THE IMPORTANCE OF A MUSIC EDUCATION
Many parents encourage or even require their children to take music lessons because they believe it is an important part of education. Many of those parents have never taken music lessons themselves, and probably are not 100% sure why they believe it is important.
The reason music education is important is that it develops some very important characteristics in the young mind that no other discipline develops. First, it teaches the importance of doing something perfectly (performance). Second, it teaches the importance of personal expression in a creative process, within the limitations of an acceptable mode or style. Third, it teaches the student how to work on a very long term project in very small steps. Fourth, it teaches true teamwork in ways that sports never can.
In the area of performance the young mind is developed in many important ways through a musical education. Music students learn how to execute a process from beginning to end without stopping or stumbling. The performance of music requires that the musician must keep going regardless of any mistakes, and in fact should endeavor not to make any mistakes. No academic study teaches this, where the student is free to erase and correct any answer as often as is necessary to get it right. No sport activity teaches this, as even the professionals do not make baskets, hit the ball or score goals every time they try. If musicians on the stage made as many mistakes as the average professional football team does in one single game, the audience will have booed and demanded a refund and the musicians would be out of a job. Other performing arts do teach this: dancing, acting, etc. But, quite clearly the discipline of musical and other performance arts training teaches a skill that is not taught anywhere else.
This is not to say that only musicians possess this skill – which is certainly not true! In fact, many professions require the same exact abilities: surgeons, pilots, bus drivers, etc. We would not be happy if we discovered our surgeon made numerous erroneous incisions in the attempt to find the correct one! Nor, would we be able to sit back easily on a plane as the pilot constantly shifts the plane’s orientation to find the correct flight path. But even further one could point out that many careers that would not demand such rigorous accuracy would benefit by such ability. Cooks, mechanics, office staff and numerous other professions where mistakes can be fixed if made, would be so much more efficiently executed by persons with strong performance skills.
Then of course there is the simple issue of performance itself. The act of performing for an audience is a difficult one, and though some seem to do it more easily than others, all can improve by continuous experience. Just as so many professions require or benefit from a careful ability to execute a process without mistakes, many professions also require an element of performance ability for successful execution.
The ability to speak in public is required by many professions, not the least of which are medicine and business. If not speaking, often times professionals are required to do their job while clearly in the public eye: hair stylists, sales clerks, hospitality, travel & tour guides, cooks in an open kitchen, etc. all have to perform for the public in some capacity, and experience in performance can help such careers substantially.
Most employers in the business world will say immediately that they prefer creative problem solvers over employees who just get the job done. They recognize that such creative employees are the ones who develop ways to do things better, and are an asset to the companies growth and development. No corporation in America makes its plans based on trying to stay the same – they are all trying to grow and improve.
In music, where the rules and limitations are already spelled out in the music notation, students are encouraged to bring something of themselves to the performance. No one wants to hear music played formulaically, but rather the audience wants to hear something fresh and new. Because of learning this important ability, musicians tend to be the most creative and innovative within the corporate world, and are the ones promoted most readily.
Long Term Goals
Nothing takes as much time as the development of a solid technique on a musical instrument. The required hours of practice for so many years make the whole process seem daunting and insurmountable.
In the beginning, young music students are unaware of how much time it will take, and have no real way to understand it. After 5 years of playing, they begin to realize how far they have come, but even more importantly how much further they must go. As they develop musically, and are exposed to professionals, whose abilities seem almost magical, they slowly begin to realize how slow and arduous the process really is.
For example, it takes about 3 years just to learn all the scales on the piano – just the notes and fingerings. Then the student spends about 2 years learning to play them fast, in a variety of rhythms, and free from mistakes. The advanced musician can play all the scales in about 15 minutes, and will do this as a warm-up before playing repertoire.
In the world of general education, the discipline that is the most like music is mathematics. It takes years for the student to be comfortable with the basics of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. In fact, the entire 3rd grade is spent drilling the times tables just to make sure that the student is able to advance to the level of long multiplication and division. Only in the 7th or 8th grade is the student finally exposed to the next level of mathematics: algebra.
Although considered the highest level of math required to graduate from high school, algebra in fact is an extremely basic area of mathematics. The math student must be fully versed in algebra skills before proceeding to trigonometry, geometry or calculus, which are required for college admission – even if not required for the high school diploma.
But even outside the bigger picture of how long it takes to have passable musical skills, there is the more immediate aspect of learning each song. In the beginning music students can learn one or two songs every week, because they are quite short. But after only three years of study, they should be at the level where each piece requires weeks to study. They learn how to break the task into smaller projects. They learn how to polish something that is almost ready, which often takes weeks or months. They learn how to mend new problems or mistakes that can pop up over time. They learn how to keep a song ready and perfect over a long period of time.
There was a time when many corporate executives considered that a sports background would suggest that an applicant was a good team player. More recent research has proven this to be wholly unfounded. In fact, sports too often reinforces the “star” element that if you are good enough you can ignore your team players and just make the scores. This attitude in fact is far from what corporate executives were trying to recruit.
Team work in the music world is actually quite different. Performing in an orchestra, band or chorus teaches musicians the importance of doing your own part perfectly, but never letting it overshadow the whole. Everyone must play rhythmically together – or else the music sounds ragged. No single voice should ever stick out in a choir. The trumpet should never blast his simple accompanying notes over the solo melody in the oboe.
But further, music teaches the importance of standing out when necessary: the solo in the oboe, the solo in the flute, the tenors beginning a passage alone, a solo soprano, etc. Musicians must be part of the group and willing to shine, whichever is required at the moment. This is the type of team player the corporations want – not the maverick “go it alone” sports players they were recruiting before.
One could actually say that a musical education is an excellent preparation for many types of jobs, and the further one progresses in the area of music education, the better one is prepared for the world’s most important and demanding careers.
The longer you study music in your youth, the better you will do in life the years afterward. Do not give up! Do not let your children give up! You would never let your children willfully fail math just because they don’t like it, because you know how important math is in life. Math is required by the schools for so many years because it is just that important.
Music is just as important for those who aspire to so many of the world’s possible careers. The actor, Jamie Fox won an Oscar for his role as Ray Charles because he studied piano as a boy and was able to play the piano close ups himself. The great heart surgeon Dr. George Magovern studied piano in his youth, and became a famous surgeon because of his hand skills and precision. You never know what career path you might choose that could be benefited by a solid music education. Just imagine how many 1000s of skilled pilots, doctors, technicians and other professionals obtained their skills and career because of the foundation provided by an early music education.
When your children grow up they will thank you. Not only will they have a wonderful passtime to enjoy their entire lives, they will no doubt have a far better career as well. We have heard 100s of people complain that their parents did not “force” them to keep taking piano lessons, and we have never heard anyone complain that they took piano lesson for too long. No one ever regrets it once they grow up.