Is music truly a practical addition to education? Perhaps at first look it may appear that music serves the sole purpose of making heads bob and limbs flail. However, if music is purely for fun, there should be definite differences between the abilities that stem from education in history, math, science, and literature and those abilities which stem from music. To determine where the discrepancies lie, it is first important to focus on what education in general is meant to provide: the foundation for future careers, encouragement toward well-rounded individuals, and an understanding of as many aspects of humanity as possible (e.g. culture, language, biology, emotion, etc.).
Put simply, education is meant to offer the tools necessary for everyone to live a happy and productive life. And in truth, the four mandatory subjects provide some form of this. We learn problem-solving through math, life lessons through history, a basic comprehension of our planet through science, and an understanding of the human mind through literature. This knowledge often later serves as the basis for a career, earning us the tangible means to live in the modern world. Yet with such a comprehensive set of skills, it may seem that there is little room left for music. This however, is by no means true.
Music does not serve the sole purpose of entertainment, either within the education system or without. In fact, music can easily provide the same fundamental importance as history, science, math, and literature while filling in the gap that they fail to address. Music education affords students the knowledge to succeed in a number of musically related professions, from musicians to composers to conductors, any of which provide the necessary earnings to live in today’s world. In addition, music contributes to the overall well-roundedness of a person by opening them up to artistic experiences which exercise both hemispheres of the brain. Finally, music helps to fill in the missing puzzle piece of unadorned human expression, something that science, history, math, and literature have a limited ability to accomplish.
And herein lies one of the great beauties of music: it allows us to feel without understanding, to experience emotion without thinking. Music creates this pure emotion because it is derived first from sound without formulated meaning—notes, tones, rhythm, and dynamics, which all hold meaning in the absence of language. Once again, this is the reason music is termed “the universal language,” because even across different cultures, different mixes of people, different regions, one piece of music can excite the same emotion within people. Music is the one thing that overcomes all boundaries; it is the glue that holds people together through unadorned human expression.
Interestingly enough, music is already interconnected with the four basic subjects. For example, literature and music are tightly intertwined as evidenced by the parallel nature of poetry and song lyrics. Music theory presents us with a careful combination of music and math; and music in history is self-explanatory. As for the relation between science and music, it is perhaps this connection which most obviously expresses the importance of music in life. Music therapy is the use of music to promote healing of the body, a phenomenon supported by concrete scientific evidence.
Scientific evidence also points to the value music holds for education in general, showing that those students who take music classes in school tend to do better in their other subjects, have an increased motivation to learn, and have significantly lower drop-out rates than those who don’t. Furthermore, these students exhibit a greater ability to control their emotions and expression.
The importance of music in life and within our education system is clear. It is simply a lack of effort to perceive it as equal to math, science, literature, or history which condemns music education to its current situation. If the perception of music changed and we began to view it as a deserved equal, we would eliminate the current (and even predictable) choice politicians have of ending music programs. Only by taking away music programs as an option for termination can we fully put a stop to the effect budget cuts have on music in public education institutions.
How exactly would this work though? Surely politicians wouldn’t cut music programs if they had enough funding to maintain them. But perhaps the greater truth is that where there is a will, there is a way. If government politicians perceive that the public values music in a manner equal to the other mandatory subjects taught in school, a way would be found to preserve music education. There is a reason that math, history, literature, and science programs remain the least affected by education cuts and it is because the importance placed on these four academic subjects forces politicians to keep them.
Music contributes to our motivation, our academic performance, our health, and it has stayed alongside us through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. There is a reason music exists and it is not so that politicians can have something to cut out of the curriculum when finances become an issue in public education. It is time to see that the value of music is not so one-sided as we may think; that in actuality it influences us in a variety of ways that may be hard to see, but are no less important for their subtlety.
Every day we send our teenagers off to school, we should be able to promise them an enriching experience. We should be able to promise them not just the knowledge that the core curriculum provides, but an emotional connection to the very roots of our common human history. To make this promise, we must demonstrate our value of music by fighting to keep music programs in schools and supporting our students in their musical pursuits. Don’t let politicians sing to the tune of music cuts—save the last note!