them what they can or cannot do in order to realize their dreams. It might save your child from an otherwise uncreative life at best and unsuccessful life at worst.
As to how to keep children interested in playing instruments, that’s largely up to the parents. I think parents should follow their intuitions with respect to keeping their children engaged and find the kind of music they love, an instrument they’ll like and keep on playing, and good teachers that actively participate in student performance and recital with student recognition. Making music should be something that children enjoy, look forward to and will want to keep doing for many years!
With that in mind, it’s not too late to trade in those video games, DVDs, Smart phones and other attention-grabbing, entertaining toys you may have purchased, and swap them out for music lessons or online drum lessons here for the children in your life. And if you’re an adult who has never discovered the joys of playing an instrument, it’s never too late to start, whether it’s through my online drum lessons or another instrument of your choice. Happy frequencies and vibrations!
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Santa Barbara Drum Lessons with Barry Birmingham