“Learning music is the same as learning to read. Students decode symbols, give them sounds and beats, and then combine these symbols to communicate. No one says you shouldn’t teach a kid to read. So why deprive a student the chance to strengthen and build those skills through music?” -- Mr. Echols, Stuart Hall School Music Director
Today, many schools are re-evaluating their schedules to provide for maximum instruction time in their core subjects. With high-stakes testing and strict benchmark requirements, schools want to provide their teachers with as much time as possible to ensure students are prepared for their yearly assessments. Often, this comes at the expense of the fine arts programs. Many students today are lucky to receive music or art instruction every other week. Some are forced to choose between taking a music course or learning a foreign language or exploring the STEM field.
Supporters of these changes note that not all students will be Broadway actors or pop stars and therefore, more time should be spent teaching students valuable life skills through their main content courses. However, Mr. Echols, Director of Music at Stuart Hall School, disagrees. He finds that music education can teach valuable life skills to all students, regardless if they are budding Broadway stars or if they will never play music again. Here are his five skills that students develop when they learn to perform music.
- Communication. Music is language, and learning to perform music, whether through instruments or voice, means becoming a more effective communicator. In addition when students are performing, they must learn to look for nonverbal communication. Through the hand motions of the conductor or the eyes of the other players in their section, students have to maintain a connection to the ensemble as a whole in order to tell the story of their music.
- Collaboration. In music, each part is important. Although there may be solos sprinkled throughout a piece, even the best musician needs the whole ensemble to truly shine. At times, the brass section might be the star but at another, it could be the woodwinds. Knowing when to take the lead and when to step back into a supporting role is a valuable skill to have in life, and one that music teaches well.
- Value of practice. Ask any professional; practice is the key to success. Michael Jordan. Beyoncé. Jimmy Fallon. They had to practice their skills daily to get to the top of their fields. Music teaches students that they have to put in time to improve their skills. They won’t see change overnight but over time, the number of squeaks and off-key notes will decrease and in their place will be beautiful music.
- The importance of perseverance. Just as important as regular practice is not giving up. Some compositions are harder to play than others. There may be a tricky fingering or lyric and students might think it would be easier to just skip that part. Through music education, students learn to keep trying and to not give up at the first sign of difficulty.
- Global citizenship. Music is everywhere. From the islands of the Pacific to the historic concert halls of Europe to the native lands of America, people have used music to tell stories of their cultures. Music education gives students the opportunity to explore these different types of music. Though they may sound strange at first, students pick up similarities and begin to realize we are not all that different after all.