A Brief Discourse on the Value of Music

– An Educational Philosophy –
By Andrew Lesser, M.M.

            I have long believed that music aesthetically contributes to the
psychological and emotional development of a human being. The Greek
philosopher Plato believed that music is as, if not more important, to a child’s development as academics and physical gymnastics. In his Republic, Plato exclaims that music, in addition to the other performing arts, were powerful shapes of character and influential to the development of the mind:

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe,
wings to the mind, flight to the imagination,
and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.[1]
            But these reasons can only satisfy the intangible qualities of the value of music in education. It is impossible to determine the influence of the effect of music on the psyche, or what Plato refers to as the “soul”. Therefore, I feel it is necessary to examine the proven qualities of music as it relates to social and cognitive development in the education of a student. Since birth, and even before birth, human beings have the ability to hear auditory sounds and react according to their physical instincts. It has long been postulated by neuroscientists that hearing certain kinds of music as a fetus and an infant can contribute to intelligence and higher multi-sensory skills. The so-called “Mozart Effect”, which is phrased to highlight the theory that the music of W.A. Mozart and other Classical composers has the potential to increase intelligence in childhood development, has been thoroughly examined and studied by leading scientists and researchers throughout the world.[2] Not that I am saying that there is a direct correlation between music and increased intelligence, though I thoroughly embrace that there is enough evidence to support a serious field of investigative studies.

            Regardless of proceeding studies by neuroscientists, psychologists, scientists, and researchers, there is direct evidence that music as part of a child’s education can aid in their success through school and beyond. It is obvious that learning to play an instrument improves motor skills and hand-eye coordination, in addition to focus and concentration. Music also provides an outlet of emotional expression unique to any other academic subject. The Texas Commission Report on Drug and Alcohol Abuse in 1998 reported that students who participated in music activities reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all illicit and abusive substances.[3] Studies also show that students who are classified as disruptive, a category illustrated by factors such as cutting class, suspensions, and dropouts, total 12.14 percent of the school population. Those students who study music and meet the same category as “disruptive” only accounted for 8.08 percent.[4] From that same study, it was concluded that students who study music received more academic honors and awards than non-participating music students, and in a separate study, students with coursework in music scored on an average of 63 points higher on verbal and 44 points higher on math on the SAT’s as opposed to students with no arts participation.[5]

            I have also been a strong advocate in the belief that training in music can contribute to college acceptances. When a college application includes music studies, college recruiters can derive several conclusions about the aptitude of the student. First, it shows that the student can work as part of a team. In order to have a successful band or orchestra, the students involved must work together to promote their creativity as an ensemble. Second, it shows that the student has the ability to multitask, as demonstrated by the combined abilities of playing an instrument, reading the music, and watching the conductor while listening to the other members of the ensemble at the same time. Finally, it shows that the student has the dedication to pursue and maintain a high level of performance by practicing and persevering through self control and discipline. [6]

            To create a successful program, I believe a teacher must be consistent with the policies and procedures they set forth from the beginning of the class. It is my philosophy that a teacher must promote mutual respect between themselves and the students, in addition to between the students’ themselves. A teacher must apply that code equally in a firm, but fair fashion, and especially hold themselves accountable when a mistake is made on the teacher’s part. This way, the teacher and the students can function as a team, promoting a series of goals and standards that is agreed upon by all. However, I do not consider myself beyond inquiry or debate, as long as it is done in a respectful manner. Above all, an effective teacher must treat all students with respect, even if it is not returned. I believe discipline problems must all be dealt with in a patient and calm manner, but those policies must be reviewed and reinforced constantly to avoid ambiguity and confusion. It is when the teacher and students are focused on a mutual goal will the most effective learning take place. It is always my priority to encourage students beyond their “comfort zones” and develop high expectations, both academically and intrinsically, and to be consistent with those expectations. I also hold high expectations for myself, in addition to praising and acknowledging students’ accomplishments. A successful teacher should never be satisfied when achieving a goal, but continue to set new goals for themselves and their students.

            With a combination of high expectation and a true passion for music, I truly believe a successful classroom environment is not difficult to achieve. The most effective teachers are those who possess a high content knowledge of their craft, and the love and desire to pass that knowledge to others. Students can easily identify with teachers who feel true joy in what they do, and their ability is reflected by that connection. It is that positive energy that is the core of a successful program, as well as the key to helping students succeed in school, and consequently, in life.

Plato. The Republic. Hackett Publishing Company. Indianapolis, Indiana, 1992.

“The Mozart Effect”. Suzuki Music Academy/R. Coff, 1998-2002

Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse Report. Reported in Houston Chronicle, January 1998

Based on data from the NELS: 88 (National Education Longitudinal Study), second follow-up, 1992.

College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers. Princeton, NJ: The College Entrance Examination Board, 2001.

As reported in “The Case for Music in the Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan, February 1994

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