Music education teaches stress management, teamwork, enhanced coordination, self-discipline and more, Angela Counter reports
Playing a musical instrument is rewarding, but there’s more to music education than learning to keep a beat. Even if your child isn’t the next Miles Davis, the benefits of studying music extend into their academic, social, and even life skills.
Learning music can help a child learn other things better. Ginger Jacobson, a retired music teacher from the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, notes that several of the skills required for a child’s success at school can be built through music. “Problem solving and multitasking happen naturally when making music,” she said. She counts physical benefits such as enhanced hand-eye coordination and increased language capabilities among the benefits, and memory comes into play as well. “The mental processing of the many facets of reading, understanding, and performing music makes the brain work to a greater degree than many other singular tasks.” Research even suggests that children who learn music perform better on academic tests.
The practice necessary for learning to play an instrument helps children build self-discipline and set goals. Susan Blyth-Schofield, a music teacher and president of the Ottawa Region Branch of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association, helps her students build the skills necessary to work toward their own objectives. The goal is not only that a young singer will master the song, but for the student to identify what they want to learn, and what makes the experience personally meaningful. “You don’t teach someone to sing, you help them find their voice,” she said.
Music education can also help build the social skills that children will need for their whole lives, such as teamwork and the ability to accept feedback. “When you’re singing, you’re not a solo instrument,” said Blyth-Schofield, “you have to cooperate with someone else to make music. There’s a give and take, you need to see another person’s point of view.” When playing music, children have to listen – to themselves, to one another, to the teacher or conductor – and that level of attention helps them develop empathy and collaboration. “The sense of belonging a student develops over time is remarkable,” said Jacobson, “Someone who has had that sense of being part of a team often can more easily make sense of who they are and where they can fit into a situation making a valuable contribution.”
For children who perform music as a part of their education, grace under pressure is another lesson it brings. Blyth-Schofield’s students report that the work that happens in music lessons helps them when they take exams, or even go to job interviews. “A performance is a performance,” she quipped, “you need to get in the headspace and control your nerves.” Playing for recitals or concerts gives children a taste of the preparation that they will need to put into public speaking or presentations later in life. During our current pandemic times, performance opportunities are naturally more limited, but teachers are using tools like Zoom, Google Classroom, and SoundJack to make remote music play and performance possible.
Music teachers are used to facing challenges, despite all of the evident and hidden benefits for children. In normal times, budget cuts might limit the music education available within schools, and staffing requirements mean that music teachers may have other teaching responsibilities in addition to music that require their focus. With COVID-19, some music education can even be risky, with choirs, group singing, and wind instruments being cut out and student movement around the school limited. The accessibility of extracurricular lessons varies based on the access to technology, but its success is largely due to the creativity of music teachers’ innovations and flexibility. Independent study can help to cover the gap left while programming is more limited, with many of the same benefits.
Maybe most valuably, playing music is fun and can relieve stress. Particularly when singing, children must build awareness of how they’re feeling to be able to coordinate their bodies to perform the music, including by breathing deeply. “Sometimes just freeing up to sing helps with everything else,” Blyth-Schofield said. Practicing and appreciating music can trigger the release of endorphins to boost the mood, which might suggest that we should all play a little song now and then, in these times. “We need to feed our souls, give ourselves a little break now and then to keep our lives in balance,” said Jacobson, “more than ever before.”