Did you take piano lessons as a kid? Or maybe you sang in your church’s choir. Maybe your parent played an instrument, or maybe you went to Mummy & Me music classes at your local community centre? All of these seemingly benign bonding exercises are examples of childhood music education, a vital tool in the building of a full-grown human, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance.
Not every child is a musical genius, and not everyone who takes music classes or lessons when they’re a child grows up to be musically skilled—or even to be someone who continues to play or participate in music as an adult. But plenty of very qualified people will tell you that’s not the point of music education. We need it for so much more than the sake of learning music itself.
It’s no secret that listening to music is good for baby and child brain development and the idea that babies can be creatively nourished by music while in the womb, something universally typified in sitcoms that see unprepared parents put headphones across a pregnant belly. Baby Center says of the “baby Mozart” concept, “Music doesn’t need to be Mozart, or even classical, to be enriching. Listening to music of any kind, whether pop, folk, jazz, or hip-hop, is good for kids… The Mozart effect is the idea that people experience a temporary increase in intelligence after listening to a piano sonata written by the famed composer. It’s based on results of studies on college students, not babies.”
Evidence supports that music can be beneficial for focus and intelligence in everyone, not just babies. However, the developmental years we go through at the earliest moments in our lives are crucial for a reason. What’s more, the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, meaning that music and musical education can have a profound impact through adolescence—all school-aged years.
Mary Luehrisen, executive director of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation says, “When you look at children ages two to nine, one of the breakthroughs in that area is music’s benefit for language development, which is so important at that stage. Growing up in a musically rich environment is often advantageous for children’s language development.” This supports the idea that music education goes beyond the music itself, offering development in other areas, such as linguistics.
The Children’s Music Workshop adds, “Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways. Linking familiar songs to new information can also help imprint information on young minds.”
But what about older kids? Well, arts programmes in schools have seen significant cuts over the years across nations and cities, with theatre, music, and others suffering, causing a disparity in accessibility to the benefits of arts education. Those who have the resources to seek private arts education can still do so, but having arts education in schools and available to the public can ensure that those benefits are available to the population at large.
Not only can arts and music education contribute to focus and learning, but it can even increase test scores across disciplines, making it beneficial for school administrators to explore arts education regardless of its social, mental, and emotional benefits. “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better,” Luehrisen adds about test scores.
In terms of mental wellness, music also makes a strong case for its benefits in that area—again, across age groups. A 2013 study shows that listening to music had an impact on the human stress response, particularly the autonomic nervous system, helping people recover faster from stress. Experts and peer-reviewed studies also confirm that music and music education can help lower the risk of depression and anxiety, which tend to be higher in teens and young adults.
All of this is to say, music education—just like music in general—goes beyond the technical. It spans experience, age, and so many other factors to offer a refuge to those who need it. Why wouldn’t we want to offer that to the youth of today more than ever before?