Music in our schools

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Most adults can harken back to the days when they picked up their first instrument or learned their first melody. For many, these initial forays into musical education occurred at school. The instrument may have been the recorder and the tune "Hot Cross Buns," but the first seeds of music appreciation were planted.

Music is all around us. Millions of people tune in to see their favorite "American Idol" advance to the next round. Scores line up for tickets to see area concerts. Many make a pilgrimage to New York City's Broadway to take in a show. Despite how music can bring joy and pleasure, and reportedly improve performance in school, budget cuts in many schools are resulting in certain classes being removed from the curriculum—and music education lessons are often the first to go. But is music worth saving? Many people think so.

"A young person who studies music reinforces teamwork, communication skills, self-discipline, and creativity—all qualities kids need to be successful in their other schoolwork," said Peter Nero, a Grammy Award-winning pianist, conductor and creative musical director in the public service announcement, "Why Music?" Teamwork is learned through participating in ensemble programs, such as chorus or band. Self-discipline is gained by practicing an instrument or fine tuning a voice. And music is a creative medium, offering chances for self-expression.

Music also creates an appreciation for other art forms. An artist is an artist, whether he or she is using a paintbrush, an instrument, or a voice to create the masterpiece. In today's increasingly technological society, some think it pays to sit back and enjoy art forms as a means of becoming a more well-rounded individual.

Some say music makes kids smarter. Up until recently, the benefits of music were backed up merely on personal beliefs about the advantages of a musical education. But today there are a number of studies that put some proof behind the theory that music is a boon to students.

A few years ago, Rhode Island researchers studied eight public school first grade classes. Half of the classes became a "test arts" group, receiving ongoing music and visual arts training. In kindergarten, this group had lagged behind the others in scholastic performance. After seven months, all the students were given a standardized test. The "test arts" group had caught up to their fellow students in reading and surpassed their classmates in math by 22 percent. In the second year of the project, the arts students widened this margin even further.

The benefits of music aren't only for young students, either. The College Entrance Examination Board reported, "Students of the arts continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT. In 2000, SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 41 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework/experience in the arts."

Lewis Thomas, a biologist and physician, studied the undergraduate majors of students currently enrolled in medical school. He found that those who were undergraduate music majors were more likely to be admitted to medical school. Sixty-six percent of the music majors were, in fact, admitted. By comparison, 44 percent of biochemistry majors were admitted.

There also is evidence that music education improves students' mood and behavior. According to a study conducted at the University of Texas, college-aged music students have fewer problems with alcohol, are emotionally healthier, and concentrate better than their non-musical counterparts.

Parents, students and administrators should get together to decide whether musical education is of importance in their schools and then take action.