Yes, I know. You’ve seen me post research articles on Facebook. You’re read emails from me that highlight all of the academic and social benefits of early childhood music education. You’ve even heard me share my own experiences of the lifelong impact that early exposure to music had on me personally. So why do I applaud all this research with one hand and feel a little disheartened with the other?
I suppose it comes down to one simple thought. Much of this research fails to acknowledge the importance of music education for music education’s sake. Now don’t get me wrong. I fully understand the importance of this research and stand behind it 100%. Now that we’re in our 9th year, I run into families of mini musician alumni frequently, and I LOVE to hear them share how much our classes impacted their kiddos in numerous areas of their lives.
In my own life, I am so grateful for the countless social, academic, language, etc., benefits of being raised by two symphony musicians who made me an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra season ticket holder at the age of two. (I assume I must still hold the record for the youngest ASO season ticket holder!) But I find it equally important to acknowledge that this exposure to music at such a young age also instilled a love of music, an understanding of music, that is no greater nor lesser in importance than my math, language, science, etc., skills.
It is so easy in this day and age to focus on the importance of what our society deems as “practical” or “profitable.” And by no means am I negating the importance of academic skills. Of course I can understand that majoring in business or nursing or computer science may be a more practical choice as it is unfortunately relatively rare for a musician to make a living with their art alone. I acknowledge that. But indulge me for just a moment as I ask the following questions:
Why do so many see music education as a means to a ‘more valuable’ end when music plays such a huge role in our everyday lives?
And who will be inspired to create beautiful music in future generations if we justify music education as simply a way to become more skilled in other academic fields?
Music shapes and colors our lives in ways that nothing else does. As you look back on your own life, which do you remember more? The calculus formulas you had to memorize or all of the lyrics to your favorite song in high school? The specific words that an actor spoke in a film or the memorable music accompanying the scene? How do you know if a movie is funny, scary, or sad? (Does that last example seem like a stretch? Check out this video of the Pirates of the Caribbean boat scene with various music choices. Not recommended for little ones.)
To quote an article from the Teaching Music Magazine published by the National Association for Music Education that my mother cut out for me years ago (as she’s very known to do, bless her heart!),
“We’re losing sight of the vital role that the stimulation and nurturing of the intellect, the imagination, and the senses play in our lives. Would we look forward to mealtimes if food had neither flavor nor aroma, but simply provided the necessary nourishment to sustain life? What if clothing were devoid of style, functioning only to protect us from the elements and ensure modesty? Are flavor and style unnecessary to us as human beings? …If we devote the sum total of our education to the skills needed to produce an income, we will be firmly planted in the Dark Ages.”
In closing, I’ll share that it’s always wonderful to read about research being done about the amazing impacts that early child music education has on young children. So please continue to tag me, email articles to me, etc., and I will continue to share research studies as I learn of them. This is important research, and I’m very grateful for the individuals and institutions that are performing both short term and long term studies on the benefits of early childhood music education. Just know that as I post these articles, I am considering these academic benefits to be an added bonus of an already invaluable area of education.
I will proudly continue to build neural pathways, increase language and math skills, improve reading readiness, AND instill a lifelong love and appreciation for music in the hearts of all of the little ones I have the honor of teaching in my own little corner of the world.