Why Involve Children In Music?

Article written for Tomorrow's Schools magazine for NZ primary schools....

In an age when there are so many pressures on teachers to teach a variety of subjects to children, music is often pushed to the side and seen as not important. How can we be so far from the truth? I challenge any teacher to find another subject that teaches coordination, language, concentration, confidence, team skills, tolerance and understanding of other people and other cultures, while
developing mechanical and artistic sections of the brain at the same time. When subjects are being cut and budgets trimmed we often ask "What should we leave out?" The answer is: not music.
Music is important to be taught for music's sake, as an art form and a form of expression. Music is the statement of the culture of a country or of a generation, it is a means of expressing joy, excitement, praise, love or sorrow. To truly understand what it means to be human, every child needs the opportunity to be involved in musical activities.
Beyond this, music is a medium for a whole host of other learning. When a child is very young musical activities involve him in group activities where he learns to take turns, share, offer creative suggestions for actions or rhythms, and accept the ideas of others. Children learn to coordinate their hands, feet and bodies in actions that are not normally part of everyday life but develop extensive connections across the brain. When a child walks around the room, in time with the music and playing a drum he is engaged in a wide variety of activities: He listens to the music and coordinates his walking in time with the music; he plays his drum with his hands while coordinating his feet; he develops his spatial awareness by walking in free space through other people in the group who are also moving; he sings, using his ears to aid him in tuning his voice to match the song; he develops his memory by learning the sequence of events in the song (for example the drum plays verse one, then the shaker plays verse two); he develops his linguistic capabilities by learning the words, with the aid of the rhyme and rhythm; he develops social skills by moving with the group and sharing the space where no specific person has "right of way" and all must move without colliding with another. All this, from enjoying a simple song.

Once older, children start to build on the skills developed in early childhood and begin to play instruments together, in ensemble. Playing a musical instrument uses more parts of the brain at one time than virtually any other activity. For example a pianist will coordinate left and right hands in a physical workout of different movements in different directions, performed simultaneously; he will read notes written vertically on a score and translate them to a horizontal position on a keyboard; he will read the music before it is played, store it in the memory to play it a few seconds later in real time, while still reading ahead to the next few bars; he will listen to what he is playing and keep in time with the rest of the ensemble; he will feel the beat and divide it into fractions to create rhythms; he will add elements of interpretation to develop feeling and expression; all this, often in front of an audience while gaining confidence and the ability to perform under pressure. I have lost count of how many possible brain functions are being performed at one time.
There is a lot of research into the value of children's involvement in music pursuits and the subsequent flow on into other critical areas of a child's development. A leaflet published by the Australian Music Association lists them, with supporting research references, as:

  • Playing music increases memory and reasoning capacity, time management skills and eloquence.
  • Playing music improves concentration, memory and self expression.
  • Playing music improves the ability to think.
  • Music training improves memory.
  • Learning music helps underperforming students to improve.
  • Music students are more likely to be good citizens.

Please refer to www.australianmusic.asn.au/musicmakes.html
The AMA goes on to say: "Research studies show music achievement and academic achievement go together at all stages in schools. Schools with strong music programmes notice these substantial positive effects on other academic performance and on social behaviour."
As adults we owe it to our children to involve them in musical activities. We are doing them a great injustice if we don't.

Janet Channon
Director
Kids Music Company
May 2004